UCT rising star presents solution to food waste at UN Global Leaders Summit

Maryjane Mokgethi, a student on AIFMRM’s MCom in Risk Management of Financial Markets programme, headed to New York to attend the UN Global Leaders Summit. The winning solution, in a UN Global Compact competition, focuses on the problem of food waste and was presented at the Summit this September.

Maryjane Mokgethi giggles when she says, “I had only ever used my passport before to go to Botswana, and now I have been to the UN in New York!” The elated 25-year old has just returned from the UN Global Compact Leaders Summit which took place in iconic Midtown Manhattan in September.

Earlier this year, she entered the UN Global Compact’s Breakthrough Innovation Challenge, which aims to bring together “young intrapreneurs from leading companies to design future sustainable business models powered by disruptive technologies”. No small task, but Mokgethi and her team were up for the challenge.

The competition posed eight questions and students were invited to submit a solution to any question. “We worked on a challenge posed by Nestlé: ‘to enable exponential consumer engagement and behaviour change to contribute towards Nestlé’s strategy to prevent and minimise food waste along the value chain.’ We won, and the prize for the winning solution was a trip to New York to attend the Summit and present our solution alongside Nestlé,” she explains.

Mokgethi and her teammates, Bridget Fundikwa and Wadzanani Nyabeze, two recent chemical engineering master’s graduates from UCT, created a solution to minimise food waste through a mobile app. “We provided a solution to reduce food waste, particularly in developed countries, as this problem is more prominent in developed countries. The intention is to create awareness around food waste and to change consumer behaviour. Some people are not conscious of food waste, and we hope to change this. Many people are socially conscious, but with busy schedules and modern life their behaviour and purchasing patterns lead to waste.”

The team’s mobile app, Bagzielicous, allows consumers to track the expiry of perishable items that they have purchased, to avoid waste. The app is currently being developed by a company that they were partnered with, and they met in New York. “The app is in its final stages of development, and I am excited to witness its success when launched in 2018,” says Mokgethi.

After the presentation, the team was awarded a certificate of excellence for outstanding performance and lasting contribution to the Breakthrough Innovation Challenge. “It was heart-warming to be acknowledged, and I will always hold on to that moment.”

Mokgethi is currently completing her MCom. She has an undergraduate degree in Economics and Finance, and an Honours in Financial Analysis and Portfolio Management, both from UCT. Of her education, she says, “UCT really opened my eyes, and when I worked for a year at an investment manager, I realised that you have to be a well-rounded person, not just good at numbers. You need to be true to yourself. Be socially conscious. Yes, I am studying finance, but at the same time, I want to have a social impact. That is what drew me to AIFMRM.”

AIFMRM proudly sponsored Mokgethi’s New York trip. Dr Co-Pierre Georg, Senior Lecturer and Director of the UCT Financial Innovation Lab at AIFMRM says, “It is not every day that one of our own embarks on an exciting adventure like this.”

“I am so grateful to AIFMRM for sponsoring my trip and supporting me in this once in a lifetime opportunity,” says Mokgethi, and “especially to Co-Pierre Georg, who acted as my advocate and believed in this initiative.”

Georg sees Mokgethi as a significant role model, especially for young women. When asked if she has advice for young women pursuing their dreams, she says: “My story certainly shows that anything can happen! Be daring. Try. Go out of your way to have a well-rounded university experience and life experience. Be socially conscious and engage with people or join university societies that you may not have been exposed to before.”

Ultimately, her hope for the long-term is that we can implement similar apps in South Africa. “As our country becomes more developed; we need to establish sound social awareness around food waste and food security. It will lead to a better South Africa in the future.”

Mokgethi’s UN experience was life-changing, and she says, “the words of the Global Leaders will remain with me for years to come. I am looking forward to the future and aspire to be identified as a Global Leader who pushes beyond the boundaries of technology and creates disruptive change through the face of sustainable business conduct”.

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