Mombasa young innovators catch the King’s eye during royal visit to Kenya

His Majesty King Charles III with Zainab Mahmoud CEO Twende Green Ecocycle./COURTESY

Mombasa’s young innovators addressing marine plastic pollution caught the attention of King Charles III and Queen Camilla during their royal visit to Kenya.

A passionate environmentalist, and advocate for furthering environmental causes in Britain and beyond, he has earned himself the title the Green King, for his unwavering commitment to climate change causes and sustainable solutions to environmental initiatives. 

To honour his passion for sustainability, the UK Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) and the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), in partnership with Mombasa County Government organized a beach clean-up at Nyali Beach on Thursday, November 2nd, 2023. 

During the event, future-minded innovators in Mombasa’s conservation ecosystem shared their ideas on how to reduce marine plastic waste along the country’s coastline, including innovators from the Mombasa Plastics Prize – a USAID funded initiative led by Challenge Works.

Among the impressive green enterprises that showcased Mombasa as a hub of environmental innovation was Twende Green Ecocycle, a Mombasa Plastics Prize start-up led by CEO Zainab Mahmoud, which makes eco-friendly school desks from recycled plastic.

In her presentation to His Majesty, Zainab, a fourth-year medical student who’s deeply concerned about environmental conservation said, “90% of schools in Kenya are underfurnished due to the high prices of wooden school furniture.”

When the King inquired further about the unique value of the desks, Zainab confidently responded saying that the Twende Green eco-desks retail 20% less than the equivalent wooden desks currently used in schools.

His Majesty King Charles III inspects an eco-friendly school desk made from recycled plastic./COURTESY

“Our goal is to ensure that no young student in Kenya ever has to endure the discomfort of learning in an under-furnished environment. That is why our eco-desks retail at 50$, which is 20% cheaper than wooden desks and are both environmentally conscious and uncompromising in quality,’’ she explained.

Mombasa generates approximately 1.2 tonnes of waste daily, yet only 5% of it undergoes recycling, leaving the rest to flood our landfills and precious marine ecosystems. 

To address this issue, Twende Green has embedded a social approach in its operations which engages communities to collect plastic waste, and then pays fairly for each kilogram collected.

“We’ve also initiated a program within local schools that encourages learners to collect plastic waste. For every 370 kilograms of plastic collected by one student—another learner gets a desk and chair,” explained Zainab.

Zainab and her team won sh.3.5 million cash prize at the Mombasa Plastics Prize Celebration and Awards event in May 2023, qualifying them to join the second phase of that programme – now known as Mombasa Plastics Prize Incubator – which continues nurturing their ideas into sustainable businesses.

“Through my participation in the Mombasa Plastics Prize training program, I gained valuable skills that enable me to address long-standing problems in my community,” she concluded.

Jonty Slater, Director of International Development at Challenge Works highlights, “The royal recognition of these efforts amplifies the urgent need to focus on sustainable environmental solutions. At the heart of such progress is local Government support and partnerships within the innovation ecosystem to ensure the innovators receive the necessary help to monitor and evaluate the environmental impact of their solutions.”