1 September 2022

Circularity Tales: accelerating the transition in Rwanda

The world’s population is constantly on the rise, and every year, more and more raw materials are extracted to make products for consumption. These raw materials are finite, and to exacerbate the situation, the used products are largely dumped in various landfills, missing the opportunity for extra value creation, and adding pressure to the environment. What if we all learned from mother nature and her cyclical processes? Adopting a Circular Economy model would allow us to extract less raw materials, add more value to our products, and ‘close the loop’, leaving our environment unharmed. 

What does adopting a Circular Economy model (circularity) look like for entrepreneurs and startups? What if all startup incubators and accelerators took the step towards integrating design principles that foster circularity? How would this impact ventures going through these programs and the environment at large? 

These are some of the questions that the Impact Hub Global Network has been exploring over the past year. From the initial questions, the network moved to testing and piloting with local Impact Hubs. 12 Hubs across Africa, Asia, Europe, and Latin America are integrating circularity into their programs.

Impact Hub Kigali is part of the process and has recently concluded the Circular Economy (CE) Acceleration Program, a unique 6-month program dedicated to enabling startups to become more circular. The CE Acceleration program was supported by the DOEN Foundation, the MAVA Foundation, and the GIZ Digital Transformation Center and was designed to leverage Circular Economy principles in supporting startups or companies to identify and capture new opportunities in their product or service life-cycle that will ultimately lead to the sustainable growth of their circular businesses.

Circularity Tales at Impact Hub Kigali
Representatives from the six selected startups, and Impact Hub Kigali team at the program kick-off session

The pilot program in Rwanda began with a nation-wide call for applications to attract startups and companies interested in becoming more circular. Six startups were selected out of a pool of 50+ applicants. 

Each startup was assigned an individual sustainability coach that supported them to apply CE knowledge in testing out their circular innovations. In addition, they also had access to a series of circularity workshops and training such as product/material journey mapping, circular opportunity identification, circular collaborations, and circular business modeling, as well as access to seed funding to test their circular innovations. 

The program culminated in a circular Demo Day where startups had a chance to showcase their progress and pitch in front of potential partners and investors. The event also brought together relevant circular economy institutions, local partners, practitioners and enthusiasts, and served as an opportunity to network and discuss circular collaborations.

In addition, the pilot aimed to raise circular economy awareness in the country. As part of that commitment, Impact Hub Kigali and the Digital Transformation Center are currently working on building a community of practice around Circular Economy in Rwanda. This is being done through a series of events, workshops, and networking exchanges to bring together circular economy players and enthusiasts – and will keep happening beyond the framework of the program.

The six startups embedding circularity

Regarding their background, the six selected startups came from different sectors – like agriculture, tourism, manufacturing, and health with a technology aspect embedded within some of their business models. Here’s a sneak peak on their work: 

AFLIMBA is a creative space for rural artisans based in Rwanda, whose aim is to elevate the craftsmanship in rural communities and improve the livelihood of rural artisans and, at the same time, elevate their creative and leadership skills to another level as they are bringing to life fine handcrafted bags (called ‘LIMBAGS’).

I thought that I knew so much about the circular economy, but now I realize that I don’t. I like the feeling of not knowing and the opportunity to learn.” – Plante Josue from Aflimba. 

GREENREV GR is a youth-led agribusiness social enterprise. They focus on reducing horticultural harvest losses, as perishable crops and fight against malnutrition by adding micro- nutrient, to improve livelihoods through high profits and diversified nutrient-rich diets. They are interested in vegetables, tubers, fruits and cereals from seed to their processing to improve and modernize the agricultural sector through technological services.

Sanit Wing is a processing and manufacturing industrial company that produces a variety of oils, cosmetics and soaps from raw materials, like avocado. Sanit Wing processes avocado into pure avocado oil, avocado hair cream, avocado vaseline and avocado soap. They produce cold pressed Avocado oil for industrial and Pharmaceutical use, and Organic pesticides free cosmetics that are affordable and custom to customer needs.

We only have one planet. If we waste it today, what will happen tomorrow?” – says Nshimiyimana Alexandre from Sanit Wing.

Kosmotive produces and distributes breathable, non-toxic and super absorbent reusable sanitary pads that last for two years. They offer to all their end-users to bring back all used products they bought from them, and they give them new ones at half the price. They recycle them and make other useful products from used products.

CropTech Ltd is an agri-tech company that provides modern on-farm harvest handling services to maize growers in Rwanda and aid them to access the higher market through provision of transport and logistic services. They have developed a comprehensive on-farm harvest handling service through which they take the dryers at the farmers location and dry the maize harvest in a period of three hours instead of three weeks, and support the farmer to sell that to the high-end market .

Ngozi Naturals is a conservation enterprise that amplifies local plant benefits through manufacturing natural beauty products. They currently manufacture 6 different handmade soaps that are meticulously developed for 4 skin types. All of their products are 100% natural, biodegradable and the packaging is 100% recyclable.

For more information about Impact Hub Kigali’s Circularity Economy Acceleration Program, watch the video below!

To learn more, visit Impact Hub Kigali’s CE Acceleration Program page.

Circularity is part of our broader Environmental Strategy – discover how Impact Hub Global Network is addressing our time’s most pressing issues here. For more inspiring stories like this, head to our blog.

To learn from already-tested approaches, discover new activities and opportunities to integrate the Circular Economy knowledge into your entrepreneur support programs design and implementation, discover our toolkit!