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Rwanda : Jacqueline Mukarukundo Tackles the Problem of Electronic Waste

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Electronic Waste is poisoning Africa 

When it comes to electronic waste (e-waste), Africa has long faced two battles to fight. Not only does it have to deal with its own e-waste, but it also has to cope with the large amounts of e-waste imported, often illegally, from other continents. E-waste can refer to any electronic product that is either coming to the end of its working life or that already has passed that use by date and can include computers, televisions, mobile phones’ etc. 

For example, the UN Environment Programme’s study in 2009 found that Ghana imported 215,000 tons of electronic equipment that year with only 30% of that total being new. Of the rest, around 22,5000 tons could neither be recycled nor sold and would end up in landfill sites. The problem with the amounts that end up in landfill – something that is repeated across many African countries – is that these electronics often contain toxic elements such as mercury, lead, and cadmium, which then enter the soil and water. 

Finding Solutions, Recycling for the future.

Compared to other areas of the world, recycling is an industry still in its infancy in Africa, particularly when it comes to e-waste. In East Africa alone, and not counting any imported e-waste, some 130,000 tonnes of e-waste is produced every year and only about 20% of that is recycled. 

It needs dedication and vision to make the industry viable across the continent. And those are two attributes that you can say Jacqueline Mukarukundo has for sure. This young Rwandan entrepreneur was recently awarded the Margaret Prize which is given to women who are creative and active in the digital world.

It Began with an Accident

Her idea began with an accident back in 20011, when Mukarukundo was only around 13 years old. With some friends, she was taking part in a recycling campaign in the northern Rwandan city of Musanze. As they were working on a landfill site, a landslide happened (a common and dangerous occurrence on these sites) and her friend was lucky to escape. For Mukarukundo and her friends, that incident was the catalyst to get more involved in waste management and recycling. 

In 2018, at the age of 20, Mukarukundo co-founded Wastezon along with Ghislain Irakoze. The company uses mobile technology to link consumers and businesses who have e-waste that needs disposed of to the main recycling companies in that area. 

Simplicity Means Ease of Use

In order to make the process easy to use for consumers and recyclers, the person with the e-waste simply posts a photo of the e-waste – most often computers or mobile phones – and the recycling companies can then choose what they want and make an offer for the waste. 

Since they started, Wastezon has enabled 400 tonnes of e-waste to be sold, a drop in the ocean for now but an idea that is both working and growing. The monetisation side of the app comes from Wastezon taking 10% of all transactions. 

Low Internet Use and Mobile Phone Penetration Means There is a Long Way to Go

It has to be recognised that with a low level of internet connections (especially outside the capital, Kigali) and low mobile phone penetration (though this has dramatically increased to over 9 million subscriptions in recent years), this is an idea that is very much creating a foundation for future benefits. Rwanda also need to transform from a linear economy to a more circular one, though the amount of people repairing appliances rather than throwing away is also increasing. 

As Mukarukundo herself says: “The biggest challenge is the transformation of mentalities and funding.”

Recycling and waste management tend not to be businesses that attract a lot of funding as though the societal and environmental benefits are many, it is not a sector that sees high profits. 

Building for the Future

Mukarukundo knows that they have to keep pushing forward. They plan to expand their business to the cellular network to capture those consumers who do not have smartphones. And as 90% of the waste produced in Rwanda is organic, they also plan to expand their services to include that. 

“I dream of a world without waste, and I believe in the power of technology to achieve it.”

She also dreams of enabling other young Rwandan women to follow her entrepreneurial path and hopes to have her own funding in place one day to achieve that.

With dreams like that, and with the dedication and visions she has been showing for most of her life, there is little doubt that the amounts of e-waste ending up in Rwandan landfill sites will continue to decline and that Mukarukundo’s business will continue to grow. 

Photos : web24.news and media-exp1.licdn.com

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Gauteng Emerging as South Africa’s App Development Hub

Comments (0) Africa, Business, Featured

South Africa app

Gauteng province in South Africa is fast emerging as a center for app development on the continent.

It wasn’t long ago that finding an Internet connection in Sub-Saharan Africa was next to impossible. Today, the scene couldn’t be more different: millions of young Africans are as connected to the Internet as their European or American counterparts. Through mobile phones and devices, many of the logistical challenges surrounding Internet infrastructure have been avoided. African businesses have been particularly aware of the potential of the Internet. Many small businesses are taking full advantage of the options available to them through app creation, and certain areas are fast emerging as app development hubs. According to Cassie Lessing, the Managing Director of the Strato IT Group, Gauteng Province, where both Pretoria and Johannesburg lie, is leading the way in app development.

In the Middle of it All

It comes as no surprise, then, that the province that is home to South Africa’s de facto and legal capitals should be a hub for innovation. As new businesses make their way into the market, app developers are highly sought after: the app economy is expected to create trillions of dollars of direct and indirect opportunities around the world, and Africa is no exception. The African Internet population is so mobile that they are poised to leapfrog directly into the era of apps, bypassing the cumbersome online experience. There are numerous websites where businesses can look for app development companies and individual developers, a fascinating look at the truly online nature of the future.

Already the country’s economic powerhouse, Gauteng provides app developers with more resources than they would have elsewhere. With a plethora of cool hang-outs and co-working spaces, young thinkers are able to learn from one another in informal environments, thus enriching each individual’s skill set. The apps that are being developed are varied and seem to span across nearly every field: news, government information, entertainment, healthcare services, mining, logistics, shopping and banking are just a few of the numerous industries in which apps have recently emerged.  “Economies rely on information to function effectively and the app economy represents a leap forward towards the goal of an informed and efficient knowledge-based society. Organizations that do not adopt and utilize the emerging technologies like mobility, digitization and cloud will be disadvantaged and lose out to the early adopters,” Lessing says.

