Entrepreneur, CEO and equality innovator Sarah Collins is best known as the creator of the Wonderbag, a globally conscious enterprise. Over the past 10 years over 1.5 million Wonderbags have been activated in the Western and Majority world. Sarah’s extreme dedication, resilience and determination has earned her Fortune Magazine’s Top 10 Most Powerful Women Entrepreneurs, Oprah’s African Heroines and the Women’s Economic Forum Woman of the Decade for Entrepreneurship.
The Wonderbag is a simple but revolutionary, non-electric portable slow cooker. The South African invention is saving lives from smoke inhalation, combating deforestation, providing time women to work and for children to go to school. Bill Gates, Chelsea Clinton, Jane Goodall and many other dignitaries and world leaders have lauded Wonderbag as a game changer.
Wonderbag is utilized in refugee and humanitarian interventions around the world. Sarah regularly works with The Red Cross, Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) and the United Nations Refugee Agency. Because it does not require electricity and reduces dramatically the need for firewood, the Wonderbag is essential in areas of deforestation and climate change. Wonderbag was accredited by the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, and awarded 1st place in the Climate Change Leadership Awards and Eskom’s 2012 Innovation Award.
Sarah is a fierce advocate for opportunity and agency for women and families in Africa and around the world. Sarah’s impact as a CEO and advocate for women and families has lead to her speaking at the 2013 Davos World Economic Forum, The Global Alliance in New York, The UN Social Good Summit, The Royal Geographic Society in London, The Eye On Earth Summit in Abu Dabi and more. With over 10 years challenging international business models, Sarah is now known as the founder of Globally Conscious Capitalism, a movement which offers a fresh blueprint for aid agencies and the business community to work together in innovative ways that uphold human rights, honor human dignity and build sustainable economies.
After leading initiatives in this area for over 10 years, with successful partnerships with major corporations such as Unilever, Pfizer and Microsoft, Sarah now is inviting the global business community to participate in an alliance. The Alliance For Globally Conscious Capitalism is a call to action for businesses and aid agencies to come together under a common belief: the best global business models of the future will sell responsible, solution-oriented products and services and will scale ethically through human centered market entry and participation.
Before inventing and scaling Wonderbag, Sarah overcame immense personal challenges and loss, finding strength and purpose running for office in her native South Africa with a platform dedicated to justice and equality in her divided country. This commitment inspired her entrepreneurial endeavors, culminating in the invention of Wonderbag during a ‘eureka’ moment in 2008, inspired a memory of Sarah’s Grandmother using heat retention to cook for her family. Sarah Collins took an age-old cooking technology, that of simple heat retention, and reinvented it into a modern-day, life-changing, sought-after kitchen accessory, found in both the poorest and most affluent of homes around the globe. Sarah’s invention, and her continued work with foundations, aid agencies and business allies has cemented her reputation as a leader in alleviating time poverty and providing safety and entrepreneurial opportunities for women around the world.
Please tell us a little more about yourself and your journey thus far.
I grew up in rural, apartheid-era South Africa in the 1970s. My childhood inspired my lifework focusing on empowering women living below the poverty line through grassroots efforts. Educated in both the UK and South Africa, I spent much of my school years challenging Apartheid. I returned to Africa to launch and run a horseback riding safari business in Botswana, and have since devoted my life to community projects. Among others, my career has seen me run for political office, set-up my own NGO and help local communities create thriving business to support their livelihood. But my true passion and drive is inspired by my love and belief in the Wonderbag and growing the business.
Please tell us about the inspiration behind The Wonderbag.
My “light bulb moment” occurred in 2008 during a rolling power outage resulting from South Africa’s precarious electricity reserves. Wanting to still cook without the need for electricity, I remembered my grandmother taking pots off the stove, wrapping them in blankets and furniture cushions, and hours later having a piping hot, perfectly cooked casserole to serve. This age-old method used the retained heat of the food to complete the cooking process. I started experimenting with heat-retention cooking and came up with a convenient, modernized model called The Wonderbag.
Are you busy with any projects at the moment?
Launching the Wonderbag globally and focused on the USA for 2014. 2015 will be to build the brand and strengthen relationships and execution in Africa with the Wonderbag Foundation.
What is your personal motto?
It’s Okay, and if it’s not OK, it’s not the end.
What is it that you are passionate about?
I began with my passion for economic empowerment of Women across Africa. This has led me to meet amazing people from around the world, and my passion has grown into a broader one however not detracting from my core mission. I feel that The Wonderbag is and can be the catalyst that gets people globally looking at innovative solutions to today’s current crises; it doesn’t need to be about top end technology. The Wonderbag is an age old heat retention cooker……so my passion is changing the status quo and showing the world that anyone can achieve anything if you are prepared to look out the box and be fearless!
Who or what has been the biggest influence in your life and why?
My father, who taught me from a young age, never to say NO, always make a plan!
What advice would you give your younger self?
Failure is good and as long as you learn from it, you will be fine. Be kind to Sarah like you are kind to your friends.
Who or what is your inspiration and why?
The women of Africa. They inspire me daily. I love their strength of character, their ability to be women and not try to emulate men. They stand tall and proud and I am grateful to have been born an African, even if I do have the wrong skin colour!
What has been your greatest adversity and how have you overcome it?
Being born a women in a male dominated family and culture. I have learned with age and support to love myself for me, rather than what we were taught growing up. I have asked for help, I have learned that being vulnerable is my greatest asset, and as long as I have people around me who care, I can accomplish anything, as Sarah, and not try and be someone else. I have incredibly good friends and a wonderful sister. I have also grown a support network of people that I can 100% rely on whenever, whatever the weather!
What advice would you give a woman wanting to follow her dreams?
TRUST YOUR GUT, and don’t let ANYONE try and persuade you otherwise. Believe in yourself, you have the answers, not someone out there with an MBA or more work experience or a PHD. Listen to people around you, but check in with yourself before you do anything. And when in doubt DON’T.
What advice would you give women wanting to follow their dreams?
Trust your dreams and honour them. Only you can bring them to life, so go for it!
What are your top 3 business tips?
- Sleep on big decisions.
- Choose your battles carefully.
- Find a mentor from the beginning, or someone neutral to support ONLY you. NOT the business.
Your favourite daily affirmation:
I am so GRATEFUL!
Your favourite quote?
Here’s to the crazy ones, the misfits, the rebels, the troublemakers, the round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently—they not fond of rules…You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them, but the only thing you can’t do is ignore them because they change things…they push the human race forward, and while some may see them as crazy ones, we see genius, because the ones who are crazy enough to think that they can change the world, are the ones that do. (Steve Jobs 1955-2011)
What book are you currently reading.
“The Message. The Reselling of President Obama” by Richard Wolfe.
What book can you read over and over.
“Daring Greatly” by Brene Brown.
One piece of advice you would like to share?
When you are feeling down, do something for someone else, and you will instantly feel better!
Is there anything Xtraordinary Women can do to assist you on your journey?
You have already by just sharing my story. Buy a Wonderbag and one goes to someone in need! Thank you for supporting women in Africa.