FEEL GOOD | Nompilo Nxumalo, owner of Ku Green Hands, is a recycling powerhouse at 28 years old

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Nompilo Nxumalo, founder of Ku Green Hands. Photo supplied by Nompilo Nxumalo
Nompilo Nxumalo, founder of Ku Green Hands. Photo supplied by Nompilo Nxumalo
  • Nompilo Nxumalo is the founder of Ku Green Hands, a waste recycling company based in Richard's Bay.
  • With Nompilo at the helm, Ku Green Hands is fast becoming a strong competitor to veteran recycling businesses. 
  • As an entrepreneur, Nompilo is a big believer in upskilling oneself, researching new endeavours and seeking growth opportunities through business competitions.

At 28, Nompilo Nxumalo is the owner of waste recycling company and buyback centre, Ku Green Hands, which is based in Richard's Bay. She is also a finalist in the 2021 Santam Women of the Future Awards under the Rising Star category. 

Nompilo’s story is one of courage, optimism and resilience. These are the same characteristics that are making her a major player in the recycling industry she finds to be heavily dominated by men. 

When she was 17 years old, about to complete her grade 11, Nompilo and her three siblings lost their mother. While completing her matric, circumstances dictated she be the primary caregiver for her two younger brothers. To this day, she is proud and committed to having assumed that parental role.

“I’m a family person, I love my family so much. Even if I come across challenges here at work, they keep me going because they are the reason why I started in the first place,” she says. 

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Her company Ku Green Hands is under her parent company Khethakwanele, which is named after her younger brothers, Khetha and Kwanenele, who she helped raise alongside her own child as well.

Nompilo’s career journey began when she committed to finishing her studies by all means necessary, which saw her moving to Durban and live far from the family she loves back in Mandlazini, Richards Bay. Once she completed her college studies in financial management, she received three internship offers. She accepted the offer from the Department of Justice in Richards Bay, where she was a financial intern. 

Nompilo Nxumalo

“I was praying that I get my job closer to home to my brothers and go back to my child because was not staying at her father’s home ... and I came back, fetched my child, fetched my brothers and then we were a family again,” she recalls the moment, which was a turning point in her home life.

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While she had a great experience working at the Department of Justice, Nompilo sought out to follow her long-standing dream of running her own business. She resigned from that position to pursue business management. “I do not relax, it’s not in my nature,” she says.

She immediately applied and was accepted to a business management program with South 32 that offered a stipend. Part of the requirements for this program was having a registered company, which meant Nompilo had to act fast and develop a business idea. 

Explaining how she conceived the idea of her recycling company, she says: “I come from a very big family, they normally collect waste and they’ll hire transport to sell to town and then I thought, ‘what if I bring this closer to them?’ By so doing, I will be limiting transport costs and then I’ll be actually creating my own ongoing business because waste is everywhere.” 

Once she completed the business management program, Nompilo hit the ground running and started the operations of her business. She immediately employed ten people and hired transport for waste collections.

In retrospect, she says this was the biggest mistake she made as a business owner. “I didn’t know what [happens] in my line of work and already I’ve got ten people I have to pay a salary ... and then the invoice came, it as not even enough to pay one person,” she explains.

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“Then I said to myself, let me learn more on how this thing works ... I stopped everything and started afresh doing research,” she adds. This was only the beginning of the challenges she would face as an entrepreneur. A failed business partnership and being bullied by her competitors because she is a young woman are all hurdles she faced and has since drawn lessons from. 

Nompilo’s company was also hit hard by the Covid-19 pandemic. She not only had to cut her staff in half but she had very few business coming in at the height of lockdown.

Nompilo Nxumalo

Amid these challenges, she kept pursuing her goals. In efforts to further upskill herself, she also joined an incubation program she says was instrumental in her knowledge of how to market her business and work with machinery that is crucial for her business. 

She also entered business competitions that she hoped would boost her profile and assist with finding her business. The 2021 Santam Women of the Future Awards that are in association with Fairlady and Truelove is one of the opportunities she’s excited about, where she will find out at the end of this week whether or not she will be a winner of the Rising Star category.  

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While she is experiencing some nervousness, Nompilo says: “All in all I’m excited that I’ll be going there. I’ll be meeting other ladies who have been in the industry, there’s woman of the future, there’s social entrepreneur and then I’ll have to be in an environment whereby I’ll see women like myself who been in the industry, who have faced more challenges than myself. There’ll be time to network, there’s a time for exposure ... so whatever that will happen but at the end of the day the awards have served a purpose for me already.”   

In her journey so far, Nompilo wants to encourage aspiring entrepreneurs to apply for existing funding opportunities like the NYDA and to seek upskilling opportunities that will help grow their businesses. She says, “Incubation programs are very useful, they offer a lot of growth”.

While she is yet to achieve the vision she has for herself, Nompilo remains hopeful, saying, “I’m going there because everything that I wrote down, one by one they are happening.” 

You can stream the 2021 Santam Women of the Future Awards in association with Fairlady and Truelove on 15 October 2021 at 12:30 here.

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