Mabel Suglo, the 23-year-old social entrepreneur behind EcoShoes, a company that employs people with disabilities to manufacture shoes and accessories from discarded tyres and recycled materials.
Mabel, from Kumasi in Ghana, founded the company in 2013 when she was just 19, and two years later has been named the 2015 second runner up of the Anzisha Prize, Africa’s premier award for young entrepreneurs. The title came with a US$12,500 injection into her company.
EcoShoes was inspired by her grandmother, who suffered from severe leprosy, a disease that can result in skin lesions and damage to the nerves, limbs and eyes. With deformities around the hands and feet, her grandmother had only one thumb.
But like many who suffer from leprosy, the real struggle came from the social stigma attached to the disease. Her grandmother was marginalised and feared due to a lack of understanding.
“I never really understood it when I was growing up, but with time started to realise what life must have been like for her,” Mabel says.
“Then one day I went to town, and I saw a disabled man begging for money. One person didn’t give him money, but started telling him that he is good for nothing, useless, and that kind of thing. I just watched and had this mental picture of my grandmother. I really saw how we isolate these people. I thought it high time we make them feel welcome in the community.