Akwaaba & Co – Repurposing waste to creative High-end Furniture
AKWAABA & CO is a social enterprise that seeks to mitigate severe prevalent environmental degradation at the world’s largest e-waste dump – Agbogbloshie through creatively repurposing waste to high end furniture.
We had the opportunity to interview the Founder, Joseph Awuah-Darko, who’s part of the Africans Building Africa Community.
Tell us about yourselves and your organization
Akwaaba & Co is a social enterprise that seeks to repurpose scrap and electronic waste to create high-end beautifully crafted furniture with a decidedly African aesthetic for HNWIs, and other clients.
Akwaaba & Co as a business is also involved in the recruitment of low-income inhabitants at Agbogbloshie who give up the self harmful burning of scrap to salvage and sell precious metals to train vocationally in order to make the intricate furniture pieces we pride ourselves in. This means that for every person we employ from Agbogbloshie, the mass burning that releases harmful and greenhouse gases is mitigated.
Finally, we feel our utility pieces act as instruments of advocacy that create awareness within the local and global community of the need to address the issue of climate change and the effects of environmental degradation.
How much did you need to start your organization and how were you able to raise that capital?
We are still in the process of raising adequate capital through our future affiliation with the Climate Innovation Centre (an initiative by the World Bank) launched by incumbent World Bank CEO, Ex-President J.A Kufuor and Patrick Awuah at Ashesi University where I am currently a student. We started the business on the back of my personal savings and contributions from family with just above $5,000 though we are yet to officially launch our first product. Most of our funds have been attributed towards sampling of products to ensure the best quality and fine aesthetic our clients deserve.
What are some of the challenges you face in your organization and how do you overcome those challenges?
We are a very young business (start-up) and as such raising capital proved to be a challenge initially but in partnering with institutions like the Climate Innovation Centre (CIC) we are sure we will overcome this. Furthermore, initially, galvanizing and communicating with members of the Agbogbloshie community at large also proved to be a challenge and still does at times. However, adopting a sense of emotional intelligence in our ubiquitous interactions with inhabitants within the community, and applying some good old principles by the great Dale Carnegie into our “pitch” to pockets of the community proved beneficial in facilitating a paradigm shift in mindset. They grew to believe in us and believe in our vision of conservationism. That was a significant milestone.
Where do you see your organization in 5 years from now and what steps are you taking today to reach that objective?
God-willing, in the future my team and I would want Akwaaba & Co to remain a very much human-centered social enterprise focused on mitigating environmental degradation despite our aspirations to scale. We genuinely care about the well-being of people we recruit and employ, the lives we affect and most importantly the betterment of the environment we facilitate through our creativity. This is our prerogative.
As a business in 5 years we seek to be authentically Pan-African business by applying our business model to other African nations experiencing similar effects of environmental degradation subsequent to e-waste. We seek to achieve this by consolidating our prospective partnership with the Climate Innovation Centre and other investors who will enable Akwaaba & Co to achieve this level of scalability within said time frame. Finally, in 5 years we aspire to have well above 100 recruited and trained inhabitants from Agbogbloshie working as craftsmen and women under Akwaaba & Co leading a much healthier and prosperous life.
What advice would you give other entrepreneurs looking to start a business in Africa?
To investors in the diaspora and beyond, I would say invest in Africa for the long-term with conviction that you are investing in the future of a blooming continent, not an ephemeral, short-term ROI.
To my fellow entrepreneurs, I would say two things. Firstly, it is important to adopt of growth mindset in constantly challenging yourself to look for opportunities within adversity and not just focusing on problems. Secondly, that entrepreneurship is not a glamorous endeavor or an overnight agenda, but one that requires patience, perilous persistence and a deep conviction in your vision – it is a game of stamina.
How is your business participating to the development of Africa?
Akwaaba & Co. is making Africa cleaner one piece of furniture at a time. By recruiting and employing people previously involved in the hazardous self-harmful burning of scrap, we are in the process of improving the standard of living for the men and women employed who are now healthier and more productive members of the broader African society. Furthermore, we are facilitating the economic growth of the continent by actualizing aspects in the informal sector of scrap dealing, procurement and distribution in a formal sector setting by repurposing it to create the Afropolitan furniture, this growing the continent’s GDP. Finally, we are slowly turning the world’s largest e-waste dump located in the continent into a source of inspiration, community building and palpable economic growth – that’s gotta to be good for something.