THE BLOG
03/14/2013 09:12 am ET | Updated May 14, 2013

The World Needs Change

Our global family is 7.06 billion and growing (Population Reference Bureau's 2012 figures). 50 per cent of whom are living on less than $2.50 a day (Statistic Brain 2012 figures), with no real access to basic healthcare, education, or indeed nutrition. Our insatiable appetite for industrial growth only fuels our dependency on ever dwindling resources - without replenishment or reprise and to devastating effect.

Simply put; where some are prospering, others are falling further and further behind and this gap between these two global communities of the 'haves' and the 'have nots' is widening at an alarming rate. More than 80 per cent of the world's population now live where income differentials are widening.

The growing apathy to these issues is exacerbated in an economic environment such as this. If we do not put in place mechanism for social and environmental change, generation after generation will pay the price for our idleness. And where 50 per cent of the population live in extreme poverty now, it's not difficult to see how this balance could be tipped.

The global recession, for example, has claimed many victims, most are families. Families that were once self-sufficient are destitute, homeless, and unable to provide basic nutrition for their loved ones. And as the recession continues the gap between those who have and those who do not will continue to widen. The world needs change if we are to give ourselves a fighting chance to tip the scales of poverty back in our favor.

I have spent a lifetime challenging prejudice and striving to alleviate poverty. After setting up a number of NGOs in a bid to help local South African communities I discovered aid does not work. While it plays a vital role in times of emergencies, most recently Syria, it does not and cannot empower a generation to immobilize and alleviate themselves out of poverty.

Empowerment is what the world needs. During a series of prolonged power cuts in South Africa I remembered my grandmother cooking food in a Wonderbox, an age old method using padded cushions which retained the heat of the food to complete the cooking process. I began experimenting with heat-retention eco-cooking and developed a more convenient and modernized model made with fabric and foam; the Wonderbag was born with the aim of making cooking - the most basic human activity - more efficient.

Since its inception the Wonderbag has become an entity, in and of itself, and even surprises me how far its power reaches. It's not just a poverty alleviation project (it can save the average South African family up to half of their annual income ordinarily spent on fuel), nor is it just a development exercise (our factories have created over 2,000 jobs in South Africa and Rwanda), nor indeed is it just a carbon trading model (each unit has the capacity to save half a ton of carbon a year, which is harvested and sold on the voluntary carbon markets). Brought to scale, the Wonderbag has the power to do much more than that; it can be the catalyst for a lot more than a nice stew and few CSR initiatives.

The more people I introduced it to, the more important and more exciting the idea became. I took it into boardrooms to present as a CSR investment and the investors wanted to take one home to their families. This begot our UK launch: a model so far removed from what I initially set out to do, but one that gave us the opportunities and - crucially - the awareness and enthusiasm we so badly needed. Within weeks, nearly every major national newspaper had written about it: the electricity free slow cooker that was changing lives. People really bought into it; I was demonstrating the Wonderbag on the BBC World Service, being asked to the homes of journalists to cook for their families and guests and during COP 17 in 2011, Prof Jacqueline McGlade, executive director of the European Environment Agency, commented that Wonderbag was "the most exciting development I have come across during the entire Durban conference."

Ultimately the Wonderbag is about efficiency in cooking, which is a fundamental activity when you have a family. It ignites the connection between families in developing and developed communities: a basic need to provide nutritious meals and the unlocking of time, money and workforce. At the World Economic Forum this year, His Excellency Nasser Sami Judeh, the Jordanian Minister of Foreign Affairs said the single most powerful thing about the Wonderbag was its ability to give women back their dignity. I couldn't have put it better myself.

The vicious cycle blighting so many communities is clear: the human problem - the need to cook, long cooking times and energy poverty - creates an environmental problem -deforestation, water scarcity - which creates another human problem - girls are taken out of school to forage further and further for wood and water - exposing them to violence. All because of inefficient cooking.

We ventured what happens when not just one family, but the entire community gets a Wonderbag and using statistics compiled and audited by the UN,which projected Wonderbags on developing communities across the world. Firewood or charcoal can last each household 5-7 times longer, allowing for reforestation. Water lasts longer as there is no evaporation in the Wonderbag. Time is given back to the woman, meaning time for a job or caring for the family. The girls are back in school, rarely needing to collect firewood, and not straying too far from home.

Suddenly the important of scale dawns. We realized that the impact of the Wonderbag has a multiplier effect: money for charcoal lasts the whole month, families have more disposable income, the girls are back in school, the school needs more classrooms, builders are employed to expand the school, more teachers are employed and more school uniforms and books are sold.

In just one year, the impact of having 100 million Wonderbags in use across the world would save 170 million trees, 15.6billion liters of water as well as creating as many as 100,000 new jobs and $3.6 billion in disposable income.

We were one of the few social enterprises that were able to attend this year's World Economic Forum, where we announced the launch of a major initiative to distribute 100 million Wonderbags across the world with the support of global organizations such as Unilever. His Excellency Nasser Sami Judeh, the Jordanian Minister of Foreign Affairs, along with Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte and Unilever CEO Paul Polman acknowledged the importance of collaboration between world leaders, NGOs and corporate organizations to instigate social change. And the 100 million bag initiative was recognized as a viable model to deliver social empowerment and mobility to some of world's poorest communities.

As beneficial as it was to be given the opportunity to speak to the world's most influential leaders about the Wonderbag, what was more important was highlighting that I represent one of many successful social enterprises and poverty alleviation schemes in operation across the world. Wonderbag is the proof that sustainable and socially conscious businesses can still be a commercial and profitable venture. By raising awareness of the benefits and commercial advantages that these companies like Wonderbag can offer, we can work towards building a healthier future for both individual communities and global corporations. But we need your help to do this.

As of January 2013, we have gone from a market stall in Durban to a global business which has successfully launched in to Rwanda, Kenya, the United Kingdom and Turkey to name but a few of the 22 different territories we now operate in. In South Africa we are directly improving the lives of over 2.5 million people. We need more. Your global family needs more.

We have the potential to save and improve the quality of millions of lives by providing them with a simple cooking device. For global leaders to recognize and lend their support to getting initiatives like mine off the ground is invaluable but we now need other corporate partners to join us to make a lasting impact, not only on our environment but more importantly our global family.