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Marlinie Kotiah

General secretary director
Danone Southern Africa

Marlinie Kotiah is a nutritionist, scientist and business leader with nearly three decades of experience. She holds a bachelor of science in dietetics, a postgraduate diploma in hospital dietetics and has received global leadership training in Paris, Luxembourg and Senegal. She also managed to complete an MBA while raising her two children, something she considers to be among her proudest accomplishments.

As the general secretary director of Danone Southern Africa and the vice- chairperson of the Food Safety Initiative of the Consumer Goods Council of South Africa, she provides leadership and strategic guidance on sustainable business practices. She’s built a purposeful career by highlighting where food, wellness and responsible manufacturing intersect.

Recently, Kotiah’s focus has been to champion the repurposing of plastic into desks and lightweight bricks to build school infrastructure. In doing so, her work encourages regenerative agriculture while reducing food waste and the overall carbon impact of the factories and brands she oversees. In 2019, Danone converted every single Nutriday 1kg tub from polystyrene (PS) to polypropylene (PP). Thanks to her leadership and sustainable business decisions, the company successfully diverted 700 tonnes of plastic from landfill.

In her 27 years in the industry, she’s consistently enhanced the equity and image of the companies she’s been involved with and driven their competitive advantage. She has essentially fulfilled the dual economics of doing good business while being a force for good.

Kotiah is a firm believer in the power of community and our collective responsibility to respect our natural environment, which she hopes more South Africans will embrace. She says: “Being smart does not equate to being successful. Working successfully with people drives success. Natural resources are limited; use them respectfully, nurture them and educate others to do the same.”

Natural resources are limited; use them respectfully

Author - Neil Büchner Jr
Carmen Jordaan

Carmen Jordaan

Founder and director
Whole Earth Recycling and Whole Earth Organic Farm

“We need the natural environment,” explains Carmen Jordaan, “but the natural environment does not need us.” This statement is demonstrative of Jordaan’s pragmatic and balanced view on humankind’s relationship with the natural world. It’s a viewpoint that she honed during her time at the University of Johannesburg, where she earned a BSc in natural and environmental sciences and a BSc honours in geography. “I like to think that we can, to a large degree, live in harmony with nature,” she says. “We shouldn’t have to choose between us and the environment.”

This ethos is the driving force behind her role as director, founder and owner of Whole Earth Recycling, which provides a hassle-free and reliable way for homes, schools and offices in Gauteng to recycle — and it creates jobs. Today, the 40-strong team includes 24 sorters, called flight hawks, who generate their income by sorting recyclables and selling those materials to buy-back centres. Whole Earth Recycling’s warehouse provides necessary respite for the sorters from the elements, and ensures that the recyclables do not blow away and pollute the environment.

In July 2022, Jordaan and the team expanded with the launch of the Whole Earth Organic Farm, which extends their recycling solutions to include organic kitchen waste composting: Johannesburg’s first large-scale wet and dry recycling curbside collectors.

Jordaan derives great satisfaction from watching her two young children learn to embrace the natural world: “From picking up insects and spiders and saying, ‘look Mommy, the beetle loves me, and I love it,’ to teaching ouma what nocturnal means.” She is also proud of her successful company: “I am so happy to be doing something that I love and to be able to help people and the environment in such a meaningful way.”

We shouldn’t have to choose between us and the environment

Madeleine Bazil |
Kanyisa Mancunga

Kanyisa Mancunga

Kanyisa Mawethu Pty Ltd

Every so often, someone comes along who manages to generate a proper impact on ground level. Kanyisa Mancunga, the founder and director of Kanyisa Mawethu Pty Ltd, spearheads an innovative approach to recycling plastic signboard waste.

Mancunga’s business recycles plastic to manufacture weatherproof school and utility bags, and supplies children with recycled rice bag plastic to cover their school books. Her motivation behind the initiative is to promote awareness among fellow South Africans of our deteriorating natural environment — and the significant impact this decline has on our lives — and to help less fortunate schoolchildren “My wish is for society to learn more ways of green living,” she says.

Born in Willowdale in the rural Eastern Cape, Mancungu attended high school in Idutywa (now called Dutywa) before completing a diploma in marketing at Vaal University of Technology in 2010. She was raised by her mother, a teacher who supplied less fortunate pupils with clothing and food.

Through Mancungu’s projects and interaction with employees and sponsors, she has learned the patience required to bring a project to fruition. As an entrepreneur, her marketing background features strongly in her current role.

In addition to its environmental benefits, the school bags she distributes provide big corporations with the opportunity to sponsor change in the lives of rural communities. The bag has a built-in solar torch for studying at home and walking to school in the dark, reflective tapes, a rain jacket and a sanitary towel pouch. Each corporate sponsor’s logo is embroidered on the side.

In 2022, the Kanyisa Mawethu Foundation was one of the winners of the Indalogrow Programme-SiAGIA. The Indalogrow Enterprise Award and Support Programme is hosted by Indalo Inclusive and powered by Nedbank.

My wish is for society to learn more ways of green living

Frans Meyer |
Julie Hay

Julie Hay

Founder and executive director
Singakwenza Early Childhood Education

Julie Hay, founder and executive director of Singakwenza Early Childhood Education, has carved out a unique space in the early childhood development (ECD) realm by establishing a sustainable preschool programme which requires merely a pair of scissors, a marker pen and disposable household packaging.

Singakwenza, meaning “we can do it”, is situated in Hilton, KwaZulu-Natal, and was born from the desire to grant less fortunate children the benefits of early childhood learning. Hay began her career in ECD in 2000 and has dedicated herself to creating workshops, training practitioners, writing training manuals and designing toys.

Singakwenza has used its key philosophy of “sustainable change” to equip parents, caregivers and practitioners on a grassroots level with the stimulating and educational tools for preschool children in 64 under-resourced crèches. The aim is to develop their basic learning skills through play, using resources made solely from recycled materials. Hay says that she has accomplished far more than she had ever aspired to: “I’ve learned that we have some incredible, resilient and caring women in really tough circumstances who want to make a difference for the children they care for.”

When asked about what she wishes all South Africans knew about the natural environment, Hay replies: “Most people don’t see the bigger picture of how one piece of rubbish or single bin bag contributes to the massive pollution problem that we’ve created that affects our health, our access to clean water and our very existence.”

To emphasise this point, the practitioners at Singakwenza have designed their educational tools entirely from household rubbish. This sustainable approach to ECD is simple and cost-effective, and it creates ecological awareness for children in their foundational learning phase.

Most people don’t see the bigger picture of how one piece of rubbish contributes to our massive polution problem

Georgia Satchwell |