Trash into cash: A student makes a business from recycling

Donald Patrick Bambara is the 20 year old behind Green’Act, a social enterprise founded in March last year when a team of students introduced a recycling system on their Institut Supérieur de Management (ISM) campus in Dakar, Senegal.

Donald Bambara

Donald Bambara of Green’Act

Inspired by a Swiss exchange student visiting his school, Bambara was part of the team which decided to do something about the lack of waste management systems in Senegal, visible in the heaps of rubbish that have been piling up for years on many of Dakar’s streets.

“In Senegal the waste management system is very bad and we noticed that there is no recycling system installed in schools and campuses,” Bambara told How we made it in Africa. “So this is the main reason we started Green’Act; to bring a change and to actually transform a society, the way they act and the way they manage their waste.”

After installing the first recycling system at his school, Bambara and his team started to focus on educating other students about the benefits of recycling.

“We organised some events in order to promote greener habits. We did conferences, clean up sessions in the street and, after a year, we realised that people were starting to change their habits.”

Bambara’s efforts with Green’Act led him to be named as one of the 12 finalists for the 2013 Anzisha Prize, a competition which recognises entrepreneurs across the African continent between the ages of 15 and 22 who are using entrepreneurship to solve problems in their communities.

While Bambara is originally from Burkina Faso and had moved to Dakar to attend school, he plans to stay in Senegal after he graduates from ISM this year, in order to focus on growing Green’Act further.

Changing business model

Green’Act’s business model was previously based solely on the sale of recyclable material but Bambara said the enterprise has since added new revenue streams which are more sustainable and profitable.

In addition to setting up and managing a school’s recycling system, Green’Act has also established a network of experienced educators who can be contracted to teach sustainable development to students at all education levels. In an effort to promote environmentally friendly practices, the Green’Act team will also plant trees and other plants on the school property.

Bambara highlighted that Green’Act believes real change starts with educating Africa’s youth. “We believe that the schools represent an important part in the sustainable development of the continent. Because if you change the schools and campuses where the future of the continent is trained, this will have a powerful impact on the next years for the continent.”

Inspired by the International Standards Organisation, Green’Act has also developed a standard called Sustainable African Schools and Campuses which can be offered to schools that adhere to Green’Act’s practices for three years. Bambara said it aims to reduce their ecological footprints while developing the first generation of sustainable African schools and campuses. Since it is an international standard, Green’Act hopes to expand the label to other countries.

Advice to other entrepreneurs

Bambara said that being an Anzisha Prize fellow has given him access to a network of mentors and advisors, and he has learnt a number of valuable lessons in the past year.

“I want the young African people who want to go into business to realise that if you want to create your enterprise, you don’t have to focus on money. You just have to be focused on creating something awesome, and once you create something awesome, money will follow.”

He also advises other aspiring entrepreneurs to do what they love, and look for ways to have a positive impact in their countries.

“Africa needs you so never give up until you bring the changes that you want.”

Follow the story of this year’s Anzisha Prize and what has become known as the #AnzishaEffect online and on Facebook and Twitter. Subscribe to the Anzisha Prize’s YouTube channel to get first access to their upcoming webisodes as they premiere.