“Share your vision”The 22-year-old Red Bull Amaphiko graduate and social entrepreneur Thato Kgatlhanye is using waste to turn a profit and do good
At the age of 18, social entrepreneur Thato Kgatlhanye set up a company, Rethaka, to manufacture schoolbags from recycled plastic, with solar panels that charge during the day to allow school children to study at night.
Now 22 years old and a graduate of the 2014 Red Bull Amaphiko Academy, and with Rethaka’s line in schoolbags booming, Kgatlhanye continues to think big.
“I don’t know what other 22-year-olds are doing out there and frankly it’s none of my business,” she says. “What is my business is that I need to embrace this journey. I need to learn as much as I can and set audacious goals that I’m going to look back on ten years from now and say, ‘God damn, you did it!’
THE RED BULLETIN: Talk us through the creation of Rethaka.
THATO KGATLHANYE: The business was founded when I was just 18 years old with friends of mine who have since left the business. Rethaka was started out of a need to tell a different story of what is possible for young people starting businesses in Mogwase (a township in the North-West province). When we started, we had quite a lot of ideas. That the first product that came out of the company was one that had a social impact was led by the fact that we had to uncover opportunities. When you start looking at township economics, you ask: “Can we employ people who don’t really have a lot of skills? Can we take waste, and turn waste into work?” Some of those questions we have been confident in answering with a very bold, “Yes!”
How important is it to share your dream?
I think all leaders who have managed to do great things were able to share their visions and have others champion their visions far more than they possibly could have. I am so proud of the growth that I’ve seen in our management and production teams. There were days where there was nothing that said I should carry on as the CEO but looking at their faces and looking at their determination to keep going is what kept us around.
What sort of soft skills do you bring to the table?
Creativity drove me towards thinking differently around how to tackle some of the problems that we face. Now, as I’m growing older, I’m realising the importance of balancing the creativity with a financially sound mind, especially for sustaining one’s career, business and livelihood. That’s why I wouldn’t currently define myself as just a creative; I would say that there’s definitely a balance.
How have others helped you realise your vision?
We wouldn’t have gotten as far as we have had it not been for the support of various individuals and companies. Being part of the Red Bull Amaphiko Academy meant that we had access to some of the world’s best strategic business minds. That has really been helpful. We’ve had other mentors and advisors, not to myself personally, but to the business as a whole.
What are your goals for 2016?
I see Rethaka being operational in 24 African countries, looking not just at plastic waste but other waste streams too and thinking about how we can derive value – whether by producing energy or creating compost from food waste.