Key takeaways: Strive Masiyiwa Holds Town Hall in Accra

Guest Contributor, Monday March 19th 2018

This post was written by Heather Mavunga, a Zimbabwean entrepreneur in training in the MEST class of 2018.

Strive Masiyiwa is widely known as Zimbabwe’s only billionaire. He is a philanthropist of note and a successful businessman, with companies spanning over 14 countries. He has interests in telecommunications, media and technology through one of his subsidiaries, Econet Holdings Group.  

Strive’s Facebook page speaks to the vast impact he has had, and still continues to have, on the continent. It exists as a living hub of entrepreneurial discussion. On Tuesday, 13th March, he landed in Accra for a town hall discussion on education and entrepreneurship featuring Peter Salovey, the President of Yale University; Elizabeth Elango-Bintliff, the CEO of Junior Achievement Africa; Dr Patrick Awuah, the Head of Ashesi College; and Professor Awusu, Dean of the University of Ghana.

Over the last few years, Mr Masiyiwa has devoted much of his time to mentoring African entrepreneurs, specifically through his Facebook page. Famous for encouragement, passion and listening, Mr Masiyiwa has become every African entrepreneur’s favorite mentor as he regularly offers actionable advice, runs competitions on his page and connects people to opportunities.

Facebook has even identified his as the most engaged page on the platform, out of any business leader in the world. Over 3 million people like the page, and at any time his posts garner over 1 million likes and 400 000 comments.

Masiyiwa is also a philanthropist who is highly committed to fostering continued education. Over 100 000 African students have benefited from his Higherlife Foundation Scholarship programme over the last twenty years.The Higherlife Foundation is run by his wife Tsitsi Masiyiwa who is also passionate about education empowering the girl child through education.

[caption id="attachment_6563" align="aligncenter" width="500"] MEST Community members at the town hall.[/caption]

Here are some of the key takeaways from the discussion:

The importance of education for all.

Mr Masiyiwa shared the story of how the Higherlife Foundation was born. In the 1990’s he was the owner of a construction company. At the time, this was the height of the AIDS pandemic in Zimbabwe. As he attended funeral after funeral for his workers every week, anxious relatives would look to him for guidance on the fate of the children.

At first he covered costs for one child, then ten, and soon he had a hundred children under his care that he was paying fees for. That’s when he and his wife Tsitsi decided to register Higherlife as a trust, and his philanthropy journey began, Mr Masiyiwa shared the following words with us:

“It’s not about being a millionaire or billionaire; it’s about participating in the philanthropy of education.We respond to big problems in a moment of crisis.There was no big vision when we started Higherlife Foundation. There was a problem that needed a  solution, and we decided to just begin with the little that we had.”

Identify your calling and why you need to act on it.

Many people strive to do something with their careers that will make an impact. They have a calling to go into a different industry, but the fear of starting all over again holds them back.

Mrs. Elango-Bintliff of Juniour Achievement Africa shared a story about her own experience. After living In the US for over twenty years where she was working in agriculture, she felt the pull to go in a different direction, and she never looked back.

“Education was a calling for me. I tried to put if off for a long time. There came a time when it became overwhelming. I realised that I would stop breathing if I didn’t heed this calling. That’s when I packed my bags and came to Ghana. I didn’t know how I was going to do it, all I knew was that I wanted to live in Ghana.”

The gender gap in education is on the decline

The conversation surrounding the education of young women has seen a shift in Africa. At the University of Ghana, Professor Awusu, the Dean of the university, shared with the audience that most first class undergraduate degree holders are women this year. In 2020 they aim for a balance of 50 percent women in degree programmes and 50 percent men. Today the university stands at 47%.

This enviable figure is just one great example of the progress that has been made in some parts of Africa. However in other countries, we still have a long way to go in order to completely close the gender gap. Professor Awuah from Ashesi College stressed that we should not discount the progress we’ve made.

“As the gender gap in education closes, and it will close all the way, let us not forget to celebrate the wins.”

[caption id="attachment_6565" align="aligncenter" width="500"] MEST community members at the town hall.[/caption]

You can’t solve the world’s problems alone.

Mr Peter Salovey, President of Yale and a respected scholar in the study of emotional intelligence, reflected on the partnerships that Yale University has around the world. Some of their strongest partnerships have arisen out of their alumni.

The Yale Africa initiative was started by African scholars at Yale. It has been in operation for more than 5 years. During this time more students from the continent have gotten into Yale and connected with key alumni. Mr Salovey shared some wise words on solving challenges. By working together on forming mutually beneficial partnerships in order to tackle our most audacious challenges, Mr Salovey stressed that many problems will be solved by partnerships - not individuals or working alone.

To close the town hall discussion Mr Masiyiwa left us with a resounding comment on the future of education.

“We need to do with education what we did with independence. This is a revolution that will take us all the way to upgrading the skills of our people. The revolution for education is now; we do not have any time left”