Zimbabwe may be infamous for its recession and hyperinflation but one of its citizens, Strive Masiyiwa, is not getting the memo. Founder of telecom giants Econet Wireless, Masiyiwa has gone on to acquire a net worth of $1.5 billion, making him the first billionaire out of his country as well as one of the richest on the continent.
Such an exalted status is down to hard work and the business mogul has received several accolades. He has also been appointed to the board of prestigious companies and hobnobbed with world leaders such as Barack Obama. Masiyiwa is now one of Africa’s most respected business leaders, but he had to fight tooth and nail to get to that position. Having waged battles with the Zimbabwean authorities to be able to get an operational license in the first place, it is Masiyiwa’s ability to straddle the fine line between politics and business that has enabled him to become what he is today. He is not losing focus though but remains committed to taking his company to greater heights. He is also a generous humanitarian and has several worthy initiatives across the continent.
Strive Masiyiwa’s Parents Fled Zimbabwe When He Was Only Seven to Escape White Minority Rule
Masiyiwa is a self-made billionaire and his journey to greatness started right from childhood. Born on the 29th of January 1961 in what was then known as Rhodesia, Strive grew up as the son of two entrepreneurial parents. That enterprising spirit meant that they had a good life but all was cut short in 1968 when a group of white minorities declared independence from Britain. Being black, Strive’s parents knew they were in for a tough time and they took the decision to relocate to neighboring Zambia.
In Zambia, the couple continued working hard and made enough to send their son to Scotland to continue his education. Having found himself in such a flourishing country, Strive Masiyiwa could have easily decided to forget about his roots and settle down where things were rosy. He was not such a fellow though, so upon completing his secondary education at the age of 17, he returned to Africa to join the guerrillas that were waging war for his country’s independence. Masiyiwa never did join the war as one of his cousins informed him that independence was nearly won and as such, what the new nation would require was trained hands. He was therefore advised to focus more on continuing his education.
Strive Masiyiwa took this advice wholeheartedly and returned to Scotland where he studied electrical engineering. He received his degree from the University of Wales in 1983. Armed with that degree, Masiyiwa spent roughly a year working in England. He subsequently returned to his motherland in 1984 and took up employment with the Zimbabwean Phone Company (ZPTC) in order to contribute his own quota to building the young nation.
Schools Attended by Strive Masiyiwa
- Primary School Zambia
- Secondary School Scotland
- The University of Wales
Masiyiwa Battled the Mugabe Government for Several Years in Order To Get a License to Operate Econet Wireless
Strive Masiyiwa spent a few years working for ZPTC as a telecom engineer, a time during which he acquired some decent savings. He subsequently took out a bank loan and combined it with his savings to establish an engineering firm known as Retrofit Engineering. The company handled a variety of electrical services and won the favor of the Zimbabwean government. They were thus given several lucrative contracts and Masiyiwa’s net worth grew to impressive heights.
Masiyiwa and his young family lived enviable lifestyles as business continued to thrive. The family would subsequently experience a stark decline in fortunes starting from 1993. Prior to that year, the only company that was licensed to operate telephone services in Zimbabwe was the state-owned ZPTC. Masiyiwa had a vision of setting up his own telecom company, Econet Wireless, and promptly applied to the government for a license. The government, not wanting a challenge to its monopoly, refused to grant the license and Masiyiwa went to the court. The litigation would last for five years during which Retrofit lost all of its government contracts. The company subsequently folded and Masiyiwa and his family had to live from hand to mouth. He refused to give up though and in 1998, the Supreme Court ruled in his favor.
— Forbes (@Forbes) January 11, 2018
His Econet Wireless quickly commenced operations and within just a few months, knocked out ZPTC to become the leading telecoms provider in Zimbabwe. Today, Econet Wireless has tens of millions of subscribers across not less than 17 countries in the world. It continues to maintain a strong foothold in Zimbabwe.
Prior to its coming into operation, 70% of the country’s population had never heard a phone ring but now, over 75% have cell phones. Masiyiwa retains 50% ownership of the company and is heralded for his role in opening up African telecommunications to private investments.
Econet Global Has Subsidiaries in Various Sectors That Include Mobile Banking, Internet Services, and Tech
Strive Masiyiwa’s legal victory over the government in 1998 increased their hostility towards him and they resorted to using security officials to shadow him and his family. The business mogul couldn’t very well live in such an environment and so moved out to South Africa in 2000. He set up his home there and utilized the more favorable economic environment offered by the country to diversify his business pursuits into several areas and set up multiple companies.
