Strive Masiyiwa: Billionaire & Philanthropist Leading Africa’s Growth

Strive Masiyiwa's entrepreneurship journey is one of the most interesting in Africa. With a vast investment portfolio and a big heart, Masiyiwa is one of the most impactful people in the Continent.

Strive Masiyiwa, a Zimbabwean businessman and philanthropist is best known for being the Founder and Chairman of Econet Wireless International and Zimbabwe’s first billionaire.

A husband and a father of six, Masiyiwa was born in 1961 in Zimbabwe. His father was a miner who later became a businessman. His mother was an entrepreneur whose interests ranged from retail sales to small-scale farming and transportation.

At the age of 12, Masiyiwa’s parents afforded him the opportunity to study abroad at a private school in Edinburgh, Scotland where he graduated in 1978. He later joined the University of Wales where he earned a degree in electrical and electronic engineering in 1983.

He worked briefly stint in the computer industry in Cambridge, England and in 1984, he returned to his home country. He joined Zimbabwe Posts and Telecommunications Corporations (ZPTC) as a senior engineer and would eventually become a principal engineer within the company. Masiyiwa became frustrated with the government bureaucracy, however, and left ZPTC in 1988 to start an electrical contracting firm named Retrofit Engineering.

He organized a team of about 100 people and launched the company with about US$75 and began offering electrical engineering services on a contract basis.

 The birth of Econet Global Ltd

In 1990, Masiyiwa realised that there was great promise for wireless telephones in sub-Saharan Africa and he founded Econet Wireless in that same year and in 1994 he sold Retrofit Engineering and started to finance Econet Wireless through his family company, TS Masiyiwa Holdings (TSMH).

This business venture was met with heavy opposition from ZPTC, which had claimed a monopoly on telecommunications, and the Zimbabwean Government. After lengthy legal battles, Masiyiwa’s Econet obtained a licence to provide mobile phone services in Zimbabwe. Econet’s first cell phone subscriber was connected to the new network in 1998.

Initially called “Enhanced Communications Network”, Econet is a diversified telecommunications group currently having operations and investments in Africa, Europe, South America and the East Asia Pacific Rim, offering products and services in the core areas of mobile and fixed telephony services, broadband, satellite, optical fiber networks and mobile payment.

The group’s subsidiaries include Econet Mobile Networks Group, Liquid Telecom, Cassava SmarTech, Distributed Power Africa (DPA), Vaya Africa and Technites Africa.

President Paul kagame of rwanda(left) and Strive Masiyiwa (Right) at the Youth Entrepreneurship Town Hall in Kigali

Liquid Telecom is the leading independent data, voice and IP provider in eastern, central and southern Africa. It supplies fibre optic, satellite and international carrier services to Africa’s largest mobile network operators, ISPs and businesses of all sizes. It also provides payment solutions to financial institutions and retailers, as well as data storage and communication solutions to businesses across Africa and beyond. Liquid Telecom has so far built a fibre optic network that spans 15 African countries from South Africa, all the way to the border of South Sudan in East Africa, and now wants to move into West Africa.

Cassava Smartech is a diversified smart technologies group. It has established a balanced portfolio of distinct, yet highly synergistic business pillars, namely FinTech, InsurTech, Social Payments, On-Demand Services, e-Commerce, AgriTech, HealthTech and EduTech.

DPA is a market leader in innovative solar energy solutions. They have operations in Kenya, South Africa and Zimbabwe. DPA supplies commercial and industrial customers with efficient, green solar energy installations without an initial capital outlay.

Vaya Africa is a web and mobile app that fixates on social and economic growth with mobility services for people and logistics for goods.

Technites is an app designed to link service requests with the firm’s highly trained, qualified and certified third-party contractors to complete specialised jobs at the clients’ premises. The Technites solution provides real-time platforms to connect users to their nearest service provider, saving them time and money through increased efficiency.

In February 2013, Econet acquired a controlling interest in the then TN Bank Zimbabwe and renamed it Steward Bank. In October 2014, it acquired VimpelCom’s Telecel in Burundi (U-COM) and Telecel in the Central African Republic (Telecel RCA) for US$65 million.

Masiyiwa’s other business interests also include renewable energy, water treatment, beverage bottling, financial services and hospitality.

 The man with many titles

Masiyiwa serves on a number of international boards, including the Rockefeller Foundation, the Council on Foreign Relations’ Global Advisory Board, the Africa Progress Panel, the UN Secretary General’s Advisory Board for Sustainable Energy for All, Morehouse College and the Hilton Foundation’s Humanitarian Prize Jury.

