VENTURES AFRICA – The modern job market doesn’t promise miracles, and in this depressed economic environment, job hunting will soon be desperately out of fashion. Things are frankly getting out of hand and ridiculous rumours are being repeated by our government bureaucrats, some of which are mere dreams.
Never mind the mumblings, governments don’t have the slightest idea where jobs can come from. Our only salvation for job creation is only if you and I adopt the smart concept that will shape thinking on entrepreneurship, which is detail.
The more adventurous entrepreneurs will respond to opportunities in two ways: by concentrating on efficiency and by exploiting local markets. Both fortunately involve attention to detail. Everything else is being eclipsed by the obsession with creativity and innovation, and the emphasis on detail will play into the hands of the forward thinkers.
The carnage on the job market may have an unreal air to it, but the damage is all too tangible –unemployment figures continue to rise, and is usually regarded as bad news. The first and biggest risk for any economy is depressing unemployment figures.
The seeds of today’s disaster were sown in decades past, when governments began a pattern of gambling that rewarded cronies for their loyalty, with no thought for long-term consequences of what they were doing.
Today, as the unemployment contagion has spread far and wide, innovative ideas are building wealth, creating jobs for hundreds. Policymakers are desperate to get more young people to become more entrepreneurial in order to invigorate this vital engine of economic growth. The unemployed youth claim that the job market is muted because job opportunities are subdued, but that wasn’t a problem for Lorna Cherono Rutto.
A host of new firms have sprung up with environmentally-friendly solutions. Some are taking advantage of the growing waste management industry, and overhauling the way that people view plastic waste. EcoPost Limited is a plastic recycling business, which is specializing in manufacturing fencing posts using plastic waste collected from dumpsites and garbage cans across Nairobi, Kenya.
“The opportunity was born due to the need for plastic poles in the market. People needed an alternative to timber, a product that does not rot and one that can’t be affected by termites,” said Lorna.
Picking winners among entrepreneurs is notoriously difficult. Nevertheless, Lorna Rutto is creating a legacy for herself through her innovative business that has sold over 20,000 fencing posts, and has been able to create more than 500 direct and indirect new jobs, and has also saved over 350 acres of forests and removed more than 1,500 tonnes of plastic waste from the environment.
“We have been able to save over 350 acres of forests, withdrawn and recycled over 1,500,000 kg plastic waste and prevented 2,500,000 kg of C02 emissions from getting into the environment. Our mission is to expand and replicate our business model in East Africa and other countries with the same social economic set up like ours in order to be able to create more job opportunities and achieve a Green Africa free from poverty,” she says.
She further stated that,”Our collection model is such that we work with various youth and women groups who collect, sort, and store and deliver the plastic waste to us for processing. The other indirect employees are those who install the products at our clients. EcoPost Limited is currently profitable and sustainable.”
Lorna Rutto is the CEO of EcoPost Limited, a Nairobi-based recycling company that she founded after resigning from her comfortable banking job in 2009, with a strong desire to manufacture plastic lumber and posts as an alternative to timber whilst utilizing plastic waste from Dandora slums. EcoPost Limited generates more than $150,000 revenue in a year.
“That includes any type of plastic that can go through the extrusion process, such as polypropylene and polyethylene—the material used to make those carrier bags that clog the landfills. We can recover and use all of these for our posts,” Lorna says.
Her love of the environment easily found an echo with a young biochemical engineer she met at her first job, who is now her business partner, and brought his technical expertise that she lacked, to her financial and managerial know-how. After researching potential avenues for their cause they found that plastic waste was the best place to start, much to Lorna’s delight.
Waste is a huge problem in many African cities and urban centres because city councils are failing dismally in providing decent waste management initiatives. Lorna noticed an opportunity in Nairobi, which generates no less than 3,000 metric tonnes of waste every day and about 20 percent of this is usually plastic waste, and nevertheless, the demand and price for timber posts was rising due to short supply. Up to 200,000 timber posts were being sold in and around Nairobi every month.
The opportunity was always there, however, the challenge was to produce an alternative to timber that was nearly as strong, longer lasting, cheaper and environmentally sustainable, and anyone could profit from the lucrative timber market while helping to save Kenya’s endangered forests.
Plastic waste provided the opportunity to create a better alternative to timber. Using plastic waste collected from the streets and landfills of Nairobi, Lorna’s business uses a simple manufacturing technique known as injection moulding to convert shredded and melted plastic into durable and environmentally-friendly posts.
The environmentally-friendly posts are sold on the market and used as fencing posts, sign posts and for building and construction purposes.
“We actually turn the trash to cash and reduce the cutting down of trees. EcoPost Limited provides this solution by manufacturing durable, aesthetic and environmentally friendly fencing posts which are highly demanded. Currently in Kenya thousands of plastic bags and bottles litter our streets and clog our sewers. Our business converts this waste into durable, affordable, cost effective and environmentally friendly plastic poles,” explained Lorna.
Africa’s waste management culture is severely underdeveloped, and it is a common practice for household, commercial and industrial waste to be illegally dumped in open areas, drains and dumpsites, which cause serious harm to humans and the environment.
An opportunity arose for any innovative forward thinking individuals, due to the fact that Kenya’s forest reserves were fast depleting. Moreover, the rise of the middle-class has created a growing demand for timber to be used in building and construction, which has been putting a lot of pressure on the country’s forests.
Consistent chopping down of trees over the years has reduced the country’s forest areas to less than 2 percent of the entire land mass, and many tree species are now on the endangered species list.
The major issues facing Kenya was that a quick solution was being sort, to arrest the irreparable environmental damage that is affecting the beautiful landscape of Kenya. If only there was a way to provide a close substitute to timber, a bad situation could be saved from getting worse.
“By creating an alternative to timber we can avoid an environmental crisis in future,” proudly exclaimed Lorna.
As always advocated by this diarist, finance should never be a hindrance that halts your progress to entrepreneurial success, never give-up and be relentless in your pursuit of greatness.
Lorna says, “I faced a lot of challenges like access to credit from commercial entities due to lack of collateral or good financial statements.”
EcoPost Limited’s brand of posts are suitable for fencing on farms, homes, national parks, game reserves and commercial premises such as cattle ranches and tourist resorts. They can also be used as support beams for houses, cow sheds and garages.
“Our clients will not have to worry about environmental elements affecting their products; they will only enjoy the fact that they participated in conserving the environment by choosing an eco-friendly product, I would like everyone to stop cutting down trees, by cutting them: we destroy our livelihoods and existence for our future generation. . The firm is in the process of acquiring a machine that will enable us to produce and design high quality eco-friendly products such as flooring boards, outdoor furniture, doors and building materials. In five years â time we do not want the plastic nuisance in this country to exist. We hope to have turned trash into cash,” she concluded.
In recognition of the impact of Lorna’s environmentally-friendly entrepreneurship work, Rutto received a WWF award, won the Cartier Women’s Initiative Award and was the 2011 Sub-Saharan Africa Cartier Laureate. She has also won the 2010 Bid Network Nature Challenge Award, 2010 SEED Award and the 2009 Enablis Business Award.
‘‘I can’t believe I have got this far, it’s a dream come true. The Awards have given us a real competitive advantage and have served as a major stepping stone for EcoPost Limited,” she said.
Lorna has worked with several high profile organizations, including the International Labour Organization (ILO) through which she received business advice, training on writing business plans, sales and marketing awareness. The ILO also connected Lorna with organizations where she could access capital.