South African innovator Gift Lubele has scooped the top prize at this year’s BRICS Young Innovator Prize competition, walking away with $25 000 in prize money.
The BRICS Young Innovator Prize, which forms part of the BRICS Young Scientists Forum, recognises and rewards quality research and innovation, including the use of artificial intelligence, in environmental protection and materials science.
Held under the theme “BRICS partnership of young scientists and innovators for science progress and innovative growth”, this year’s event took place virtually because of the coronavirus.
The competition saw 20 competitors, four from each BRICS country, vying for the top prize, with Lubele taking the first prize for his waste management digital platform, Kudoti.
Kudoti, which is Zulu for ‘in the trash’, was founded with the aim to help waste management and recycling companies optimise their operations through the use of data collection tools.
Lubele describes Kudoti as the “Uber for waste recycling”, noting that waste companies of all sizes can improve their operations by using the cloud-based platform, which digitises and automates waste management operations from start to finish through SMS interactions and Web-based interfaces.
“Our digital platform provides an end-to-end solution, replacing manual and paper-based work with a simple-to-use, effective digital solution,” he says.
The platform also helps companies to improve their client management by enabling them to keep track of and communicate directly with clients.
Describing his journey, the young innovator says he had the opportunity to speak to informal waste workers, including a woman who was putting her two children through school by collecting recyclable waste, and grew to appreciate the value they were providing to society.
"This sparked an interest in learning more about the waste industry and the opportunity that it represented for development. Through extensive research, I realised that technology could significantly improve how waste is managed, and saw that it was underutilised in the waste industry. From there on, I began my journey with Kudoti, to find value in waste recycling through technology."
One of Kudoti's clients is Distell, a global business with South African roots, which produces and markets a diverse portfolio of alcoholic brands.
Kudoti is also currently engaging with a number of companies and organisations in other African nations to better understand the challenges facing companies on the continent, and how technology can help.
One of these is a plastic recycling centre in Uganda, a project of the Global Livingston Institute, which has recycled over 75 000kg of plastic since 2018.
Kudoti is also looking to expand its offering to enable users to make recyclable waste transactions, and to grow this into a marketplace for recyclable materials.
"Our goal is to create technology tools that empower companies, individuals and governments to better manage waste and recycle more, utilising the capacities that are in place for waste collection and recycling,” states Lubele.
In March 2020, Fast Company South Africa named Kudoti one of the 25 Most Innovative Companies in the country. In 2019, Lubele was listed as one of Fast Company SA's top 20 entrepreneurs under the age of 30. He has also won recognition from the United Nations and the president of Mauritius.