He is one of the founders, with Sir Richard Branson, of the global think tank, the Carbon War Room, and a founding member of the Global Business Coalition on Education. He currently co-chairs the AU/WEF platform for investment in African agriculture, known as GROW Africa, and is also the Emeritus Chair of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA).

He is also the Chair Emeritus of Nutrition International’s Board of Directors, a global organization focused on improving nutrition. In 2012, he was invited by US President Obama to address leaders at the Camp David G-8 Summit on how to increase food production and end hunger in parts of Africa.

As a philanthropist, he is a member of the Giving Pledge, and his contributions to education, health and development have been widely recognized.

He is currently also a member of Thebe Investment Corporation of South Africa, an empowerment company that was set up by the Mbabatho Trust of the ANC.

Amongst his other business leadership achievements, Strive was a member of the coordinating committee, which set up the Social Dimensions Fund (SDF), an initiative to alleviate the impact of poverty arising during the implementation of economic reforms in Zimbabwe.

He was also a founding member of the African Latin American Institute at Punta Del Este in Uruguay in 1994. The institute promotes cultural, educational and business linkages between Southern Africa and the Mercusior region of Latin America.

In December 2020, Masiyiwa was selected to the board of Netflix, an American content platform and production company. Susan Rice, who is now the director of US President Joe Biden’s Domestic Policy Council, previously held the seat.

Strive Masiyiwa and wife receive British award for philanthropy

Awards and accolades

Masiyiwa has been endowed with numerous awards from his work and philanthropy across the World.

These include:

Businessman of the Year, Republic of Zimbabwe, 1990; Manager and Entrepreneur of the Year, Republic of Zimbabwe, 1998; Ten Most Outstanding Young Persons of the World, Junior Chamber International (JCI), 1999; Global Influentials, Time, 2002.

Most Influential Business Leaders in the World in 2003 by CNN & Time magazine; 25 Leaders of Africa’s Renaissance Award, The Times of London, 2011; 20 Most Powerful Businesspeople in African Business by Forbes Magazine, 2012; 50 Most Influential Business Leaders in the World, Fortune Magazine 2014.

In 2014 and 2020 he was cited one of the Top 100 Most Influential Africans by New African magazine; the 10 Most Powerful Men in Africa, Forbes Magazine, 2015; Number 33 in the World’s Greatest Leaders, Fortune Magazine, 2017.

In 2019, he was awarded the Norman E. Borlaug World Food Prize Medallion and named one of the 100 Most Influential Africans by New African magazine.

In 2020, he was named a JA Worldwide Global Business Hall of Fame Laureate. He was named by Bloomberg as one of the 50 World’s Most Influential People; 100 Most Influential Africans, New African Magazine; 100 Africans of the Year by Mail & Guardian Continential Edition.

Work for the community

Masiyiwa is estimated to have a net worth of US$1.7 billion and was declared Zimbabwe’s first-ever dollar billionaire by Forbes in 2018. In 2019 he was ranked the 9th richest black person in the world.

With his wealth, he has done several notable works for the community. With his wife, they founded and financed the Higher Life Foundation, which empowers disadvantaged children through education and creating opportunities for highly talented young people. Through one of the largest scholarship programmes in Africa, the Foundation pays the school fees for 30,000 students annually in Zimbabwe, Lesotho and Burundi.

The two also pledged US$100 million to establish a fund to invest in rural entrepreneurs in his home country.

He has used his own family fortune to build one of the largest support programs for educating orphans in Africa. At any given time, his family foundations support and educate more than 40,000 children.

In September 2014, the Chair of the African Union (AU), Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, asked Masiyiwa to help mobilise resources for Africa’s response to the Ebola outbreak. Masiyiwa, with the help of other leaders, set up the first ever Pan-African fund-raising campaign known as #AfricaAgainstEbola Solidarity Fund.

Upon the cholera outbreak, which happened in Zimbabwe in 2019, Strive Masiyiwa together with his wife donated a total of US$10m to fight against the disease. Moreover, he pledged US$60m to be used to build resilience against the disease.

In 2015, the International Rescue Committee (IRC) awarded Masiyiwa the Freedom Award. The award is given annually to an individual who makes an extraordinary contribution towards supporting refugees and championing the causes of liberty, individual freedom, and dignity.

In January 2020 he paid for Zimbabwe’s doctors to return to work after they downed tools so that the government could pay pending salaries and improve conditions of work. In May 2020, he was appointed by South African President and African Union Chair Cyril Ramaphosa to serve as a Special Envoy to the African Union for COVID response.

Masiyiwa is also a member of the Bill Gates and Warren Buffett initiative known as the Giving Pledge and in 2018, Masiyiwa was granted the Points of Light Award in recognition of his volunteer work.

This feature appeared in the June 2021 edition of Africa Inc. magazine. You can access the full digital magazine HERE

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