Female cleantech entrepreneurs making a difference

Yolandi Schoeman with Kevin Braithwaite from Cleantech Open at the Global Forum in San Francisco

South Africa recognizes the value of adopting a greener, more sustainable development path and the key role of green technologies to stimulate economic growth, create new job opportunities and mitigate ecological risks. Innovation, particularly in the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) fields, including clean technology, has a significant role to play in addressing challenges in these areas. According to Cristina Santillán Idoate, Gender Mainstreaming Consultant for the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), skilled and diverse talent, including gender-diverse talent, is key to coming up with innovative technological and business solutions required to achieve sustainable solutions to these challenges. 

According to Ms Idoate, “the Cleantech and STEM fields need diversity to reach their full potential, as this will help capture and employ a country’s diversity of thought, experiences and background within their innovation and engineering teams. It has been demonstrated that diversity encourages institutions to challenge current approaches, consider alternatives and ‘think the unthinkable’, as well as at a business level where diversity helps to create competitive advantage.”

As a joint initiative of UNIDO and the Technology Innovation Agency (TIA), the Global Cleantech Innovation Programme for SMEs and start-ups in South Africa (GCIP-SA) recognises the importance of gender and racial diversity in tackling the pressing challenges facing our country and the world. Special emphasis is placed on reaching these under-represented groups to participate in its competition-based accelerator. This has rendered encouraging results: since its inception in 2014, 35% of the top performers on the programme were women while 41% were black (including Coloured and Indian).  As from 2017, female GCIP-SA participants also have access to female mentors to support them on their business journey.

The 2016 GCIP-SA winner, Yolandi Schoeman of Baoberry, was also a runner-up in the Cleantech Open Global Forum in San Francisco in February 2017. Ms Schoeman’s advice to female innovators that “endurance is key, do not to lose your motivation and never give up on your dreams.” Her innovation, aWetBox is a cost-effective, low-maintenance solution that assists municipalities and homeowners to improve water quality.

Sandiswa Qayi of AET, winner of the 2016 award for the most promising youth-led business, earlier this month also received the inaugural Young Woman in Energy award from the Minister of the Department of Energy, Ms Mmamoloko Kubayi. She believes that women should leverage their ability to multi-task. “Use your God-given talent to have it all - both professional achievement and personal. Hold your head high and pray for the strength and wisdom to face challenges knowing that anything is possible.” Ms Qayi developed a plastic geyser sleeve – the Hot Spot - that can be fitted over any standard geyser element to push hot water from the bottom to the top of the geyser, providing 50 litres of hot water (at 50oC) within 30 minutes.

The 2016 winner of the GCIP-SA’s innovation for social impact award, Louise Williamson, believes that cleantech entrepreneurs should work hard on their business ventures, but should also step back to get a sense of perspective on the core business that they are pursuing. “Most of all, remember that your contribution makes the lives of people, animals and the ecosystem a more creative and gentle space.” Her innovation, the fuel-efficient Mashesha stoves for institutional cooking, use half of the fuel normally required with open fires and are much safer, since a closed gasification process is utilized for combustion.


Louise Williamson with Min. Pandor and Gerswynn McKuur.jpg Sandiswa Qayi with geyser sleeve.jpg
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