Description: Lorna Rutto


Meet the woman who turns plastic from dangerous waste into products that are good for the environment and who has won a prestigious international award for her efforts

 As a young child in Kenya, Lorna Rutto was disturbed by the plastic waste littering the streets of her native Nairobi; as an adult she has found a solution to the problem that is threatening to literally bury the city.

After leaving a career in finance, Rutto ventured into entrepreneurship with business partner Charles Kalama, a biochemical engineer. She says: “I love my work and I e much better being my own boss. Each day when I go to work, I feel I am serving my purpose on this Earth.” Her purpose has seen the monthly removal of close to 20 tons of plastic waste from landfills around Nairobi to be processed and transformed into fencing posts.

The waste problem in Nairobi has reached dangerous levels. “It is so bad that UNEP (the United Nations Environment Programme) has classified it as one of the worst humanitarian crises in the city,” says Rutto. The fence posts produced by her company, EcoPost, provide a sustainable solution to the growing problem. “They also provide an alternative to timber and thus prevent the cutting down of trees.”

In a city plagued by poverty Ruto’s project has not only served the environment: it is doing what it can for job creation and female empowerment in a patriarchal society. “Our employees provide better living standards, nutrition and education for their children. My satisfaction every day is derived from the act that fewer children go to bed hungry because their mothers earn a livelihood from out project. ”

On 14 October 2011, Rutto attended the fifth Cartier Women’s Initiative Awards ceremony in Deauville, France. She was one of 18 finalists from 13 different countries selected from an applicant pool of over 1,000 projects across a variety of fields, from engineering to adult education. After being coached by mentors from Cartier, INSEAD Business School and McKinsey & Company management consulting firm, the finalists submitted and presented business plans to the jury who then chose the winners. The process, that spanned seven months, resulted in the selection of six laureates one from each region around the world. Rutto returned to Kenya as Cartier’s Women’s Initiative Laureate for sub-Saharan Africa and truly enriched by her experience. “I was very touched to meet 17 lovely ladies from all over the world living thoughtful lives and making a difference in society.”

Part of her prize was an invitation to attend the Annual Global Meeting of the Women’s Forum for the Economy and Society in Deauville. “It was truly amazing! I was able to network and meet with many inspiring women. Most of them have contributed greatly to society and I felt so privileged.”

Each laureate also received $20,000 (about R157 000) in seed money and a year of business coaching. “I have started using the funds to help women set up collection yards from which we will buy our raw material. We have also bought a truck, which has already boosted our capacity.” This, Rutto hopes, will be the beginning of EcoPost’s expansion across Kenya and the greater Eastern African region. “We also intend making products for various other uses such as support beams and roofing trusses for the construction industry as well as furniture all of which are multimillion shilling industries in Kenya.”


Description: Lorna Rutto - a successful businesswoman

Rutto has big plans for EcoPost. Her vision is big, but her goals are simple and straightforward: “To transform all of Africa’s waste into wealth by creating more than 250,000 jobs and since our products provide an alternative to timber-have no more cutting down of trees.”

The international acknowledgement of her project has motivated Rutto and reaffirmed her passion to keep working for the good of the environment as well as for the empowerment of the women in her community. I intend to improve our business and the living standards og the many women we work with.

As for what makes a successful businesswoman, Rutto says, “A successful woman does things passionately and consistently and inspires people to develop new ideas to be able to solve their own problems. She is someone who has empowered people to achieve greatness.”

Cartier women’s initiative awards laureates


Description: Cartier women’s initiative awards laureates


Latin America: Carolina Guerra, Columbia

Ingerecuperar – Engineering solutions to recover hazardous waste

When aluminum is smelted, a substance called dross is a byproduct of the process. While working as a materials engineer Carolina Guerra came into contact with tis hazardous material and began looking for ways to turn it into something useful. In 2007 she started her company, Ingerecuperar, that specializes in producing products such as building blocks, benches and fence posts from the cement like substance. Because of her work, Columbian landfills are kept free of the dangerous waste material and the strain on the environment that this doss previously caused is alleviated.

North America: Benita Singh and Summer Rayne Oakes, USA

Source4style- A global source for sustainable materials

Singh and Oakes have honed in on the very foundation of the international fashion industry and source materials from ethical and sustainable suppliers to protect both the environment and the artisans who create these materials. Strict sustainability criteria apply: a material must be environmentally preferable, recycled or reclaimed, fair trade compliant or craft preserving. High resolution images of the materials are then posted on the Source4Style website (source4styl.com) so that designers can examine the weave. Registered site users can then request swatches and subscribers place production orders directly with the producer. Because there is no middleman, Source4Style also offers better prices to its buyers and sellers.

EUROPE: Kresse Wesling, Unite Kingdom

Elvis & Kresse Sustainable luxury goods made from waste

Kresse Wesling built a business on waste and having an eye for beautiful things. Together with her business partner, James Henrit (“Elvis”), Wesling in 2007 began creating their now internationally recognized line of luxury accessories such as fashionable belts made from unused fire hoses and shopping bags made from old coffee sacks. Their pieces are sold in London’s Harrods department store and recently were taken up by stores in New York too. The company donates 50 percent of all profits to charities such as The Fire Fighters Charity and the WWF.

Middle East and North Africa: Rana El Chemaitelly, Lebanon


Description: The little engineer Hands on engineering skills for the young


The little engineer Hands on engineering skills for the young

After realizing that her son’s addiction to video games was making him unsociable, Rana El Chemaitelly set up an after school activity centre where children as young as four can learn about science, technology, engineering and mathematics. The mechanical engineer drew on her experience as a university instructor and developed a series of edutainment activities to encourage critical thinking in young minds. The business is also committed to equal opportunities and hosts sessions for children from lower-income homes and public funded schools.

Asia Pacific” Chunhong Chen, China

Yiyuan environmental group - Patented technology that saves up to 83 percent of toilet water

Flushed water make up at least half of the water consumed by Chinese households. Unlike conventional six-litre toilets, Yiyuan’s toilets use only one litre to flush by taking water directly from the main water supply, thus eliminating the need for storage tanks that tend to leak. Chunhong Chen, a former teacher, has no engineering experience but nevertheless went into business with her brother who invented the technology Yiyuan now uses. Their breakthrough came when they were commissioned to equip a number of pavilions with toilets for the Shanghai Expo in 2010.

How to enter the cartier women’s initiative 2012:

Women led creative for profit businesses in the start-up phase are eligible for the award. A detailed application form (requiring the equivalent of a short business plan) is available at cartierwomensinitiative. Com and entries for the 2012 Awards close on 13 March 2012.

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