Piloting the Future

Lessing’s company, the Strato IT Group, has been quick to capitalize upon the growing app market. Strato boasts an impressive “satisfied clients” portfolio, with big names such as Toyota, Deloitte and Babcock, to name a few. Unlike other companies in their field, Strato claims it prioritizes face-to-face relationships rather than the faceless services provided by mainstream IT companies. Ironic, given that a common side effect of mobile apps is to reduce the time users spend making face-to-face interactions with the world around them.

With a reputation built upon excellence, Strato has long been the go-to company for businesses looking to enhance their online presence. They now provide clients with app management, app development and consulting, as well as the newer “Application Management Outsourcing” (AMO) whereby Strato finds developers with the required “scarce skills” to handle a client’s needs.

The Strato IT Group has begun a pilot project whereby consumers (companies in need of apps) are able to connect with developers and be a part of the app creation process. This allows consumers to access experts while maintaining their company’s identity. “This approach not only serves to test and enhance product, but also provides valuable raw material for proof of concept and proof of value exercises,” says Lessing of the project.

The Future is Now

Strato exemplifies the opportunities available for businesses from any sector: connecting businesses with app developers not only increases the visibility of both parties, but provides users with services that increase ease of access. Apps developed through the Strato IT Group and elsewhere have already increased the efficiency with which South Africans can go about their daily lives: the recent launch of an app-accessible stock market, the creation of cheap fuel finding apps and app-based coupons have all made life a little easier and a little cheaper for South Africans.

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FillApp: Saving South Africans at the pump

Comments (0) Africa, Business, Featured

south africa petrol station

FillApp is the latest in apps aimed at saving consumers money by notifying them of real-time price fluctuations. This South African smartphone application lets users know the best times and locations to fill up their gas tanks based on their car size, make, model and fuel type.

The South African rand lost more than 26% of its value in the last 6 months of 2015, crushing citizens’ ability to participate in the global market. This devaluation was intensely felt across all sectors, particularly those involving global goods such as gasoline. As the rand fell (and continues to fall), South Africans are paying the price at the pump. Despite the fact that oil prices are plummeting to new lows, South Africans were not feeling the same relief as, say, Americans. This is because their currency was falling faster than the price of petroleum.

Sense Saves Cents

Recognizing the need to alleviate this financial burden, the South African tech company TouchFoundry created FillApp, an app for Android and iPhone platforms that allows users to save money at the pumps. Users simply input basic metrics about their vehicle, such as make, model, tank size, gasoline type and whether the driver is more likely to fill up at coastal or inland cities.

Based upon these metrics, the app is able to calculate an individual driver’s savings if she should fill up on a certain date. The app then sends each user a notification at the beginning of each month letting them know if they should fill their tanks sooner rather than later based upon the predicted price changes.

FillApp

FillApp calculates these fluctuations based upon publicly available information from government and agency websites. Co-founder Lance Jenkins says that “every-day people aren’t able to access this data efficiently and conveniently when they need to. So, we did the time, crunched the code and came out with an elegant product that will hopefully add a touch of convenience to everyone’s lives.” Jenkins is referring more to the intellectual accessibility of information rather than the physical availability: the information FillApp uses to make its predictions is readily available to anyone with internet access, but it is taking the time to understand what the data means and how those numbers will be applied to the real world that takes time.

The Department of Energy recalculates fuel prices to include taxes and levies at the end of each month, and the South Africa Central Energy Fund uses this information to update fuel-price predictions on a daily or weekly basis. The Department of Energy puts these new, comprehensive prices into effect on the first Wednesday of each month. As soon as FillApp learns of the new price predictions, they are able to advise users on when and where to fill up their tanks based upon the information previously provided.

These sources allow the FillApp to provide up-to-date fuel price predictions based upon national agencies’ publications. “We scan reliable sources and we then basically get an algorithm that gives us a prediction of what the fuel (price) will probably be,” said Fabio Longano, TouchFoundry’s founder.

Taking Back the Purchasing Power

It is publicly sourced apps like this that are helping consumers take back the power in a world that seems impossibly confusing and unpredictable. By empowering consumers with knowledge about when and where to fill their tanks, FillApp is giving South Africans the information they need to potentially save a great deal of money.

As OPEC (Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries) has allowed oil prices to fall thanks to a flood in the market, South Africans (and most others) have experienced relief at the pumps. Unfortunately, gas prices seem to be particularly unreliable in South Africa: Reuters predicts that the price of gasoline will go up by 12 cents to 12.74 rand/liter, or about $3.20/gallon. The current price of gasoline in America is, for instance, between $1.99-$2.65, depending upon the state. This means there is substantially more of a burden upon South African gasoline consumers than upon American: not only is the price of gasoline about a full dollar more per gallon in South Africa than in America, but given the massive differences in average income, the high price of gasoline takes up a larger proportion of a South African’s income than it does an American’s. This is not unusual, however. The United States is known for having low taxes on gasoline and usually has much lower gas prices than developing countries.

Getting the Goods

While South Africans’ relief at the pump has not been as intensely felt as in other countries, FillApp is increasing consumers’ ability to make informed decisions about when and where to purchase gasoline. Apps like this are popping up all over the world, and give a fascinating look at the future of capitalism in a world with increasing income gaps.

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