Game Changer: Ngozika Onyekwelu (Zambia)

In Game Changers 16by Mary Kurek2 Comments

Ngozika was born in the City of London in 1978 but went to Bishops Lee Boarding School in Zimbabwe at the age 5. Being the youngest girl and one of a few black girls in the school she only managed to school there for 6 months as she missed her mother. After a few years at an International School in Lusaka, she returned to the UK where she completed her GCSE’s and A-Levels.  Ngozika then went on to study English, Philosophy, and Law. Not being sure of what she wanted to specialize in educationally, she became a civil servant in the UK where she worked for the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Justice.

Ngozika presenting Quality Recognition Awards to Recycling Companies

All this while, Ngozika was pining to go back to Africa, so she returned and opened what was the first lingerie shop in Lusaka. She also worked for a German Agricultural company called Amatheon Agri in the District of Mumbwa. This lasted for a couple of years until she suffered a Lupus attack which left her blind in her left eye; having been born with a lazy right eye, she only had 5% vision. Whilst going through a long hospital admission and various treatments, she realized the fragility of life and took the time to reflect on her past achievements, which were not many. While in the hospital bed, she started thinking about the future and the impact she wanted to have in communities in Zambia. The Bright Future Project was conceived, and its purpose was to build a first-of-its-kind industrial-sized recycling plant in Zambia. Although, she did not know the term “circular economy” at the time, the whole business model was constructed around the concept of using waste as a resource, creating new types of industry through recycling processes, job security, dignity, and the elimination of cholera, typhoid, and other illnesses related to bad waste disposal practices. Together, with her mentor, Uzoma Nnganyadi and Tobias Muyaba, they have been working toward the vision. It has not been easy, and the challenges are many, but, she says, “I believe that, with the use of creative destruction, patience, and lateral thinking, all challenges can be overcome. We now have a brilliant team of engineers, environmentalists, and experts in the different fields necessary for our social enterprise to succeed. We are working toward creating “Zero Waste Green Districts” in Zambia…one of our first Districts in Chongwe. We have since realized that Africa has the potential to leapfrog Western waste management and recycling practices simply because we have no structures in place and thus we are working on a blank canvas and can create something which WILL have an impact environmentally, economically, socially, and technologically.”


Q & A with Ngozika:

Q:  Ngozika, your personal story of how you came to desire to make a difference is so compelling, but, what made you decide that recycling waste was the impact you wanted to make?

Ngozika visiting a recycling company in Leeds

A:  I decided on waste management and recycling for numerous reasons:

    1. I identified a gap in the market
    2. I realized the possibilities of job creation through the different recycling processes; job creation is something which is very important to me. The ability for communities to be economically empowered and experience a better and healthier quality of life is critical.
    3. A love for the environment and the desire to do my part in the fight against climate change, wildlife preservation, and deforestation in Zambia.
    4. My love for innovation and creativity.
    5. My need to see Africa develop in a healthy and sustainable way.

Q:  You’re out keynoting meetings a lot these days, and talking with leaders in the communities around where you wish to build your facility.  What are you hearing are the challenges for others in the recycling space and what are you experiencing as challenges from your local area?

A:  The biggest challenge recycling companies in Lusaka have is not being able to collect separated waste from the source as there are no systems in place for this evolution of waste disposal nor has the concept of the separation of waste from the source been tried and tested. The Bright Future Project business model puts the separation of the waste process as an essential element of the enterprise.  The separation of waste means less waste goes to the city landfill and that enhances public health. It also makes it easier for recycling companies to collect the specific waste types they need as well as reduces labor costs and time.

Q:  What do you plan to do with the waste and how do you plan to do it in a way that’s sustainable?

