Social innovator launches refill dispensary outlet that reduces single-use plastic in townships

Many informal areas in South Africa are drowning in waste due to a lack of waste collection services. One entrepreneur has decided to tackle this challenge through the launch of his first grocery refill dispensary outlet in Alexandra, Johannesburg.

Driven by the need to reduce single-use plastic in the area, Miles Khubeka, the CEO and founder of Gcwalisa, developed the concept of a refill dispensary outlet. These outlets provide low income communities the opportunity to purchase staple household food items at variable quantities, using their own refill dispenser to suit their budget.

“Low-income consumers dedicate a significant portion of their income to buying food,” says Miles. “These households are most at risk when their income drops, or food prices increase unexpectedly. Many of these families live in households that cannot purchase large quantities of food at one time, hence the prevalence of spaza shops in these areas. This traditional retail model does not benefit these consumers as they are forced to bear the brunt of high food prices.”

“I was exposed to the refill business model as a young boy when my mother asked me buy items such as tea, coffee and sugar. From these experiences, I saw an opportunity to disrupt the traditional retail business model of buying more than you need,” he continues.

“Our unique proposition is to create a direct channel between the producer and the consumer.We purchase the products directly from the manufacturer, so consumers have the opportunity to purchase more affordably priced household items. Further to this, our business model enables brands to supply the informal market in bulk using a branded refill dispenser,” he says. “Customers can then purchase their groceries in micro-sizes.”

His future plans for the business include scaling to other townships and rural areas across the country, as well as disrupting the traditional retail model. Each Gcawlisa outlet will provide employment for four staff, creating job opportunities in vulnerable communities.

Seeking strategic partnerships, Miles came across the SAB Foundation Social Innovation and Disability Awards. This programme offered him the opportunity to access mentorship and funding to develop his business and his skills. It also enabled him to interact with like-minded entrepreneurs to share ideas with.

Miles was selected as a finalist for the awards in 2021 and went on to win R500 000 to invest in his business. In addition he was assigned a mentor to provide him with business support and an opportunity to develop his business skills.

“The funding I received was used to establish our first dispensary outlet, purchase stock, equipment and secure the premises,” explains Miles. “Without this and the mentorship we received, we would not have been able to realise this dream.”

“Having been an entrepreneur for quite some time, I cannot stress the importance of support and partnerships enough” shares Miles. “Entrepreneurship can be extremely lonely, so if you have an opportunity to receive support, grab it with both hands.”

About the SAB Foundation

Founded in 2010, the SAB Foundation provides grant funding for small, medium and micro-sized enterprises in order to contribute to the economic and social empowerment of historically disadvantaged persons through entrepreneurship development. The SAB Foundation’s primary beneficiaries are women, youth, people living with disabilities and people living in rural areas, from low-income backgrounds. More than R425 million to date has been invested in social innovation, disability empowerment and SMMEs.