SEED Award winner Kwaku Yamoah Kyei: ‘Social entrepreneurship is the future’

The annual international SEED Awards recognize inspiring social and environmental entrepreneurs. Last month Ghanaian entrepreneur Kwaku Yamoah Kyei from Recnowa was announced as one of the winners for 2011. “We are removing plastic waste from our environment and we are giving the often ignored a chance to engage in creative endeavors, a win-win situation.”

Congrats with the 2011 SEED Award! Why did you win the award?

“Thank you very much. The award is a recognition of Recnowa’s potential to inspire others and our particular achievements in innovation, entrepreneurship and our promising efforts to promote economic growth, social development and environmental protection in Ghana.”

What is Recnowa?

Recnowa is short for ‘Recycle Not A Waste Initiative’. We are an innovative social enterprise that trains and employs street youth from disadvantaged communities in Ghana to clear their streets of plastic and other material. Waste is creating serious environmental havoc in our cities. Now creative Ghanaian artisans use this waste and up-cycle it into high-end handmade designer products such as bags, wallets, shoes, furniture, home decoration and t-shirts that are both ethical and eco-friendly.

Ghana is a country overflowing with abundant creative talents, hardworking people with design aesthetics and artisan skills. Yet millions of people in the country live below the poverty line. Most artisans are unemployed or underemployed as a result of the lack of opportunities. Recnowa seeks to bring together these talented artisans and street youth to add value to their skills, create sustainable fair employment for them and pay them a fair wage to break the cycle of poverty and the needed empowerment to address other local challenges.”

How did you get the idea for the Recycle Not A Waste Initiative?

“Concerned with the massive piles of plastic waste that have choked the drainage system in the city of Accra, to the extent that it takes only the slightest rainfall to precipate floods in the city, I realized that this gloomy situation has to change. At the same time I saw the climate benefits of recycling as one of the cheapest and fastest ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Removing waste can at the same time provide productive work and employment opportunities for the unemployed youth.

In areas such as collection, cleaning, baling, processing and manufacturing, the initiative was established to contribute in the fight against plastic waste. We are providing them a platform for inspiration and we are giving the often ignored a chance to engage in creative endeavors, a win-win situation.”

Why is your initiative successful?

“This initiative has not only helped to improve the living environment, but has also contributed to the welfare of the residents through income raised from the trash. For instance, we have seen a reduction of waterborne disease such as typhoid, cholera, malaria and dysentery. Waste recycling had a positive impact on the environmental conservation efforts by involving the community in the disposal and the management of the municipal waste, income generation and plastic waste recycling as micro-enterprise.

Recnowa buys plastic waste from trained street youth and up cycle it to make high fashion goods. Over 300 metric tons of the waste has been recovered since our inception and we are still counting.

We are making money from the products. We have ten people working directly in our production and we have a three-member management team. One of the challenges we have overcome is to cooperate with the city authorities and waste management officials, who have been very supportive to our cause. Another one is the assumption that Recnowa exists to just give money to the people we train.”

How is the prize worth US$50,000 of individually tailored support for your businesses, access to relevant expertise and technical assistance going to help your organization?

“Like in all social enterprises in the start-up phase, we need funding for the upscaling of our operations and diversifying our services, hire more workers and other professional staff that can take us to the next level.

Apart from increasing our exposure nationally, regionally and internationally through global media coverage, SEED will be assisting us with marketing which is crucial to the success of our venture. We will also get the opportunity of attending the SEED symposium and international awards ceremony in South Africa in March. There we can strengthen our social enterprise while networking with prospective funders, investors and other social entrepreneurs from all over the world.”

How do you see the future of social entrepreneurship?

“Although social entrepreneurship is an emerging concept, it is definitely the future since it embraces the pursuit of new ideas, creation of new systems and business models in order to make profit whiles at the same time solving the world’s most pressing social and development issues. It is the only sustainable way to spur economic and social development and create a lasting solution to development projects.”

What are your goals for 2012?

“In 2012 we are looking at creating employment opportunities for about twenty more street youth into our fold. Recnowa is currently developing an integrated service that shows the government how they can move away from the conventional practice of “collection-haulage-dumping”, to more modern systems of waste management which integrates waste reduction, separation, reuse, recycling and treatment.

We are currently experimenting on how to pelletize recovered plastic waste to become a supplier to plastic manufacturers in Ghana. We are also looking into diversifying by turning the organic component of the waste into quality compost for agricultural and horticultural purposes to feed local farmers.”

Thanks Kwaku for your interview. It is great to see the kind of progress you are making and we look forward to seeing your venture take the next steps! We hope to see more entrepreneurs follow in your footsteps.