Esethu Cenga, a 27-year old native of South Africa, has won 1.19 million rands for Rewoven, the textile recycling startup she co-founded in 2018 with Lonwabo Mgoduso and Tshepo Bhengu.
The South African development economics graduate and Mandela Rhodes Scholar is the first-ever recipient of the Äänit Prize, The Mandela Rhodes Foundation‘s new award for social Impact.
“Rewoven is a compelling and innovative textile recycling start-up that brilliantly addresses critical needs for economic development, broad-scale employment, women’s empowerment, and planetary responsibility.
This enterprise has the potential to be transformative economically, socially, and environmentally. It is sustainable by profit and globally scalable.”
This was the citation delivered on behalf of an independent panel of judges made up of African experts from various sectors, chaired by Elliot Gerson, Executive Vice President of the Aspen Institute.
Every second, the equivalent of a rubbish truckload of clothes is burnt or buried in a landfill. The fast-fashion industry is one of the most polluting in the world. It generates 90 million tons of waste annually, of which only 1% is recycled.
Rewoven diverts textile waste from landfills by collecting it from the source and recycling it into new fabric. Rewoven’s manufacturing process uses 99% less water and generates 50% less CO2 emissions than normal production processes. The fabric has the same look and quality as fabric made from virgin fibers.
The labor-intensive textile recycling process provides much-needed jobs, particularly for women, who make up the majority of clothing industry workers. Rewoven’s vision is to create a socially and ecologically sustainable way to create clothing and to contribute to more socially and ecologically sustainable ways of living.
Professor Njabulo Ndebele, Chairman of the Board, said that the awarding of the new prize was a historic moment in the life of the Foundation, which is Nelson Mandela’s official legacy organization for leadership development.
“By entrepreneurship, we mean a belief in the critical role played by individual human effort, hard work, innovation, and creativity in leading to the betterment of society and Africa’s place in the world.
Each of the seven finalists beautifully embodies this spirit. I am struck by the combination of pragmatism and hopefulness that characterizes these projects – a way of seeing possibilities hidden within the challenges that we face,” he said.
The awards were co-hosted by actor Masasa Mbangeni and MRF CEO Judy Sikuza, who are both Mandela Rhodes Scholars themselves, and streamed to a global audience. Sikuza said that she was delighted with the result.
“Esethu Cenga’s leadership of Rewoven is exactly what we hope for when we select and develop Mandela Rhodes Scholars. Esethu demonstrates courageous, visionary leadership that is grounded in hard work and humility. We are very proud of her and Rewoven, which offers such a creative solution to several complex problems.”
She added that the competition was extremely tight and that all of the finalists’ ventures are exceptional and worthy of support and investment.
Cenga gave a few words of thanks and acknowledged her team. “Thank you to the foundation first and foremost, I wouldn’t be here without the foundation. more than the education and funding, MRF made me see myself.
It changed my life and made me see that I could actually do what I wanted to do, and I was always very insecure before that. Thank you to the team at Rewoven – I don’t do it alone. I’m really grateful for this opportunity.”
The Äänit Prize is a complementary offering to the Foundation’s flagship program, the Mandela Rhodes Scholarship, and is available to alumni of both the Mandela Rhodes Scholarship and the Rhodes Scholarship.
The prize supports both for-profit and non-profit initiatives, increasing the impact of leaders in both alumni communities by supporting their efforts to reduce inequality and deliver positive social impact in Africa. The Prize is funded by Ezrah Charitable Trust which was started by long-time MRF supporter and Rhodes Scholar David Cohen.
Featured Image: Esethu Cenga, Founder, Rewoven