Makafui Awuku and Mckingtorch Africa: Transforming Trash Into Treasure

Makafui Awuku was destined to be an entrepreneur. 

As a 12-year-old boy, Makafui lived in picturesque Sogakope at a time where residents were bereft of the luxury of running water. It was a necessity for constituents to find themselves at the banks of the River Volta to fetch water to do the daily essentials: bathing, cooking, and cleaning. Makafui and a few of his friends saw opportunity and capitalized on it. They used push trucks to fetch water and sell them to homes, providing a convenience that many were unaccustomed to. Years later, while in attendance at the University of Professional Studies, an orphaned Awuku would once again turn to an innovative and resilient spirit; this time out of necessity and survival. To assist him in meeting his school fees, Makafui would work various part-time jobs and would help his colleagues with their course work for a small fee. This still wasn’t enough, and in his third year, he would have to drop out of university because of his inability to pay his fees.

Makafui can share with discomforting ease an additional stream of difficulties which he endured on his way to bringing Mckingtorch Africa to life. Among them, He has slept on a bench in Accra because he had nowhere else to go, he once visited his MP in a jail cell to see if he could still fulfill an earlier promise of assisting him with paying his school fees, and at one point squatting at someone’s house almost cost him his life; he was almost carried away by floodwaters at 1 am.

Looking back, everything he endured seemed necessary, even prophetic, and would furnish him with an unyielding grit and innovative drive necessary for a journey into a fairly nascent and difficult-to-crack sector in Africa – waste management. 

With a well-trained eye, quick to spot opportunity, in 2017 while on internship Makafui would glean inspiration from some happenings in a boardroom, and again, his innovative drive was thrown into gear.

While I was doing the internship, I realized there was a lot of waste generated during board meetings. I decided I wanted to do something about this. I looked through the 17 Sustainable Development Goals and I looked at the plastic waste problem. I said to myself, ‘I took a course on waste management at university and I am a fan of a clean environment, so let me do something with sustainable communities and cities; which the plastic waste falls under.

Mafui Awuku 

The insight which Awuku gleaned at these board meetings was spot on and would prove to be true well beyond their walls.

Ghana’s Waste Problem

If you drive through Accra, at one point or the other your eyes are likely to connect with at least one slum filled with heaps and heaps of trash. The few companies which provide garbage disposal and waste management services to the general population are not enough to keep up with the capital’s 2 million-plus population. Their services also come at a cost that most of the population is happy to forego to burn waste for free. 

In 2002, a report by the African Development Bank stated that Ghana generated about 3.6 million tonnes of solid waste per year. More recently – 2019 – a UNDP Ghana article shared the following: 

“In Ghana, recent statistics show that the country generates about 1 million tons of plastic waste annually. Out of this, only 2-5% (22,000-55,000) is recycled. The rest end on landfill (38%), land (28%), sea (23%), or burned (11%). This worrying trend calls for a collaborative effort from all stakeholders within the waste management value chain to find a lasting solution to the problem.”

It is without dispute that waste management is an issue that Ghana has yet to successfully tackle, but there are some making headway in the arena, with Mckingtorch Africa leading the way.

Mckingtorch Africa’s Solution

Mckingtorch Africa’s solutions are simple yet complex: they transform trash into treasure. With each of its innovations, the company seeks to transform trash into things that people find valuable and see as assets. In 2017, not long after completing his internship, Makafui would render his first innovation: A Christmas Tree made from bottles. He would go on to develop and bring to life several additional concepts including upcycled bins from waste bottles and wall art from waste. His latest, and possibly the concept that he sees as his greatest triumph, is something he calls a plastic to leather innovation. This innovation is used to manufacture Mckingtorch Africa’s footwear line; a uni-sex, colorful, hip, modern-looking line of slippers and sandals composed of 30% recycled plastic. 

The solutions seem pretty straightforward but they were breathed to life only after continuous experimentation and great toil. In the interview below Makafui takes us along his journey.

What is the name of your company?

Mckingtorch Africa

What products/services do you provide?

  1. Recycling and Upcycling Trainings 
  2. Footwear partly made from recycled waste
  3. Waste Segregation Installations 
  4. Public Bin Installation and Maintenance 
  5. Upcycled Waste Bins and Wall Art 
  6. Circular Economy Academic and Institutional Research Partnerships 
  7. Plastic Pollution and Climate Change Advocacy 
  8. Bags from plastic waste

If you were headlining a UN event or Ted Talk, how would you introduce your company?

The company “Changing The Narrative For Africa”.

What inspired the birth of this company?

I wanted to find solutions to problems myself. I was tired of Ghana’s plastic pollution issue and the lack of headway in that area even though our leaders are always throwing money at the problem. I wanted to create a sustainable outlet for plastic waste.

How do you think your company solves any of your village, community, country or region’s problems?

Mckingtorch Africa creates jobs for the youth and by dealing with ocean plastic pollution we create cleaner beaches to boost tourism.

Do you have any co-founders and/or notable team members?

My partner is called Senyo Hosi. He is also CEO of Chamber of Bulk Oil Distributors in Ghana.

How did you fund your company?

I started from my own pocket, got donations from people, and got a partner a year after. I won a World Bank Group and Netherlands Government grant in 2019 through an incubator program, and I won a Total Petroleum sponsorship for footwear production.

What would you say has been your greatest challenge as a company thus far and how have you overcome it or how are you working to overcome it?

The greatest challenges have been finding funds and developing the innovative process and system to recycle the waste. The other one is getting people to buy into the new things I was creating.

Research, incubator programs, developing profitable portfolios, marketing and promotions, community engagements through volunteering, and developing a story behind the business have all helped me to overcome this challenge.

What would you say has been your greatest triumph/achievement as a company thus far?

The launch of our footwear after our plastic waste into leather innovation.

The Man Behind The Company

Name

Makafui Awuku

Country of Birth

Ghana

Country of Residence

Ghana

What are the three books that have most influenced your life?

  1. Stop Worrying and Start Living by Dale Carnegie: I lost both parents early in life so this book helped me out of depression.
  2. Rich Dad/Poor Dad by Robert Kiyosaki
  3. Purpose Driven Life by Rick Warren

Rich Dad, Poor Dad and Purpose Driven Life helped me find my calling and real purpose in life.

What recent purchase of yours has most positively impacted your life?

My computer. It’s probably the thing I use the most and do everything on.

How has a failure of yours set you up for later success?

I dropped out of university before and had to start all over again and I graduated with excellent honours. I became very determined after that experience.

What is a quote that you think of often or live your life by?

Life is Livable. Make It Countable.

What is one of the most worthwhile investments that you have made?

Investing time and energy in my entrepreneurship idea. It paid off. I almost gave up on it but it did pay off.

In the past three years what belief, behavior, or habit has most improved your life?

I would say the belief that if you keep doing the same thing and applying the lessons to improve upon previous attempts you will find success.

What advice would you give to a school leaver in your country about braving the uniqueness of the entrepreneurial environment in your country?

There are so many problems in our part of the world. This means opportunities are about. Find a major problem you can be passionate about and look to create a solution. This is the only way we find fulfillment and solve the problems of the region.

When you feel overwhelmed/unfocused what do you do?

I stop. I walk away from what I am doing and regroup.

Who most inspires you?

Rev Richard C. Whitcomb of Agape House New Testament Church. He holds a commitment to standards and a high level of professionalism.

Fun Question: What/Who is dominating your music playlist right now? 

Simi of Nigeria 

  1. Hide and Seek
  2. Undeserving
  3. Love Don’t Care
  4. Chemistry
  5. Joromi

Connect with Makafui & Mckingtorch Africa

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