Women engineering SA’s clean-tech future

Looking at the Climate Innovation Centre SA (CIC SA) team, one would not guess that ‘world class engineering and planning skills’ made the top of the National Scarce Skills List three years ago.

Headed up by Dr Rethabile Melamu, CIC SA and the Green Economy Unit of The Innovation Hub is dominated by those with both engineering degrees and skills, and the most exciting thing about this team is that is primarily comprised of young women.

The collective qualifications of this unit includes amongst others, Agricultural Economics, Geology, Chemical Engineering and boasts a lean but agile team of seven women and two men.

A qualified chemical and environmental engineer, Dr Melamu offers: “Our mandate as the CIC is to seek out clean-tech entrepreneurs we can lend our support to, and in so doing, enable small business growth and contribute to advancing the country’s green economy. Quite naturally, qualified and skilled engineers would need to be part of the solution, and almost by default, women take the leading role in our team.”

Launched in 2015 in partnership with the World Bank’s InfoDev programme, the CIC is a strategic green economy initiative founded through collaboration between the Gauteng Department of Economic Development, The Innovation Hub and InfoDev.

“As a centre which offers environment-focused entrepreneurs with the resources, including financing, technical and business advisory services, I am really proud that we have so many women at the forefront of entrepreneurial growth in South Africa,” adds Dr Melamu.

Dr Melamu believes that climate change represents as much of an opportunity as it represents a threat, particularly for countries such as South Africa where energy, water and waste management are serious environmental concerns.

“The calibre of entrepreneurs and level of innovation we have seen at CIC is nothing short of exceptional, from simple yet super-effective water saving solutions to clean energy inventions which are easily-replicable in other markets,” says Dr Melamu.

The team at CIC is responsible for assessing the technical viability of projects based on technology, innovation, sustainability and economic growth. This means that the business needs assessments, business plan reviews, financial and commercialisation support, market access support and site visits are part of the package.

“We have a great track record of walking, what for some could be viewed as, the daunting path of entrepreneurship with innovators, from start-up through to scalable and sustainable operations. This is testament of the calibre of (wo)manpower we have on our side at CIC SA,” adds Dr Melamu.

A number of entrepreneurs within the CIC fold have gone on to achieve national and international recognition for their clean-tech and sustainable innovations. Among them, GreenTower Microgrids who was a finalist in the Swiss Social Innovation in Housing Challenge. Another is Kusini Water, a social enterprise with a mobile solar-powered water purification system using locally-sourced macadamian nut shells to provide safe drinking water in rural areas.

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