The Founder, Greenhill Recycling Limited, Mariam Lawani, in this interview provides recipe for a successful entrepreneur. Hamid Ayodeji brings the excerpts:
Lawani: Resilience, Key Ingredient for Successful Entrepreneurship
Greenhill Recycling is a social enterprise based in Lagos, that gives people, especially those leaving in low income communities, an opportunity to create value from the waste they generate every day. These include wastes such as plastics which are very abundant in our community or environment, like plastic bottles, water sachets, paper, aluminum,
Cartons, which people generate daily as they go about with their lives. We collect these recyclable items and reward the households with incentives as a way to encourage the behavior and culture of recycling.
What makes a successful entrepreneur?
In this part of the world it takes vision first of all because you have to know where you are headed as it is not going to be a smooth journey. You have to keep reminding yourself of the reason you became one in the first place. Also, you need to consider those depending on you for direction and clarity which should keep going. To be a successful entrepreneur in Nigeria, you have to be very resilient, focused consistent and prayerful because in this part of the world you can do all you can physically, but you may end up just hitting on brick
walls. So, there is an element of grace that I think can help you succeed. You also have to put yourself out there; take risks, let people know that you exist and can provide a solution.
Some people have complained that lack of access to capital is one of the hindrances to becoming a successful entrepreneur. Do you agree with that?
Money is not the first thing when it comes to becoming an entrepreneur. Entrepreneurs would be the solution to the problems we have in this country. So, there has to be more people who would get on that train. The first thing an entrepreneur needs is to develop a
product that meets a need. When you are able to do that, eventually, people would believe that solution, and then believe in you enough to invest in that vision. It is the entrepreneur people invest in at first not necessarily the business.
For us, aside personal savings from previous employment we were able to get a few people who believe in us and gave us some loans to payback without interest, as well as getting friends and family to invest in the vision. As an entrepreneur you need to begin with solving a problem and then eventually the funds would come because if you keep waiting on the funds you might get discouraged and never execute your business plan.
What initiatives do you think the government can implement to support entrepreneurship in the country?
It will be nice for the government to have a tax waiver for entrepreneurs, at least, the first three years of the establishment of the business and then check up on them to see how far they have developed and eventually tax them appropriately when they begin to
make money. The truth is that they expect you to pay tax for the infrastructure they are not providing for you to run your business.
The Chinese who come here to set up businesses here are able to do that because they get
about one per cent interest rate from their countries which enable them to come here to set-up massive businesses and then employ Nigerians as labor. So why can’t our government do such things whereby they create an entrepreneur fund where people can access with proper documentation? With that, entrepreneurs get funds to start up and when they are settled you can move on to other upcoming entrepreneurs.
How did you know when you had the perfect idea and solution?
When everything starts to call at you, when every spare hour you have at work is used for research on the latest invention regarding waste management, when everywhere you go you see bottles practically calling out to you, when everywhere you go it becomes more obvious that there is waste around and everywhere, when you go for a party and rather
than look for take away or stuff to take home you are packing bottles.
As for me, one of the reasons I left my job was because I did not want to cheat my employer as I found myself on the internet during my spare time researching on content very different from my regular work so I knew that there was no point continuing as an employee.
What was your major drive to becoming an entrepreneur?
Apart from the fact that I wanted a future for my children to be able to exist in an environment where they breathe clean and fresh air, I want them to live in an environment that is ideal and proper for their health. Asides that which is my greatest motivation, I knew that there was so much to do aside being in a classroom. It was not that I was not adding value where I was operating, but there was so much more.
There is a major issue that is as important as giving and adding value in that sense of the word. The environment is what ties us all together whether rich or poor, white or black. And if nothing is done about it we would all sink in it. Waste is a major global issue and it
is a space where a lot of people do not want to go into. That whole adventure might have been exciting for me because up until now there are only a few people who want to associate with waste recovery; they see it at as trashy.
Accomplishing great results require top notch teams so what approach did you apply towards getting your team?
For me it was about getting them to see the value of the work they do and its impact to the society through the work they do. It is very easy for people to feel depressed doing waste work. However, it becomes easier when you paint the big picture to them and make them
see how sorting the waste can prevent the death of people; if you can link it and they begin to see themselves as valuable and important people. Hence, for us it was about getting them to see the value in the work they do and how it impacts on the entire
For instance, if there was a plastic bottle blocking drainage so that water cannot flow, and overtime due to the way our roads are made, there is a huge pothole somewhere which can cause accident and leads to death. Who killed the person? So when they see that they
are saving lives with the work they do, there is pride in their work and that is why we call out to the producers of these recyclable materials, especially the producers of the plastic bottles.
They need to come on board to support us and these team members are the real
heroes as they are the ones that do the unsung work and get little pay. Yes, they get good wage for the work they do, but it can be a lot more, which is why we are calling to these people to provide incentives for them. it to pass time and then if something better comes along they jump ship which is not supposed to be. They should have proper structure like every other sector has.
What are your plans to expand your business?
Apart from the wider coverage the Lagos government has given to us through the Blue Box initiative, to effectively mop out those areas as we are in charge of the entire Isolo, Oshodi,Mushin, Ejigbo Local government, we are looking to have a new solution called project Akugbe, which has not been activated yet. But the whole idea behind this is to ensure that we make recycling as convenient for people in these zones. We have picked up that some people really want to partake in waste recovery and management but because it is not convenient for them they are not able to do it. Hence, we are working towards having a programme whereby we bring in people who do not have a support system, catering for them, especially widows to participate in this journey of saving our environment and world. And with this, they would be able to earn incentives and wages which would be useful in their day to day well-being.