All these companies, including Cassava Smartech, are now housed under a holding company known as Econet Global. Cassava Smartech amongst other things includes EcoCash, a mobile banking service that enables users to make payments, money transfers, and international transfers as well as save money. The service came into existence in the early 2010s and has become quite lucrative as many people on the African continent migrate to a cashless economy.
— Tatenda Gwaambuka (@GwaaWezhira) July 22, 2016
Another thriving arm of Econet Group is Liquid Intelligent Technologies. Described as a leading communications solutions provider across 13 countries in East and Southern Africa, Liquid Intelligent Technologies boasts of 73,000 kilometers of fiber optics network which it uses to provide high speed and reliable connectivity to mobile operators, carriers, media, and content companies as well as private individuals.
Although still in its nascent stage, Vaya Technologies is another company under the umbrella of Econet Global. It is a ride-hailing mobility venture which utilizes a fleet of electric vehicles and also provides solar-powered charging stations for those vehicles. Launched in 2020, Vaya has ambitions to expand its fleet to motorcycles and Tuk Tuk taxis. They are also eyeing a spread from Zimbabwe to other African countries such as Kenya, South Africa, Zambia, and Nigeria.
Masiyiwa Also Has Interests in the Renewable Energy Sector
Econet Global now generates more than $3 billion in annual revenues and part of this comes from their investments in the renewable energy sector through their subsidiary, Econet Energy. The company includes Solarway, a UAE-based company that specializes in developing sustainable and personalized power solutions for people. Some of their products include solar lanterns, solar candles, solar phone chargers, hybrid inverters, and the likes.
Another lucrative arm of Econet Energy is Distributed Power Africa (DPA). Based in Kenya, DPA provides renewable energy solutions across Africa and has made some great strides over the years. In June 2019, the company collaborated with the renowned French company, EDF, to deploy hybrid energy solutions (solar panels backed up with batteries) for many parts of Africa. The project showed great potential and so in March 2021, EDF purchased a 50% stake in DPA. Masiyiwa was over the moon about the deal and declared that DPA will one day be bigger than Liquid and Econet.
List of Companies Under Strive Masiyiwa’s Econet Global
- Econet Global (Founder and Executive Chairman)
- Econet Wireless Zimbabwe (Executive Director)
- Liquid Intelligent Technologies (Executive Chairman)
- Cassava Fintech (Founder)
- Econet Energy (Founder)
- Vaya Technologies Africa (Founder)
Congratulations to our Co-Founder Mr Strive Masiyiwa for being awarded for his work in the agricultural development of our #Africa.For more than 10 years and during the period he was Chairman of @AGRAAlliance he oversaw many projects that bettered food production in Africa🎉 https://t.co/HdbxsosEEQ
— HigherlifeFoundation (@HigherLifeFDN) September 5, 2019
Strive Masiyiwa Has Served as a Director of Several Prestigious Companies Including Unilever and Netflix
Strive Masiyiwa’s accomplishments in the business world mean that many organizations, both profit-oriented and non-profits, have approached him to sit on their board of directors. To date, the business mogul has served on the board of several organizations, including the Rockefeller Foundation, the Prince of Wales Trust for Africa, and Stanford University.
Masiyiwa’s latest board membership appointment is for movie streaming giants Netflix, which was unveiled in December 2020. In announcing the appointment, the company expressed their hopes that Masiyiwa would help them with his experience and valuable insights in doing business in Africa as they themselves seek to expand across the continent. Masiyiwa, on his own part, acknowledged that Netflix was at the forefront of bringing great entertainment to people everywhere in the world and stated that he looked forward to working with fellow board members as well as other stakeholders to continue the company’s tradition of growth and innovation.
List of Masiyiwa’s Board Memberships
- Nelson Mandela Foundation
- Endeavour South Africa
- Rockefeller Foundation (board of trustees)
- National Geographic Society
- Asia Society
- Bank of America
- Stanford University
- Bloomberg New Economy Forum
- The Prince of Wales Trust for Africa
- The Council on Foreign Relations in the U.S.
- U.S. Holocaust Museum’s Committee on Conscience
- Morehouse College
He Has Also Been Tapped to Co-Ordinate Africa’s Response to the Ebola and Covid-19 Health Crises
Masiyiwa’s long-running cold war with the Zimbabwean government has done nothing to detract from the fact that he is a leader who can impact his society if given the chance. He has consequently scored several prestigious appointments on the African continent, including being asked to chair the private sector’s response to the Ebola crisis of 2014. In the performance of his task, Masiyiwa joined hands with other prominent billionaires on the continent, including Nigeria’s Aliko Dangote and South Africa’s Patrick Motsepe, to set up a fund known as Africa Against Ebola Solidarity Trust.
