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frog Teams Up with Wonderbag in South Africa

Years after the end of apartheid, South Africa is still striving to recreate its identity. Many outdated social and economic systems have undergone massive changes on a national and local level, all with the goal of cultivating diversity while also preserving tradition. The result is that great strides in racial equality and civil rights have been achieved. Economic equality, however, is still part of a hopeful future—one for which a number of social innovators in the country are working hard to achieve.

One philosophy that guides many social innovation endeavors in South Africa is ubuntu. Ubuntu is a Zulu and Xhosa term that means, “I am what I am because of who we all are.” In the context of economic equality, this means that innovation stems from the involvement and collaboration of the community at large. This is certainly true of creating a significant impact on the environment as well: it takes individual actors that adopt new sustainable behaviors and create a movement in order to trigger an environmental impact.

But how can a community, strapped for resources and facing economic hardship, also focus on the huge challenge of energy efficiency and environmental impact? frog teamed up with Wonderbag, an energy-saving system designed to reduce harsh environmental effects, to help South Africans monitor their energy use via mobile technology to simultaneously combat CO2 emissions and their rising electricity bills.

What is the Wonderbag?
To tackle this challenging issue and have users adopt more energy efficient behaviors without radically changing their daily routines, Wonderbag looked to the kitchen. Changing behavior around household cooking in South Africa has a surprisingly impactful effect on the wallet and the Earth. Many traditional cooking methods in South Africa create fire hazards, so the cook of the household has to monitor the stove at all times. That means he or she is unable to attend to children and other household needs, distracted from study, or hindered from socializing with other neighbors when cooking a laborious meal. Also, fuel supplies can be scarce and expensive. Another danger of traditional cooking is the high amount of toxic fumes and pollution produced that can cause respiratory disease, particularly in children.

Community-led Environmental Change
At the center of the Wonderbag system is a heat retention bag designed to notably reduce the use of electricity, gas, paraffin, and wood fires for cooking in households across all South Africa, particularly in underserved communities. In doing so, the Wonderbag helps reduce all of these risks by allowing users to place their hot meals in the bag where the food will continue to cook safely and without the use of any additional fuels. Women, the primary meal providers in South African homes, have more time to focus on other activities and not be bound to the stove. The Wonderbag has the ability to empower women to be free from domestic or resource concerns and strive to fulfill other passions they are looking to pursue.

The Wonderbag team joined forces with the Newcastle and Umzunduzi (Pietermaritzburg) municipalities in KwaZulu-Natal, and Riebeek-Wes and Riebeek Kasteel in the Western Cape’s Swartland district, to offer residents fully subsidized Wonderbags. In addition to the social and economical impact, the Wonderbag cuts down 50 percent of carbon dioxide emissions caused by fossil fuels, allowing local leaders to become pioneers of environmental change in their communities.

Our Mobile Mandate
Together with Microsoft, frog helped Wonderbag access technology that can more effectively monitor and promote the use of the bag—technology that is essential for carbon accounting purposes and scaling the project.

frog developed a mobile application that helps to collect data relating to the bag (such as usage patterns) and to generate reports that can help to calculate the carbon being saved. Wonderbag distribution agents with low-end mobile handsets can use the application to register the profile and usage information of people receiving the Wonderbag. This information is then used to monitor Wonderbag usage and carbon credit allocation in various communities at large.

By cleverly combining cloud computing with mobile technology to automate the carbon accounting, the Wonderbag initiative adheres to the ambitious carbon offset targets set by the United Nations, affording Wonderbag the ability to trade on the European Carbon Exchange, and thus breathing life into the program’s power to spread more broadly.

In addition, the information gathered from the recipients includes their cell number, which provides a useful tool both to communicate new recipes to users and to promote various food products that can be used in the bag.  The capturing of information onto mobile phones by field agents means that new user and data updates are immediate and real-time. Out of this database, one can extract the demographic detail that will also render Wonderbag more attractive to donors and corporations interested in contributing their resources and skills to the Wonderbag initiative. The application is hosted in the Microsoft Cloud in the United Kingdom.

True innovation is creating ecosystems of change that enable people to change their behavior for more economic, social, and environmentally sustainable impacts – while maintaining the philosophy of Ubuntu where South Africa can pioneer new social innovations, while maintaining their cultural tradition of tasty, community meals.

For more on how the Wonderbag creates jobs in local South African communities check out their video.


As frog's Content and Community manager, Kristina Loring curates, writes, and edits the design mind platform. When she's not spreading frog's ideas across the Internet and the city, you can find her raving about digital activism, the power to humanize tech, and community-led innovation.