Mobilink Turns Billboards to Bags

6 Sep

Outdoor advertising is critical to promoting a brand or product in Pakistan. Colorful, larger than life and intriguing billboards dot the Pakistani landscape and provide information and interesting diversions during traffic jams. These billboards might leave you smiling, or compel you to think about an important message or at times leave you thinking “how did the installation guys manage to get up there?” Yet, what happens to these billboards when a particular marketing campaign is over – is a question we never give much thought to.

Back to School with Mobilink Billboard Bags

Back to School with Mobilink Billboard Bags

Destined for landfills, thousands of square kilometers of billboard skins made out of non-biodegradable plastic materials are left to rot in landfills or are burnt and release toxic fumes into the air we breathe. In the spirit of being an innovative and responsible, Mobilink Foundation – the non-profit arm of Mobilink is trying to save these sheets of plastic from ending up in landfills by turning them into school bags for underprivileged children. Once Mobilink billboards have been taken down, they are taken to a manufacturing facility in Lahore (which was set up with the help of Mobilink) where the skins are cleaned, cut and turned into school bags.

About Mobilink

Mobilink is Pakistan’s leading cellular and Blackberry service provider. With more than 32 million subscribers, Mobilink has the country’s largest voice and data network covering more than 10,000 locations. Housing an unparalleled 6,500 kilometers fiber optic backbone, Mobilink has invested over US $3.5 billion in Pakistan to date. 

The company’s Corporate Social Responsibility vision goes beyond occassional philanthropy and the company is dedicated to building a robust CSR program that leverages the company’s technological and operational expertise as well as its volunteer corps to institutionalize and mainstream CSR guidelines in internal and external operations. Examples of Mobilink’s corporate responsibility can be found in its enduring CSR efforts over the years in the areas of disaster relief, education, environment, health and the empowerment of the underprivileged.  

The Billboards to Bags Initiative

This project was conceived by the Mobilink team with the help of one its vendors who prints Billboard Skins.  The initiative is run out of Lahore and uses discarded billboard skins to manufacture school bags that are distributed free of cost to underprivileged school children.

This initiative is part of Mobilink’s environmental conservation efforts and its commitment to promoting education. Through this initiative, used billboard skins are given a second life, thus contributing to environmental protection and promoting sustainable business practices while providing essential items to those who need them the most.  

Manufacturing Process

Once Mobilink’s billboard skins have fulfilled their advertising purpose, they are used as raw materials for the bags. As a company that relies heavily on marketing its products through outdoor advertising, there is always a steady supply of pana-flex (flex sheet).  Once the skins are removed from the bilboards, they are washed to remove color. Next, damaged portions are identified and discarded. Skilled workers then proceed to cut the flex sheet into a standard school bag design. The cut materials are then given to women who stitch the bags in the safety and security of their homes. Hence these bags provide an important source of income to local women.  

Each School bag consumes around 7 square feet of clean flex sheet. The size that is usually used for manufacturing the school bags is 20 x 60 square feet.  Recycling these skins into school bags and then distributing them to underprivileged children is a far better then letting them become toxic waste in a landfill. 

An average school bag in Pakistan costs between Rs. 300 to Rs. 500 in Pakistan. According to some estimates, for an average Pakistani, this is the cost of one week’s food for a family of seven. These bags, made from recycled materials, only incur labor costs to the company that has a weekly production capacity of around 5000 bags. Mobilink provides these bags to the children free of cost. In a country where majority of the people live well below the poverty line, and cannot afford to buy essential school items for children, this initiative helps families avoid a heavy additional cost while saving children from having to carry school books in their hands.

Mobilink is the first and so far the only organization in Pakistan to implement a billboard skin-recycling program of this scale. Building further on the benefits of used skins, Mobilink also used the method to pack relief goods for the thousands of victims of the floods that hit Pakistan is 2010. Sturdy and water proof, these bags not only enabled the victims to safely transport food items to their homes as they waded through waist high waters but also use them to keep food and other items dry as showers continued in some areas for several days.

Since the launch of the Recycled Schoolbags initiative back in 2007, Mobilink has donated 35,000 school bags made from recycled advertising skins to leading local NGOs such as CARE Foundation, Zindagi Trust, JAQ Trust and other deserving students and schools. The Mobilink CSR team actively seeks out and supports schools that provide educational opportunities to children who cannot pay heavy school fees, afford books or other educational expenses to ensure that Mobilink helps reshape lives in a positive way.     

Children at the Pehli Kiran School run by the JAQ trust with Mobilink Billboard Bags

Children at the Pehli Kiran School run by the JAQ trust with Mobilink Billboard Bags

 Challenges during the campaign

Mobilink’s efforts have not been without challenges. Logistical hurdles have to be overcome in collecting skins from different regions of the country. While installing and dismantling the skins, effort has to be made to prevent tearing as that leads to wastage of skins. These have been overcome through the commitment of  Mobilink’s staff that through sheer grit and perseverence has made efforts to ensure a constant supply of skins.

Another challenge is trying to reduce the amount of waste through the design and cutting process while maintaining the quality and durability of the recycled bags. This requires adequate training of staff which has necessitated investment from Mobilink. The manufacturing challenges aside, other country specific hurdles have presented daunting issues to the whole campaign.  Power shortages and electricity failures lead to periodic disruptions in the manufacturing process.

Mobilink’s campaign not only produces environmentally friendly items that help recycle non-biodegradable materials but also augments the support network in Pakistan’s society for the underprivileged and the marginalized sectors of society. Mobilink plays a vital role here as not only is it garnering a culture shift towards more responsible consumption and care for the environment but it is leading by example through illustrating that these recyclable processes are sustainable. Since the inception of the program, several local and multinational organizations in the private sector have contacted Mobilink to explore the possibility of replicating the recycling model. A few local private sector companies have also come forth and donated used billboard skins from their campaigns to Mobilink. 

If you would like to know more about this initiative or help Mobilink innovate and improve its bag production program please contact Sehar Tariq, Manager Corporate Social Responsibility at sehar.tariq@mobilink.net We welcome new ideas!

A version of this article also appeared in The Express Tribune at Bagging billboards: Corporate social responsibility goes up a notch

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5 Responses to “Mobilink Turns Billboards to Bags”

  1. Led Signs September 15, 2011 at 2:16 pm #

    I think this approach is an effective way to encourage customers to buy the product. it is influential for low cost per product or service.

  2. sommro m.umar October 15, 2011 at 6:26 pm #

    school bags required for 300 poor & needy students of al habib public s
    achool Jacobabad Sindh

    03337348507

  3. madi October 22, 2011 at 1:30 am #

    oh, oh, oh, i know these kids!

    *beam*

    bless CSR. i wonder how mobilink feels about product diversification…

  4. NA May 31, 2012 at 1:26 pm #

    Try giving bicycles, specially to girls in rural areas, its very liberating and hugely successful here (Tamilnadu,india)

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  1. Mobilink Turns Billboards to Bags | Tea Break - September 7, 2011

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