#Zimbabwe's Strive Masiyiwa is a philanthropist and member of the task team set up by the @_AfricanUnion to fight against #COVID19. For more than 30 years, Masiyiwa has been one of the main entrepreneurs leading #Africa's digital transformation. https://t.co/MA6t6tCnec
— The Africa Report (@TheAfricaReport) April 9, 2021
The trust raised tens of millions of dollars and this was used to support healthcare professionals; staff Ebola treatment centers; as well as strengthen the capacity of local health services. Such an impressive performance fetched Masiyiwa and his fellow trustees the 2015 U.N. Global Leadership Award. It also meant that the next time a health crisis struck the continent – the Covid-19 pandemic of 2020 – the Zimbabwean businessman was called upon once again to help out. This time around, he was appointed the African Union Special Envoy for mobilizing the private sector response to the COVID-19 pandemic and he accomplished great feats as well.
His task force set up the Africa Medical Supplies Platform which ensured that African countries could source PPEs without much hassle. Masiyiwa also spearheaded efforts aimed at ensuring that the continent got a fair supply of vaccines. On the 29th of March 2021, he signed a historic agreement with Pharmaceutical giants Johnson & Johnson on behalf of the African Vaccine Acquisition Trust.
Strive Masiyiwa and His Wife Tsitsi Have Sponsored the Education of More Than 50,000 Young Persons Through Their Higher Life Foundation
One of the fallouts of Masiyiwa’s long travails in the hands of the Zimbabwean authorities was his wife, Tsitsi, who promised God that they would use their wealth for the benefit of the less privileged in society. The couple remains committed to that vision to date and uses their Higher Life Foundation to impact the lives of others. To date, the Masiyiwas have paid for the education of not less than 40,000 youths across Zimbabwe, Burundi, and Lesotho. They have also instituted a $6.4 million scholarship fund that pays for students to attend Morehouse College in the USA.
In 2020 we provided learning opportunities to 13,288 orphaned& vulnerable children through scholarships across ECD,Primary, Secondary&Tertiary levels. Additionally, we gave 587 academically gifted scholars access to education with scholarships to local&international institutions. pic.twitter.com/rJgNh7LMxd
— HigherlifeFoundation (@HigherLifeFDN) April 19, 2021
Masiyiwa and his wife have also committed funds to develop helpful tools for African youths. One of them is a tech hub (MuzindaHub) which trains thousands of Zimbabwean youths in digital skills and IT programming. There is also an online learning platform (Ruzivo Digital Learning) that assists students with digital learning opportunities. These initiatives have fetched Strive and his wife several accolades, including the Points of Light Award from the United Kingdom in 2018.
Beyond education, the Masiyiwas have also made other commendable charity donations, including agreeing to pay striking Zimbabwean doctors so that they would go back to work in January 2020. Back in February 2019, the couple announced that they would set up a $100 million fund over the next five years which will be deployed towards investing in rural entrepreneurs over Zimbabwe. The funds are distributed as low-interest loans requiring no collateral. The beneficiaries also undergo training before accessing the funds which are disbursed through Masiyiwa’s Steward Bank.
List of Awards Conferred on Strive Masiyiwa
- Induction into the Global Business Hall of Fame 2020
- 100 most influential Africans of 2020 by New African magazine
- 50 World’s Most Influential People of 2020 by Bloomberg
- Honorary doctorate from Yale University 2019
- JA Worldwide Global Business Hall of Fame Laureate 2019
- Norman E. Borlaug World Food Prize Medallion 2019
- 100 Most Influential Africans of 2019 by the New African magazine
- Points of Light Award 2018
- Honorary doctorate from Nelson Mandela University 2017
- 10 Most Powerful Men in Africa by Forbes Magazine 2015
- Freedom Award from the International Rescue Committee 2015
- Lifetime Achievement Award at the Africa Business Awards 2015
- Lifetime Achievement Award at the 2015 Brand Africa Awards
- Honorary doctorate from Morehouse College 2012
- 25 Leaders of Africa Renaissance Award 2011
- Builder of the Modern Africa Awards 2010
- One of the ten most outstanding young leaders in the world by the World Junior Chamber of Commerce 1998
- Zimbabwean Manager and Entrepreneur of the Year Award 1998
- Zimbabwean Businessman of the Year 1990 (youngest ever recipient at the age of 29 years).