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There's no question that sustainable solutions to our most pertinent challenges are needed urgently. And young South Africans are not only searching for and supporting calls for these solutions; many have come up with innovative social enterprises and inventions of their own.
Here are four such South Africans – young innovators who are working towards a sustainable future for us all.
Kiara Nirghin stood out long before she started attending Stanford University in 2018. The young innovator won a Google Community Impact Award and the 2016 Google Science Fair for her idea that helps drought-stricken areas.
Her award-winning initiative uses waste products from plants to create a special polymer that stores water. The polymer, made from orange peels and avocado skins, is super absorbent and provides a unique solution for water storage.
According to a 2018 interview with SABC, Kiara says that her non-toxic, biodegradable polymer could be used by farmers to increase the drought tolerance of their crops. The polymer could collect moisture during rainy seasons and release it during dry periods.
Kiara plans to use her knowledge to pursue the development of her polymer and to bring even more social innovation and sustainable solutions to her home country.
Thato is the co-founder of Rethaka Repurpose Schoolbags, which recycles plastic bags to create schoolbags for children in rural areas.
These bags, which have resulted in Thato being featured on international news outlets such as CNN, are fitted with portable solar panels. These panels charge while the children walk to school. They can be used as desk lamps and provide 12 hours of light. This means that the children don't have to worry about doing their homework by candlelight – something which poses a fire hazard.
The social enterprise addresses a variety of challenges: creating a sustainable use for plastic bag waste, creating jobs within the green industry, and providing schoolchildren in rural areas with ways to improve their experience of school and completing homework in the evenings.
For her work, Thato has received an International Elle Impact Award and, in 2016, became the youngest woman to be included on the cover of Forbes Women Africa.
Murendeni has used his history, experiences and qualifications to create an innovative solution for water scarcity in South Africa.
Murendeni studied chemistry, specialising in water treatment technology, at the Cape Peninsula University of Technology (CPUT). He has also worked with the City of Cape Town as a water scientist.
Using this experience, Murendeni founded Kusini Water to help address water scarcity in rural areas and informal settlements. The company does this through a unique development: a water filtration system made from macadamia nut shells and nano-fibres.
These filters provide communities with access to safe drinking water and don’t require the use of electricity. They rely on gravity or solar power instead.
The use of macadamia nut shells is a useful solution for South Africa especially. The country is the world’s largest producer of macadamia nuts, and Kusini Water’s filtration solution is putting this industry’s waste to good use.
Murendeni has delivered a TEDx Talk on his innovations and was recently named a LeadSA hero for his work.
Ella Bella Constantinides
Ella Bella Constantinides is the founder of Generation Earth, an environmental organisation that helps youth become environmental changemakers.
The organisation is described as a 'green networking platform – with the youth, for the youth, by the youth'. Generation Earth works with students at schools and universities to set up green councils and programmes in their communities.
For her work, Bella was named a Youth Ambassador for the United Nations Environmental Programme.