THE BLOG
05/31/2016 11:24 am ET Updated Jun 01, 2017

How this South African woman entrepreneur's efforts are changing our world

Can you imagine smoking two packs of cigarettes a day in your car, with the window rolled up, and your kids in the back? I hope not! Here's a public health problem not enough people are talking about: indoor air pollution, which kills between 3.5 and 4.3 million people a year, most of whom are women and infants.

This is because about 3 billion people around the world--mostly in impoverished parts of Africa and Asia--still cook and heat the inside of their homes by burning coal, charcoal, dung, wood or plant residue, according to Vox. These homes often have poor ventilation, and the smoke can cause all sorts of respiratory diseases. Women and children pay the heaviest price from indoor air pollution, as they spend more time at home breathing in smoke and soot from leaky coal and wood stoves than men. Researchers don't even have a full understanding of the extended effects of smoke inhalation on children, which is extremely scary.

When I was in the Peace Corps, we cooked over wood inside, and I couldn't take the smoke in my eyes--or my lungs.

Luckily, however, there are a few incredible products and initiatives combating this issue, one of which is Wonderbag, an insulated, non-electric bag that cooks food after it has been brought to a boil. It works like a slow cooker--continuously cooking food for hours and keeping it warm without needing fire.

Sarah Collins, a South African native, came up with the idea in 2008 when widespread blackouts were affecting her nation. Sarah brought her first bag to a grandmother, who earned a meager living selling food that she cooked all day over a wood fire as a caretaker for nine orphans. Wonderbag changed their lives completely. Within three months, the children only needed to gather firewood once a week, and they were all in school. They had money for shoes, and it was a catalyst out of poverty for them, Sarah says. She knew she was on to something.

Fast-forward to eight years later, and Sarah has traveled the world, meeting with leaders and distributing upwards of 700,000 Wonderbags across Africa, Europe, the Middle East and North America. Her goal is to sell 100 million Wonderbags worldwide. She's on her way to accomplishing that, mostly because she has the help of other women entrepreneurs, who are selling Wonderbags in their local markets. Sarah has turned a life-saving product into an entrepreneurial endeavor that has broad economic implications across the world. It goes back to the thinking that we can absolutely make money while saving lives. Through one simple product, Sarah is employing a global eligible workforce AND improving the mortality rate. Wonderbag has been an incredible domino effect, and it's one that Dell supports through the Dell Women's Entrepreneur Network.

It's absolutely brilliant when large corporations and organizations support initiatives like these, which might start small but have game-changing potential and impact society and business for the better. Dell has a long-term commitment to women entrepreneurs on any continent, and we are thrilled to offer women like Sarah the technology and the access to networks and markets to scale their businesses.

Success stories like Sarah's are what inspired Dell to host its annual DWEN Summit in Cape Town, South Africa this June. Sarah is one woman creating a movement, shifting the winds of change in the right direction. We wanted to show women entrepreneurs, who are working toward adding that 600 million jobs our economy needs over the next 10 years, that innovation can come from anywhere in the world.

Overall, Africa has become known as the world's largest source of untapped talent, leading in the number of women starting businesses, with almost equal levels of male and female entrepreneurs, according to our 2015 Global Women Entrepreneur Leaders Scorecard. Dell recently partnered with Harvard's Technology and Entrepreneurship Center (TECH) and IHS--a leading source of insight and analytics that shape today's business landscape--to launch first-of-its-kind, global research that will measure a city's ability to attract and support high-potential women entrepreneurs. The 25 cities in the ranking were chosen from the list of 50 global cities in the Dell Future-Ready Economies (FRE) Model in order to make comparisons between the two indices, with geographic diversity utilized as key criteria in city selection. The rankings will be announced on June 22 at the Global Entrepreneurship Summit in Palo Alto, California.

I'm really looking forward to this year's DWEN Summit, considering how many entrepreneurs build businesses that change our world in incredible ways, just like Sarah has.

Learn more about DWEN here and learn more about this year's DWEN Cape Town Summit here.