Our vision is to create a unique experience for youth in the informal sector by challenging them to solve a specific problem, create an environment where they can learn and practice important skill-sets (sales, marketing, design, operations, management), and inspire them along the way by working in a startup environment that allows them to learn, practice, fail, and iterate.
Africa has the highest concentration of youth in the world with 70% of Africans under the age of 20. This presents a remarkable opportunity to enable youth with the necessary skills to succeed. According to a UNDP study, 80% of Kenya’s unemployed population is between the ages of 15 and 34. With 77% of Kenya’s population relying on the informal sectors for their livelihoods, it is important that an inclusive environment is created for youth in the informal sectors.
This is where PlasticLabs comes in. Plastic waste pollution is a global challenge and if you travel to urban and rural areas across East Africa, the visibility of plastic waste is even more prevalent. When I did initial research to understand the plastic waste landscape in Kenya, I unravelled an interesting finding. All of the waste management/recycling companies that I interacted with collect plastic bottles, shred them into pellets, and then export the plastic pellets to countries like China and India. However, since the price of petrol has gone down, this has become a less profitable revenue stream for many waste management companies.
This got me thinking. Why are we exporting and selling our plastic resources to other countries? The short answer is that countries like India and China have heavily invested in their manufacturing sector. What if we built a low-cost machinery that can turn plastic waste into viable products? Well...we can! Using open sourced information from Precious Plastic (and other sources), we’re going to create a network of micro-businesses that use readily available basic tools and low-cost materials to build machines that recycle plastic. With our little factories, we’re going to collect plastic waste, re-design a more effective collections process, and create and sell valuable products.
How might plastic waste help youth who work in informal economies? Research from the MasterCard Foundation shows that youth in informal economies have a positive perception of self-employment but they lack the mentorship, skills, and information to make their dreams a reality. In addition, when I conducted a research study for the Rockefeller Foundation, I learned that employers believe that there is a skills gap between what youth learn and what is expected from them, such as soft skills, strategy, marketing, and sales. Part of the reason why this skills gap exists is because it can be very difficult for youth in the informal sector to find formal jobs and put their theory into practice.
At PlasticLabs, we’re going to provide opportunities for males and females in informal economies to learn and build practical skill sets that will help them as entrepreneurs and managers. This includes mentorship and a hybrid learning environment where youth will learn custom tailored courses and then put their learnings into practice PlasticLabs in their rotational teams. Rotational teams (sales, marketing, design, operations, and management) will accelerate and expose youth to practice and build a variety of skill sets. Through this program, youth will contribute and create open-sourced content on important lessons they learned when starting and building a business. If we can enable youth from informal economies to create sustainable micro-businesses by transforming plastic waste into valuable commodities, then imagine how this might inspire them to utilise the skills and mentorship that they learned and create sustainable businesses that can impact their communities!
Our beneficiaries are an equal mixture of male and female youth who have worked in the informal sector in Nairobi. They are generally low income, and may have limited formal education, though will have “street smarts” that will be valuable for this business. They will benefit from this idea by learning new skill sets (leadership, communication, sales, marketing, product design, and general management) and being inspired to challenge problems in their day to day lives with a new lens: entrepreneurship.
Not only will the environment benefit from PlasticLabs, but also local communities where PlasticLabs operates in will benefit because they will see the direct and indirect impacts of a reduction in plastic waste pollution in their communities. We hope that by inspiring youth as change agents we can influence the systematic mental models that people have toward plastic waste.
What will we do with plastic waste?
Using open sourced information and instructional videos from Precious Plastic (and other sources), we’re going to build low-cost machines that can recycle plastic. Precious Plastic made a fantastic video that shows how this process looks like: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8J7JZcsoHyA
We’re going to start by using plastic waste to create filament for 3D printers. Why 3D printing filament? First off, making 3D printing filament from plastic waste isn’t as complicated as it may sound like :) With the 3D printing space in Kenya growing, this will be an opportunity for PlasticLabs to locally supply the market needs. We also vision ourselves as a micro makers lab that can be scaled up in different contexts. We can this by creating useful products and handcrafts, such as benches, toilets, and even houses for communities that we operate in.