Earthbag architecture will be used to build Ngozika’s facility

A:  We will begin by processing three waste types during our pilot phase: organic, plastic bottles/packaging, and glass. The organic waste will be converted into compost aimed at small scale and commercial farmers with the intention of educating them on the benefits of compost as opposed to chemical-based fertilizers which destroy the soil with toxins. The long-term benefits of using compost for soil productivity is great as it puts the nutrients back into the soil which means farmers produce bigger, healthier yields which are not prone to disease. For the pilot, we will be shredding our plastic bottles and selling the shredded plastic to an off-taker. We will also convert PET into diesel which we will use to run our site as we are located off-grid. Going forward, we have other outputs we would like to generate, such as plastic pellets and roofing and paving tiles, but this will only be made possible after we have secured investment.  For now, we are working with what we have. The glass will be shattered back into sand, mixed with organic sand, and molded into building bricks or paver bricks.  This will enable demographics from low-income households to access our recycled products.

Earthbag final product

Q:  I think you told me that your ultimate goal is “zero waste.”  What models and/or programs are you looking to implement or where are you gaining meaningful insight?

A:  Our Zero Waste business model is a model that is ethical, economical, efficient, and visionary to guide people in changing their lifestyles and practices to emulate sustainable natural cycles, where all discarded materials are designed to become resources for others to use. In other words, the waste is immediately separated at the point of disposal and processed into an end product eliminating landfill fill practices completely. Zero Waste means designing and managing products and processes to systematically avoid and eliminate the volume and toxicity of waste and materials, conserve and recover all resources, and not burn or bury them. Implementing Zero Waste will eliminate all discharges to land, water, or air that are a threat to planetary, human, animal, or plant health. Of course, this goes hand-in-hand with sensitization and education. We have an educational team who is working toward creating workshops for schools, businesses, municipalities, and communities. We have already started going to schools and talking to children about the importance of the separation of waste; why it is important to have good waste disposal practices, the value of the waste once it is separated, and the different products that can be made from waste. It is only when communities begin to take ownership of their waste will they begin to appreciate their real potential. Our journey over the years since the conception of The Bright Future Project has led us to this belief: that the “circular economy zero waste” business models will have a positive impact in developing nations if implemented properly. An atmosphere of innovation and lateral thinking will evolve once we release that sustainable practices will enhance local businesses economically, socially as well as environmentally, hitting the triple bottom line as well as improving public health issues and taking away the feeling of hopelessness which is felt amongst the Zambian population…that’s why the creation of employment for the informal sector is very important and a necessary element of the circular economy if its to be achieved.


Ngozika’s Networking Interests:

  • CEO’s of International Waste Management and Recycling companies to learn about business models, how their vision began, the visions they have for the future, their challenges, and successes
  • Somebody from the Ellen MacArthur Foundation to gain more knowledge on best practices, data on the impact of the circular economy in developing nations and find out how the circular economy as a concept will evolve so that I can use it as guidance for the future business development of  The Bright Future Project
  •  Zambia’s President, His Excellency Edgar C Lungu, and his cabinet to impart knowledge on the importance of  sustainability, the circular economy, innovation amongst Africans, and the alternative reality of using waste as a resource as opposed to depleting our precious natural resources, the realities of job creation, creation of new industries, and thus, the creation of employment for the informal sector as well as the formation of a skilled labor force. I would then go on to explain how the effects of climate change will devastate developing nations more than developed nations due to technological and legislative advances and how the disenfranchised demographics are being ignored when it comes to sensitization on the topic of climate change. It is the communities from low-income households who have the most power to make a change as they make up the largest group in society and require the most help to overcome the shackles of poverty. We have the potential to leapfrog and protect ourselves from ecological disaster if we start sharing knowledge and working with community leaders in sustainable regenerative practices such as recycling and renewable energy.


    Contact:
    Linkedin:  https://www.linkedin.com/in/ngozika-victoria-onyekwelu-65460288/Website:  http://www.infothebrightfutur.wixsite.con/mysite

Comments

  1. Well done Ngozika. Please continue working hard and do our country proud. Congratulations!!!

  2. We are very proud of you Ngozika, Tobias and Uzoma. Count on us to support you all the way. #ProudtobeZambian

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