Local product named as one of the most “genius” in the world

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South Africa has been in the international news a great deal lately, with even President Donald Trump publicly weighing in on the land redistribution question. One woman has put the country back in the limelight across the globe for a completely different – and much brighter – reason.

The Wonderbag, a heavily insulated container that allows you to slow-cook food without using electricity, has been listed as one of Time magazine’s Top 50 genius companies. Developed a decade ago by South African Sarah Collins as a result of the load shedding that was going on at the time, the Wonderbag functions like a slow-cooker, cooking food for up to 12 hours. 

Time's list of 50 most genius companies in the world recognises products that create solutions to everyday challenges affecting people. The Wonderbag certainly does that, with Time calling it “an elegant approach to solving multiple problems in sub-Saharan Africa: How do you reduce dependence on fossil fuels, while also freeing up women in those societies from time in the kitchen so they can pursue education and employment?”

While this sentiment might be a little more idealistic than those who don’t live in southern Africa would realise, it is nonetheless a life-changing product for people with intermittent access to electricity. While food does need to be heated up through conventional means – in a pot over a fire or on the stove – once it is placed inside the Wonderbag, it will continue to cook.

The idea came to Collins a decade ago, while she was working in a community project in KwaZulu-Natal. She saw many households struggling with heating food amid the Eskom power crisis, and told Time that she woke up at 2am remembering her grandmother taking a pot of porridge off the stove and into some cushions to retain the heat. “It all came back to me and I realised this was technology that could change the world,” she said.

The Wonderbag is made up of an inner layer of insulation containing recycled polystyrene balls, with an outer layer of insulation completing the thermal enviornmnet. The polystyrene balls, which Collins eventually aims to replace with a polyurethane blend, allow the principle of thermal cooking to work within the bag. The Wonderbag is estimated to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by up to half a ton per year if used three times a week, just by cutting down on the burning of fuels in cooking.

This South African product joins the likes of Amazon, Disney, GoFundMe, Nintendo, Slack and Spotify, as well as Airbnb, drone company DJI, and Fortnite developers Epic Games on the list of genius companies, all of which, Time believes, are “inventing the future”.

Whether or not the Wonderbag will become a staple of our future lives, it has already made an impact. 1.5 million Wonderbags have been produced since 2008, with the Red Cross even using them in refugee camps in Rwanda and Uganda.

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