Could solving real challenges be key to enterprise success?

Photo Supplied: Waste Want.

In South Africa, we recycle just 11% of the 42-million tonnes of general waste we create per annum. And this excludes hazardous waste like batteries. Millennials are also the least likely to recycle, showing a worrying trend in emerging leaders. Another concern? Our handling of plastic. We’re in the top 20 global offenders for mismanaged waste and come second (after the US) for plastic waste generated per person a day. We need to prioritise sustainability in every sector of society, including corporates.

Waste Want is an example of how to make sustainability core to a business. The majority black women-owned enterprise was founded to help solve South Africa’s waste challenge whilst having a ripple positive impact on vulnerable, homeless young people. The company focuses on sustainability in terms of creating employment, positive environmental impact, and educating young people. It’s the epitome of a progressive, forward-focused business that answers society’s call for companies to be forces for good. It’s also an excellent example of how solving real-world challenges is central to success for enterprises. A model for enterprise development (ED) going forward.

Lydia Anderson-Jardine and her husband Anthony Jardine co-founded the business in 2010. Having gone through Sanlam’s Enterprise and Supplier Development (ESD) Programme, it established the financial and business base to scale and process increased waste volumes with faster turnaround times. It now has a staff complement of 29, and has secured several big contracts, including a City of Cape Town tender.

Waste Want

Anderson-Jardine says the idea came from spotting a gap, “We were faced with financial challenges as a family and saw the need for the facilitation of recyclable waste in Cape Town; I immediately insisted we do something about it.”

A big take-out for other businesses is the success of Waste Want Youth. This sees Waste Want work with night shelters to recruit homeless youth into the business, training them to sort recyclables and grade different materials. Young people who successfully complete training are offered fulltime employment. So far, about 70 young people have been assisted directly and 30 to 40, indirectly. Considering the country’s youth unemployment crisis, the impact of this cannot be underestimated and it’s a model that other businesses could consider emulating.

Anderson-Jardine calls this a key highlight, “One of the key highlights is also the growth that we have brought to our workers, seeing people move from the homeless shelters back into their parental homes is a wonderful experience. The fact that we can provide them with employment to be breadwinners in their home shows that sustainability happens all around.”

Photo Supplied – Part of the Recycling Process: Waste Want

Another key take-away is Waste Want’s partnership with schools. Given that millennials seem to be the least likely to recycle, Waste Want is working with young people to ensure up-and-coming generations are aware of responsible waste handling. Educating future clients makes business sense. And it benefits South Africa.

The main message for other small business owners? The most successful entrepreneurs tend to be those who solve a real challenge South Africans face sustainably, in a way that benefits society and does good. Anderson-Jardine says, “We see ourselves as a social enterprise. We seek to maximise our profits along with social and human wellbeing.

I cannot reiterate enough that creating shared value is mutually beneficial to all parties involved. By growing our business, we’re contributing to the economy, assisting job creation in the green economy, making a difference from an environmental standpoint and helping the people who work for us.”

Paula Barnard, Acting Head of Sanlam Foundation, concludes, “It’s a privilege to be able to work with enterprises like Waste Want. Sanlam has a long-standing commitment to the development of black enterprises in its supply chain and the protection of our natural resources. Our deep investments in both areas are testament to the fact that we cannot divorce the creation of business wealth from protecting our natural wealth. We are WealthsmithsTM, which implies protecting and creating wealth across all categories.

 

Going forward, we believe social impact investing in the ED space will become a big focus for the future. Additionally, the pace of innovation in sustainability and environmental awareness causes frequent value chain disruption. SME owners need to be agile and responsive to the changes, and able to spot opportunities for growth in their offerings. This means staying abreast with trends. It’s key for them to attend networking and learning opportunities to ensure they can identify the possible risks and opportunities that change, disruption and innovation present.”