Bay woman cooks at awards

Louise Williamson, right, warms her hands on her revolutionary Mashesha Stove, a boon for rural communities

R1-million prize for start-up at continental event

A Port Elizabeth woman was one of two South Africans who received top honours at the continental African Entrepreneurship Awards, held earlier this month in Morocco.

Louise Williamson, 40, who is now based in Mpumalanga, won in the education category, receiving more than R1-million for her start-up called Mashesha Stoves.

The former Victoria Park High School pupil said she was humbled at winning and being around other entrepreneurs from 19 African countries.

“It was such a wonderful experience being around like-minded entrepreneurs where race, gender and age weren’t issues. It was just about being a good social entrepreneur and making Africa better and doing wonderful work,” Williamson said.

She said the money she had won would go towards scaling up her business, building infrastructure, and employing more people to roll out Mashesha Stoves more quickly.

The African Entrepreneurship Awards, started in 2015, recognise initiatives from across the continent, and are an initiative of the Morocco-based BMCE Bank of Africa.

This year, more than 5 000 people entered and 12 winners were selected in the 12 categories of the awards.

Williamson of Sustainability Professionals has 15 years’ experience working with rural communities and on sustainability projects.

She said it had taken her three years to fully develop her revolutionary outdoor cooking stove.

“I’d been working in rural schools for 15 years and I was very concerned about the method women were being forced to use every day to cook for feeding-scheme programmes.

“We’ve got 12 000 schools nationally that use wood stoves every day, and that prompted me to build clay stoves as an alternative solution.”

According to Williamson, the portable Mashesha Stove used half the amount of wood needed for traditional stoves, and did not emit smoke, which was good for the health of the cooks and for the environment.

“I’ve taken the concept of limiting the oxygen intake to design this stove, based on the gasification process.

“I started building small prototypes that you could sit a pot on top of without any moving doors, until I got the right design. The stove’s air vents also had to be in the right place because it can either burn too hot or too slowly.”

She had been in Mpumalanga for the past 17 years, showcasing sustainable living practices to rural communities.

That involved making food and fires more efficiently, and turning community waste into fuel.

“We train communities in skills development and how to start small enterprises,” she said.

The other winner from South Africa was Paul Bartels from Pretoria, who received an award for his WaterBok, a fire-fighting cart that can be used to control fires on farms and in peri-urban areas.

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