Gift L

The use of cutting-edge data science and digital tools to improve waste management proved to be a winning formula for young South African innovator Gift Lubele, founder of technology company Kudoti, who walked away with the first prize of US$25 000 in the 2020 BRICS Young Innovator competition.

The winner was announced during the fifth Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa (BRICS) Young Scientist Forum, which took place virtually under the theme "BRICS partnership of young scientists and innovators for science progress and innovative growth".

The BRICS Young Innovator Prize promotes quality research and innovation, including the use of artificial intelligence, in environmental protection and materials science. This year's event was hosted at South Ural State University in Russia from 21 to 25 September and saw 20 competitors, four from each BRICS country, vying for the top prize.

Lubele is the proud founder of Kudoti (IsiZulu for "in the trash"), a Johannesburg-based company established in 2019.  Kudoti helps waste management and recycling companies to optimise their operations, making them more efficient and cost-effective, through the use of cutting-edge data collection tools.

"An Uber for waste recycling," is how Lubele describes Kudoti. Waste companies of all sizes can improve their operations by using Kudoti's 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," says Lubele.

The platform also helps companies to improve their client management – which Lubele regards as essential in waste management, as it is in other industries – by enabling them to keep track of and communicate directly with their clients.

One of Kudoti's clients is Distell, a global business with South African roots, which produces and markets a diverse portfolio of award-winning alcoholic brands.

Growing up in Tembisa, a large township situated to the north of Kempton Park on the East Rand, Lubele came to understand the challenges that many communities experience with waste, and was inspired to do something about it.

Describing his journey, he 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 I began my journey with Kudoti, to find value in waste recycling through technology."

To better understand the challenges facing companies in Africa, and how technology can help, Kudoti is currently engaging with a number of companies and organisations across the continent. One of these is a plastic recycling centre in Uganda, a project of the Global Livingston Institute, which has recycled over 75 000 kilograms of plastic since 2018.

The company 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", says 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.