The Wonderbag is a marvellous invention that has taken kitchens locally and around the world by storm.
November 2015 marks a major milestone for a simple heat retention bag that to date has achieved remarkable things – including: saving 2 million trees from being cut down for use as cooking fuel; dramatically reducing the horrifying stat of 82% of rapes that occur in Africa, by ensuring firewood collection only happens once a week; saving $36 million dollars in homes of the poorest of poor; and by default has also reduced indoor air pollution and smoke inhalation by 80%, which has saved the lives of some of the 4 million people who die annually from indoor air pollution related respiratory diseases. Wonderbag has now reached 1 million sales.
“For consumers in developed markets, the onus on saving time and money while feeding healthy and nutritious meals to their families – AND healing our planet, are all of major concern. The ability of the Wonderbag to address all these problems with a very simple solution is what has led us to reach this very humbling milestone of 1 million bags having been sold across the globe,” stated Wonderbag’s CEO, Sarah Collins.
“We’ve trained a multitude of women to become Wonderpreneurs and sell bags in their communities – looking to promote economic inclusion of these ‘last mile entrepreneurs”, adds Collins.
We caught up with Sarah for a quick chat about the 1 million milestone and her future Wonderbag plans.
Congratulations on your 1 million milestone. This is an incredible achievement for which you must be so proud. With production of these bags on the increase, at one stage your team was making 5 000 Wonderbags in a single month. How has the demand for these ingenious non-electric heat retention cookers increased your monthly production numbers?
Over the years, there have been a lot of numbers that have been mentioned in the media as to how many Wonderbags we produce in a month. However, our production level is determined by the demand in the market or the partners that we are working with. We have developed certain procedures and facilities in different countries that will allow for us to achieve the required amount when needed.
We have a base skill set who are our permanent employees and these people then train the necessary people to produce the bags in large volumes. There have been certain occasions whereby we would need to produce 100 000 Wonderbags in a week! When the demand is low and the women are not making Wonderbags they are encouraged to continue their entrepreneurship by selling Wonderbags. We are constantly looking at ways to improve our supply chain and how to assist the people who form part of our work force to maintain as constant an income as possible.
How many ladies do you have working for you now (on average)?
Our workforce has topped 2 000 at times where maximum production is needed.
You’re an incredibly ambitious person, having achieved some remarkable things with this product. These achievements have seen some inspiring changes within local communities helping to ease the impact of health, social, economic and environmental problems. What are you hoping to achieve next with the Wonderbag?
The next milestone that I would like Wonderbag to achieve is to sell 10 million bags in the next 1000 days.
The Wonderbag is quite an empowering product. Where do you feel this product has made the most positive impact?
Wonderbag has made a positive impact amongst women across the globe. It has given them the courage, self-esteem and belief that they can take care of themselves as well as their communities. It has allowed them to also become their own entrepreneurs, through saving time and doing things differently.
You also have a Buy One, Give One initiative whereby a Wonderbag is donated to a rural family in need in Africa for every one bag sold. The Wonderbag Foundation adds to your incredible success to date. Do you have any plans to expand on this programme?
The initiative that you are referring to is in fact the Buy And Give (BAG) initiative, whereby for every bag sold around the world – a portion of the proceeds is donated to the Wonderbag Foundation where a bag is purchased and donated to a family in need in Africa. In the US for every bag purchased, the proceeds to cover the cost of a Wonderbag are donated to the Foundation to “Buy” a bag, which is then donated. Watch this space for the Coalition of Good!
Of all your achievements, which most inspires you to continue your journey of improving the lives of others?
The reason I continue my journey is that I can see the positive impact, which Wonderbag has brought to communities and families across the globe and for me, that is rewarding.
The one memory that stands out for me in particular and encourages me to continue is when I visited the Palestinian/Syrian refugee camp on the Syrian/Jordan border. We were transported into the camp by UN agencies. Our first stop was a housing facility, which was in fact just an abandoned block of flats, through which authorities were moving hundreds of Palestinian/Syrian refugees every few days. It was a shell of a building with no ablution facilities or even running water. There was no glass in the windows, no doors and no infrastructure, just bricks. I had to walk through human faeces to get to the door. People had defecated all around the perimeter of the building, as there was nowhere else to go to relieve themselves. Each room was inhabited by a family of up to ten people and there was a line of up to twenty women waiting to use the single gas cooker, just one per floor. The sheer horror to my senses was overwhelming; stench, disgust, shame and hopelessness overcame me. I just tied my scarf around my nose and face and kept on looking. Each floor was the same and each person’s desperate face, the same too.
We worked with the women for four days, showing them how the Wonderbag worked. I came back, after a week, and found 400 women, gathered and waiting for me, ululating, screaming and waving their hands as I approached. I was terrified that I was about to be attacked. What had I done? I looked at my translator and the team with me, searching for answers. They quelled the crowd and then one women, their nominated spokeswoman broke from the crowd and ran at me, literally lifting me off my feet. She hugged me. The others then followed suit and I was in the middle of these women. Then there was silence and the only thing I remember is Fatam’s words: “You were sent to us by magic, you have given us back our dignity. We can now cook, we can make yoghurt and now we also have enough gas to boil water to wash our babies. We can start again. You have saved our lives.”
Words and Photography Andrea Abbott