A ‘hygiene boost’, which uses water from the shower to flush the toilet. Houses made out of bamboo. Collecting phosphate out of human waste and turning it into fertilizer. These are the ideas that are most likely to benefit Capetonians living in the townships.
Or at least, that’s what the business-minded students in the Netherlands think. They participated in the BrainsXchange challenge; a contest for innovative, sustainable ideas that tackle unemployment, poor housing and inadequate sanitary conditions. Out of 6000 entrants, a jury of business professionals picked these three winning proposals, whose inventors will visit Cape Town’s townships to test the feasibility of their plans.
Not that Andrei Fedorovski has any doubt about the success of his idea to turn faeces into phosphate. “I think it’s a pretty great concept,” says the student at the Haagse Hogeschool. “I connect people to toilet facilities and gain phosphate from the waste water. The phosphate can be sold as a fertilizer, and from the profits, I can provide even more people with proper sanitation. Phosphate is currently being mined, but it’s depleting rapidly. Within 30 years, it will all be gone. So my plan really is a win-win situation.”
As a result, several business plans showed little understanding of township reality, or tried to pitch already existing ideas.
Does this make the BrainsXchange yet another ambitious initiative whereby people ‘from the north’ craft solutions for what they perceive to be problems ‘in the south’? Yes and no, says Laurens Vos, jury member and regional director of Projects Abroad. “Indeed we come up with ideas here in the Netherlands for problems that exist down south. But we also realise that you can’t properly judge the necessities of end users who live thousands of miles away.”
Not that township youth lack ideas of their own, Vos is quick to add. “But having an idea and knowing what to do with it are two completely different things. So I hope that the winning ideas of this BrainsXchange, although they were thought of in the Netherlands, can develop into solutions that solve issues people in townships have already been thinking about for a long time.”
In that respect, the 3-in-1 ‘hygiene boost’ stands a good chance. The solar-paneled pole connects a sink, shower and toilet, and use the water from the first two to flush the latter. “Great idea, but if you leave it like this, you can bet that the solar panel will be the first thing to get stolen,” commented South African jury member Stuart Minnaar.
And also with Bambooha, a proposal that envisages cheap and sustainable houses made from bamboo, South African eyes are needed to fine tune the proposal. Thorsten Lohmann, one of the people on the team: “We learned that brick houses are a way to show status, whereas bare bamboo poles would be considered a lower standard. We’re now thinking of plastering the bamboo framework with clay, as a way of upgrading the house.”
The exact township and neighbourhood where the winners will further develop their business plans are yet to be decided on. With most contacts around, Khayelitsha seems the most logical place to start.