Social innovators know that to solve problems, it’s not about trying to reinvent the wheel. Rather, it’s about reframing problems and applying new or old ideas in new ways to solve them.
Sarah Collins, an entrepreneur from South Africa, is using an idea inspired by her grandmother to address a health and environmental problem affecting many communities.
In 2008, because of power cuts in South Africa, she became frustrated with half-cooked dinners, and remembered a time when her grandmother used cushions around her pans to continue cooking food after the stove has been turned off. Realizing that many families around the world cook using open fires and kerosene stoves, she figured it would be great to create a product using her grandmother’s method.
Her idea became the Wonderbag, an insulated bag that slowly cooks food using retained heat. To use, a pot with food is boiled by conventional methods and transferred to the Wonderbag to cook through, thereby using minimal fuel, reducing toxic fumes, and saving time and other resources such as water and wood.
The Wonderbag began selling in South Africa and the UK, which has been a success, before being made available in the US through Amazon. Reviews on the e-commerce website generally say that the product works well, and some commented that they have found new uses for it such as bringing a hot meal to picnic.
The product comes in different sizes priced from $20 to $50. There are two versions available for US customers, both priced at $50. Wonderbag is using the buy-one-give-one (BOGO) model where one is donated to a family in Africa.
It’s tough to see how many families living on less than $2 per day can afford the Wonderbag, but at the same time, the BOGO model has been criticized for many reasons, including creating a culture of dependency rather than encouraging self-sufficiency or not creating economic opportunity.
For the record, the Wonderbag is made in South Africa. The company says it has created 2,000 jobs and can potentially create up to 100,000 jobs if it can roll out 100 million bags per year.
Meanwhile, for an alternative to slow cooking, Greenway Grameen Infra makes fuel efficient stoves to address the same health and environmental problems resulting from dangerous cooking methods.
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