Lessons from Africa’s Youngest Billionaire

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The Mara group employs over 7,000 people in 19 African countries and works in a diverse set of businesses, including high tech, agriculture, real estate and packaging.  All of this is presided over by 31-year-old entrepreneur Ashish Thakkar, who, thanks to his personal net worth of approximately 2.2 bn South African Rand, has become Africa’s youngest billionaire.

Although of Indian heritage, Thakkar’s family has a long history in Africa, having originally come to Uganda in the 1890s. His family was eventually thrown out of the country by Idi Amin, and they fled to the UK before returning to Africa again, first to Rwanda, and then, after fleeing the genocide there, back to Uganda.

Thakkar started his business at the age of 15 when he sold his computer to a family friend and earned a $100 profit. He continued making similar sales to friends and family and eventually began serving as an agent for other businesses importing goods from the Middle East, as well as personally traveling to source IT components for the African market.

The Mara Group’s operating principles could serve as lessons from Africa’s youngest billionaire for other companies that do business on the continent. The company is primarily focused on doing business in a way that is sustainable in the long term both from the social and business perspectives.

For example, in the IT sector, whereas many companies are focused on decreasing costs by “off-shoring”, the Mara Group is more interested in bucking this trend and engaging in “on-shoring”. This is because although off-shoring may generate cost benefits in the short term, it is not sustainable in the long term and is a policy that is generally disliked by countries.

In addition, the company is focused on generating a positive social impact. For example, on-shoring also has the benefit of creating skills in Africa. In addition, the company aims to create as much employment as possible by avoiding automation.

The Mara Group engineers its projects in South Africa to be easily replicated elsewhere. This allows the company to become truly pan-African, supporting both its own growth and creating social benefits throughout the continent.

All of the policies of social responsibility also make sense from a business perspective because they allow the company to take on a large number of employers and benefit from economies of scale. The focus on positive social impact thereby creates a positive feedback loop that will eventually also expand and strengthen the company’s consumer base.

This example underscores what has been highlighted by international business leaders: improving social conditions in developing countries is good for business. This is why many business leaders view foreign assistance not as an expenditure but as an investment with the potential to be repaid many times over in the future.

The Mara Group is an example of one company that has been able to grow in the African market through socially conscious and long-term oriented policies. However, it will certainly not be able to solve all of Africa’s problems alone. International assistance and foreign investment could contribute to a greater foundation for continued future growth, as well as provide opportunities for other companies looking to make a positive social impact in their communities.

– Caroline Poterio Martinez 

Source: Ventures Africa
Photo:YBL

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