Archbishop Desmond Tutu was known for many things, but developing a school desk is not one that instantly comes to mind. Yet the “Arch” championed a campaign for many years that provides a simple writing surface for school children across Africa who have no desks.
Known as the Tutudesk, it’s proof that simplicity can sometimes be the mother of invention. While industrial designers, product developers, and impact leaders sweat over developing high-tech innovations, this simple piece of polystyrene offers children their very own workstation, creating immediate, high-impact, and positive change in an instant, under any learning conditions. The thin board is easy to carry, slides under a bed for storage, offers protection against the sun and rain, and is even used for board games and eating.
“South Africa has 12 million children in school,” says Thandeka Tutu-Gxash, the archbishop’s daughter who now runs the campaign. “Three million of those go to school without desks and as bad as that sounds for South Africa, in the rest of Africa, it’s worse. In Mozambique, they have nine million children who go to school, and out of those, seven million go to school without desks.” Tutudesks are manufactured in South Africa from recycled high-impact polystyrene, and schools are recruited into environmental campaigns that collect yogurt containers and plastic eating utensils used in producing the lap desks. Designed to last each student a minimum of five years, they are recycled at the end of their useful lives.