Zimbabwe Sunshine Group cleans up and gives back
Ronny Mbaisa and Cliff Chivanga grew their waste management business from the showgrounds up.
In 2007, Ronny Mbaisa and Cliff Chivanga were hosting small-scale, monthly clean-up events in Harare. After a few years, however, the pair started to think bigger.
“We started asking for information on how communities and companies can best manage their waste,” Mbaisa said. “We decided to get into proper waste management.”
Driven by equal passions for the environment and entrepreneurship, Mbaisa and Chivanga founded the Zimbabwe Sunshine Group in 2009. The nonprofit’s mission is to develop waste disposal systems, as well as raise awareness about local environmental challenges.
Their first project? Over 18 months, Mbaisa and Chivanga recovered all recyclable materials from the Zimbabwe Agricultural Society’s dumping site.
“They offered us our first contract,” Mbaisa said.
Show and sell
The Zimbabwe Sunshine Group was officially in business. At the Harare Showgrounds—a complex comprising 18 restaurants, 20 households, and banks and offices—the team collects, separates, and sends reusable materials to recycling facilities.
“We clean the whole park,” Mbaisa said. “When we collect the waste, we weigh it and provide information about how much waste they are generating.”
The German Embassy, alongside Zimbabwe’s Environmental Management Authority, helped the Zimbabwe Sunshine Group construct a transfer station.
Within the structure, refuse is carefully separated. There are bays for PET bottles, low- and high-density polyethylene plastics, and cardboard boxes.
The deposit site allows the group to work all year long, even during the rainy season.
“Before, we were just operating from an open space,” Mbaisa said. “We were exposed to the sun every day, and sometimes rain. Now we are excited, and happy.”
Taking away and giving back
Zimbabwe Sunshine Group does not stop at waste management and clean-up. The group is also experimenting with climate-smart agriculture, vermicomposting and worm breeding, and activated charcoal manufacturing.
The group occasionally invites local university students to the transfer station. During hour-long sessions, Mbaisa and Chivanga explain the dangers of plastic litter and advise students on what they can do to protect the environment.
Not always sunny
Mbaisa identified government policy as an early roadblock to the group’s progress.
“Harare by-laws clearly state that all waste belongs to the City of Harare,” he said. “So, if my business is competing with the government’s business, it’s very difficult for them to offer me a license.”
Eventually, Zimbabwe Sunshine Group struck a deal with the government. Nowadays, the government only collects non-recyclable materials from the site: mostly contaminated scrap, like oil-soaked cardboard.
Financing poses different problems. The group has been working with local banks, trying to secure understanding and funding for their business.
“You need capital to start with, you need to make sure employees are protected, and banks don’t really see value in it,” Mbaisa said. “I think there’s a need for financial institutions to set aside money for climate change interventions.”
Onward and upward
The company won first prize in the “best growth-oriented business” category of the ILO’s Green enterPRIZE Innovation Challenge in Zimbabwe. They’ve gained access to financial and technical services, training and capacity-building opportunities, and a network of business development services providers for coaching and long-term support.
Zimbabwe Sunshine Group is looking forward to adding value to their business.
“How do we add value to PET bottles?” Mbaisa said. “By removing the tops, removing the PVC parts, and maybe even granulating the bottles.”
Already, though, business is doing well. At first, the group employed eight people. Now there are 22 employees, and 13 of them are women.
“We have a business model that is tried and tested,” Mbaisa said. “It has great potential in terms of creating employment and in terms of decent work.”
The best part? The pair travels by tricycle, solidifying their commitment to sustainability in everyday life with a simple, yet strong, flourish.