Ashish J. Thakkar: from refugee to Africa’s youngest billionaire

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Don’t be fooled by the slicked back hair and rock star status. Yes, Ashish J. Thakkar looks like a cool dude, but underneath that exterior lies grit, determination, brains, business savvy, and a background fraught with deprivation and lack.

At just 34, the Ugandan-born maverick entrepreneur has accomplished what only few attain in their lifetime.  Thakkar began his entrepreneurial journey over 15 years ago as a high school student in Uganda where he sold computers to his schoolmates and friends. He later dropped out to tend to that small trading operation which snowballed into the Mara Group, a diversified conglomerate with approximately $100 million in revenues, according to Thakkar.

Mara has tentacles in everything from Real Estate and tourism to financial services, information and communications technology, renewable energy and manufacturing. The group’s operations span 16 countries in four continents, including Asia. And lest you forget, he didn’t inherit anything; he built it all from scratch.

A fourth generation African, he was 13 when his family were driven from Rwanda to Uganda as a result of the genocide that was decimating the population at the time.

His family lost everything in the run for their lives, and it is this survival spirit that has stood Thakkar in good stead as he has risen from grass to grace to become the youngest billionaire in Africa, becoming the first African to be named in Fortune magazine’s annual 40 under 40 list in 2013, with total assets said to be in excess of $1bn and employees across 21 African countries.

According to the man himself, is “passion is to be a driving force for positive and economic change in Africa and not to make money for himself”.

He is the chairman of the United Nations Foundation global entrepreneurs council and founded the Mara Foundation in 2009, which serves as an online mentorship portal for young African entrepreneurs. Three years ago he was appointed to the advisory board of technology company Dell.

It is vital that these stories get told, so that every child struggling to read by the by the dim light of a lantern or trekking a far distance to get to school will KNOW that all of this is not in vain. That there can be a light at the end of the tunnel.

 

 

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