Accelerating SDGs Through Innovation

Posted December 30, 2021

The first prize winners of the innovation challenge pose after being announced the winners of the E135 000 grant each. Photo Credit/ UNDP Eswatini.

It is her passion for the environment that made Nothando Masimula to start a company that would help banana-producing farms manage their waste. Through research, the 27-year-old Bachelor of Nursing student from the University of Eswatini discovered that the fibre from old banana tree stems could create home décor products instead of going to waste.

“I come from an area where there are farmers that specialize in growing bananas at a commercial scale,” says Masimula, who hails from Mshingishingini in the Hhohho Region. Through her research, she learnt that in Ghana they make different products from the fibre of banana trees, an idea which she wanted to replicate in Eswatini.

“I thought this was an opportunity to generate income not just for myself but for the community members I’m going to work with,” said Masimula.

While she was excited about her business idea, lack of access to finance and the limited ability to set up and manage a business were the major challenges. As a young person with no collateral or experience in running a business, she was not an attractive client to financial institutions.

Fortunately, Masimula was selected as a beneficiary of the Enhancing Innovative Capacity for SDG Solutions project implemented by the Royal Science and Technology Park (RSTP). She is among the nine beneficiaries whose start-ups shared E1,2 million after being awarded the first prize of E135,000.00 each. Moreover, eight start-ups were awarded E23,000.00 each as the second prize.

These grants were aimed at helping the start-ups register their businesses and provide the necessary infrastructure and equipment to start operating. The beneficiaries were also trained in business management. They came up with innovative start-ups aimed at using the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to help Eswatini respond to different challenges.

Also known as Ematfuba Ami, this project is an initiative of RSTP in partnership with Standard Bank and UNDP Eswatini.

According to RSTP Chief Executive Officer, Mr. Vumile Dlamini, the youth between the ages of 18-35 constituted 76 percent of the beneficiaries and, of these, 39 percent are women. He said the beneficiaries were selected according to UNDP's strategic objectives of Leaving No One Behind and Reaching the Furthest First and the government's strategic development goals.

“From July 2020 to June 2021, the 16 start-ups generated a combined annual turnover amounting to E10.7 million,” said Dlamini. He was speaking at the grant award ceremony held at Sibayeni Lodge on December 02.

Dlamini said some of these start-ups have won in competitions for funding in other parts of Africa while others have secured export contracts that will expand the businesses to other countries in the continent.

Speaking at the same event, Shaima Hussein, the UNDP Deputy Resident Representative, said this project is a result of a fruitful partnership between the UN Agency and RSTP since 2018/19 when it was started as a pilot.

“One of the lessons learnt from the partnership between UNDP and RSTP is that the youth could not take advantage of opportunities to access financial services and penetrate the market,” she said, adding: “This programme, therefore, provides our young entrepreneurs with the opportunity to build their skills, test their ideas, learn from others, and position themselves accordingly.”

She said, although the country is dealing with the impact of COVID-19, Eswatini should be supported to be on track with the vision of youth empowerment and to help the country achieve the targets of the SDGs.

The Principal Secretary at the Ministry of Information, Communications and Technology, Mr. Maxwell Masuku, reminded the beneficiaries that the performance of their start-ups will influence future investments in innovation and entrepreneurship. He was represented by the Ministry’s Under Secretary, Ms. Macanjana Motsa.

Representing Standard Bank was Ms. Setsabile Nhlabatsi, the Head of Enterprise Banking, who delivered a message of support for entrepreneurs from the Chief Executive Officer, Mr. Mvuselelo Fakudze.

First prize winners pose with RSTP CEO, Mr. Vumile Dlamini, UNDP Deputy Res. Rep. Ms. Shaima Hussein and Ministry of ICT Under Secretary, Ms. Macanjana Motsa. Photo Credit/UNDP Eswatini