Lorna Rutto has achieved more in her mere 28 years than many people would hope to achieve in a lifetime. She has won numerous business awards – including the prestigious World Wildlife Fund’s (WWF) Nature Award and the Bid Network Nature Challenge Award – and has seen her company grow from strength to strength. However, it is not just business accolade for which this formidable young woman should be proud; it is also the impact that her work is having on the environment.
Lorna is the founder and chief executive officer of a business called Ecopost, a recycling company based in Nairobi, Kenya.
Setting up a successful business in her mid twenties was by no means easy. Lorna has firsthand experience of how difficult life can be for the country’s poorest people; she was born and raised in the Kaptembwa Slums in Kenya. Day-to-day life is a huge challenge for many people in the slums; families constantly struggle to put food on the table, and education standards are not at the same level as those in the cities.
However, as a child, Lorna developed an interesting and therapeutic hobby; she would gather plastic litter that she found around the slums and would melt it down to create desirable ornaments. Her unusual hobby was a way for her to express her creativity and it was perhaps this that drove her to make a huge success of her life. She went on to study hard at school, and later achieved her commerce and accounting certificate. She then decided to pursue a career in finance. However, a few years after starting her career, Lorna wanted to do something positive for both the environment and the people of the slums; it was then that she made the decision to turn her childhood pastime into a viable and environmentally responsible business.
Ecopost makes use of waste plastic by turning it into plastic lumber, as an alternative to wood. The lumber is then turned into many different types of posts, including fencing posts, sign posts and building and construction posts. This imaginative idea saves the unnecessary culling of trees, contributing towards protection of the country’s forests. So far, Lorna has sold more than 20,000 posts, which have been made from more than one million kilograms of plastic waste. This has saved more than 250 acres of forest.
Creating local jobs
The achievements of Ecopost go beyond helping the environment. Since Lorna started Ecopost in 2009, she has created more than 400 jobs for local Kenyans. This is a huge accomplishment for Ecopost, and is also incredibly important to the country’s wider economy and development. Most exciting, however, is that Lorna has structured her business in a way that it is expected to create more than 100,000 jobs in the next 15 years. Ecopost has been applauded for the opportunities with which it has presented local people; it has not only created jobs for disadvantaged youth, but also for women who have grown up in the slums.
A financial challenge
Lorna Rutto is a fantastic example of a woman that has risen to the top of her game through sheer determination. Growing up as a girl in the slums, she knows firsthand the difficulties faced by people living in these conditions – women in particular – who want to start a business in order to provide for their families. Lorna was lucky because she already had a career in finance before stating her business. However, many other people lack the career history and experience, and have no option but to try to start their businesses from scratch. These people are faced with little or no financial history, so they find it very difficult to get a loan to start their business through the banks. They would instead need to invest their own money to get started, which requires years of saving in many cases. To get a business loan with little financial history, the person would need to have some kind of record of success or proof of the viability of their business. It is not impossible, but it is a difficult task; however, Lorna is proof that starting a successful business is possible for even those faced with the most difficult and challenging journey; Ecopost currently generates more than $120,000 per year, and is on course to grow exponentially over the next few years.