Juanita Van Der Merwe, founder of Little Green Number, was recently awarded the 2016 National Innovation Award at the South African Small Business Awards. Little Green Number is a social business that turns billboard waste into bags. The company has Community Based Micro Manufacturing Franchises (CBMMFs) all over Gauteng and they intend to take this national. They are passionate about eradicating poverty through social business principles: doing good, whilst doing good business. Their aim is to empower individuals through these CBMMFs, while building a profitable and sustainable commercial brand.
In Juanita’s own words: ‘Our heart is to give an opportunity to those who want to make things happen, an opportunity for those who are creatures of circumstances to create a different story by teaching them to sew, and to run sustainable and successful businesses with courage and confidence. This is the kind of story we want to tell and the kind of legacy that we want to leave behind: creating the platform for young entrepreneurs to find and establish themselves while bringing forth unconventional and innovative ways that will contribute to employment and sustainability.’
The company also has a ‘buy one, give one’ philosophy, which means that for every Little Green Number sold, one is donated to a school child who needs it. Juanita describes why they focus specifically on school children: ‘Our products usually create a lot of joy and excitement for children, and we firmly believe that giving them something to take care of and be proud of changes their view on school and education, making them work harder as they are excited and proud to be in school.
One of this biggest challenges Little Green Number has faced, is incorporating business principles in a charity. Juanita explains: ‘I had to change my own, as well as my staffs’ mind-sets, from asking for money to generating money through sales. We had to start thinking like entrepreneurs, seeing opportunity where others saw challenges. I believe in the saying ‘knowledge is power’, so we started with training and education for each of the sewers who came along from the charity. We showed them what it means to work from home, and how much money and time they save. Then we empowered them with the skills to manage themselves, their finances and their time. It was very theoretical, until the first of them reached the desired R6000 mark. Once they saw the theory turned into practice, there was no stopping them as they all realised that the effort they put in is directly translated into what they will get out at the end of the month. I saw how families were transformed and how individuals started taking pride in their work, as they were no longer employees but business owners.’
Through numerous other policies and methods, Little Green Number encourages a mindset of entrepreneurship. Their model is not set in stone – they aim to grow and develop, and incorporate methods that present themselves as more sustainable. As Juanita says, ‘From every failure we aim to learn. If you fail, fail forward.’
Small Business Friday is brought to you by the NSBC and encourages all South Africans to interact and support small business everyday; especially every Friday and even more so on Small Business Friday, the first Friday of Spring every year. This grows local communities, drives job creation and ultimately builds the nation. With your support small business will be able to employ more, therefore reducing rates of unemployment and harvesting the entrepreneurial spirit.