Born from the devastation of the 2020 Covid-19 Pandemic, Mana Boxes, is an example of sustainable, replicable, scalable economic development for South Africa. Mana includes the story of a community of homeless women who collect plastic which is recycled and then used by other women to make a briefcase or handbag. From waste to fashion, the environment is improved and waste becomes an asset and a resource for socio-economic upliftment among disenfranchised people.
Sustainability is considered right from the outset. This way, everything about Mana supports design with the principles of sustainability as a cornerstone of the process, instead of an afterthought. It begins with the earnings of the waste collectors and extends to the development of products and the manufacture of goods. In this way, everyone involved in the Mana sustainability cycle contributes to reducing poverty, vulnerability, and dependence.
Sustainability continues through efforts to ensure that each Mana box has as little impact on the environment as possible. Your box is packaged in 100% recyclable materials and printed with eco-friendly ink. We encourage you to manage it in a sustainable manner by reusing or recycling all of the packagings.
A Life-saving Project
Anni sourced the products for the Mana boxes through her vast women in business peer advisory networks. The reach extended throughout rural and major centers of South Africa and included African refugees. The only criteria for businesses to qualify for Mana are that they were informal and small, women-owned/led organizations or NPOs impacted by COVID-19. They were required to employ women to create the product and to source raw materials where women would benefit.
The women artisans of Mana are incredible. They’ve overcome unbelievable obstacles to be where they are today. In fact, their circumstances in some cases were so dire that without Mana these women and businesses may not have been able to survive the COVID-19 pandemic. The trickle-down effect is felt by the women and the staff that work for them.
The stories are inspiring, moving, and excruciating to hear. They are about the tenacity to survive against what seems insurmountable. They are about the beauty of women supporting other women. They are about Mana.
Constance’s story is a great example of this. She’s been committed to her goals since 1994, and she’s not about to stop any time soon.
A Rocky Start
Constance started selling her handmade goods after her husband passed. This tragedy left her as the sole earner for herself and her seven boys. Although she made enough to get by, she knew that she couldn’t offer her sons the lives she wanted for them while working in Zimbabwe. That’s why she moved to South Africa—to create a better life for her family.
Once she moved, Constance got to work. She started by selling crocheted tablecloths to make enough money for food and shelter. After speaking with some local women, Constance decided to branch out into table mats, hand-painted tablecloths, and picnic blankets. Her small business, Constance Picnic Blankets, was officially born.
Hard Work and Perseverance
The journey wasn’t easy, but eventually, Constance started to experience more and more success. She was able to put all seven of her children through school, and after her eldest two came of age, she brought them into the family business.
“When it comes to my business, I just want to be professional,” said Constance. She strives to make sure every one of her products is up to her strict quality standards. You could call Constance a bit of a perfectionist.
The Impact of COVID-19
Although Constance was doing well with her small business, the pandemic hit her hard. “My business and personal life and that of my family have not been spared,” she said. “I was forced to close my business, like many other businesses, and this has led to a loss of income. Loss of income for myself and those I work with goes beyond more than just individuals, as our families’ whole livelihoods depend on our business. The loss of business is a shared loss as the blow is felt by us all.”
Still, she continues to find inspiration in the world around her. Constance said, “I have seen people pursuing dreams that no one else believed in. I am inspired by the hope of better days and the pursuit of happiness. I am continually inspired by women who are in decision-making positions in business and politics. They are changing people’s outlooks.”
These values are shared by all of Mana. Maybe that’s why Constance has been such a great fit for the boxes. “Mana means a lot to me,” said Constance. “It touches my heart.”
Nelson Mandela’s former chief of staff and CEO of Nelson Mandela Foundation, Sello Hatang has a chat with Mich and Anni watch here.
Thanks for reading and your support. xo Kyriaki Chonacas