Thato Kgatlhanye is a South African startup entrepreneur who is using innovation to benefit the lives of disadvantaged school children in South Africa. She has a strong passion for social change and empowerment and this is reflected in her product: the solar powered school bag.
At age 18, Kgatlhanye founded Rethaka, literally meaning “we are fellows.” She set out with no concrete business plan in mind, just the idea that she wanted to do something that impacted young people and benefited underprivileged communities. Less than two years later, Repurpose was born.
Repurpose Schoolbags is an environmentally-friendly innovation made from ‘upcycled’ plastic shopping bags with built-in solar technology that charges up during the day and transforms into a light at night. The initiative targets school children in underprivileged communities and looks at addressing a number of problems.
Firstly, the bags allow them to study after dark in homes without electricity. Secondly, the bags are designed with reflective material, so that children are visible to traffic during their walk to and from school.
Rethaka is not only helping school children with the school bags, but also helping women by employing them in the factory.
She was awarded, “Innovator of the Year” by Forbes Women Africa and the recipient of the Elle Magazine Impact award laureate across 6 continents. In 2016 she became the youngest business woman, at age 23, to appear on the cover of Forbes Women Africa.