The South African Premier Business Awards is an annual event hosted by the Department of Trade and Industry (the dti) in partnership with Proudly South African and Brand South Africa. The awards recognise business excellence and honours enterprises that promote the spirit of success and innovation as well as job creation, good business ethics and quality. These awards bring together all single sectored awards, among others technology, manufacturing and women in business. 

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Little Green Number doing SA Proud

Enterprise Little Green Number 2Little Green Number is creating jobs and protecting the environment one funky bag at a time.

Initially started as a charity project, the organisation aims to ‘do good while doing good business’. To achieve this, Little Green Number has developed a community-based manufacturing micro franchising model, creating funky bags out of recycled billboards.

The company won the Proudly South African Category at the South African Premier Business Awards (SAPBA) in 2015. The SAPBA is an annual event hosted by the Department of Trade and Industry (the dti) in partnership with Proudly South African and Brand SA. The Proudly South African Category is aimed at enterprises that are registered members of Proudly South African. It recognises enterprises that manufacture or supply high-quality local products and/or services, are known for being proud members of Proudly South African and adhere to the four pillars of the campaign.

Little Green Number has 19 employees, the bulk of those being the community-based machinists, who are tasked with producing the company’s renowned bags.

“We set our machinists up as manufacturing franchisees, with their own equipment such as sewing machines and what we call a starter pack, and they then repay the set up costs as they work,” says Juanita van der Merwe, a manager and shareholder in the business. “Our aim is not just to eradicate poverty, but we are creating a model that is based on sustainable salaries. We want all people involved in this project to be able to live the lives they deserve, whether it be buying a car or educating their families.”

They have thrown out the rule book and gone beyond the estimated poverty line for South Africa, says Van der Merwe. “Academic estimates suggest that the poverty line for South Africa is R3 000 per month, but that is clearly too little for anybody to live on, so we have doubled that amount and our aim is to ensure that every one of our team members earns at least R6 000 per month,” she says.

The company has worked out the hourly rate required to earn the minimum R6 000 per month and each machinist understands the timeframe required to produce each of the products in Little Green Number’s range, meaning that the franchisees are in full control of their earning power, as the more they produce, the more they get paid.

“We wanted to shift the mindset usually associated with a social business, where there is a reliance on donors. Instead we want to help create entrepreneurs who are the masters of their own fortunes. Now many of our manufacturers regularly exceed earnings of R6 000 by some distance,” explains Van der Merwe.

The company has grown from strength to strength since the introduction of this operating model and it continues to give back through its buy-one-donate-one programme. Most of Little Green Number’s products are bought by corporate clients and for each bag sold an equivalent product is donated to a school child.

As a result of winning the SAPBA in 2015, Van der Merwe received training on business strategy through the GIBS Business School and Little Green Number was part of a beneficial trade mission to Japan, which has yielded new business for the company.

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