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The Story of Ashish Thakkar: From a Refugee to the Youngest African Billionaire

Ashish Thakkar is a Rwandan-based entrepreneur, who roses from being a refugee in Rwanda to the youngest African billionaire. He is the founder of Mara Group (A Pan African Business Service company which operates in the technology, financial services, manufacturing, real estate and agriculture industries), Mara Foundation and the co-founder of Atlas Mara Limited. In 2013 he announces a partnership with Bob Diamond, a former Chief Executive of Barclay to launch Atlas Mara (a company that invests in commercial banking institution across Africa). In 2016 he was named the Middle East man of the year by Esquire. Mara group founded by him in 1996 with headquarters now in Dubai, has a staff strength of 11,000 workers and is actively in 24 countries and became a case study in the Harvard business school. He was appointed the chairman of the UN Foundation’s Global Entrepreneurs Council in 2015 and a member of the World Economic Forum’s Young Global Leaders (2013). In 2017, was appointed the Presidential Youth Advisory Group chair at the African Development Bank. He is the writer of The Lion Awakes: Adventures in Africa’s Economic Miracle (2015). Due to his passion for community and youth development, he founded Mara Foundation, a non-profit arm of the Mara group in 2009 which has launched many programs like Mara mentor (a mobile application that connects young Entrepreneurs with business professionals) and Mara launchpad a small business incubation Centre which incubates 110 companies in Kampala Uganda.

Early Life of Ashish Thakkar

Ashish Thakkar was born in 1981 in the Leicester United Kingdom, where his parent migrated to after been expelled by Idi Amin in 1972 from Uganda. He had his early childhood at Rushey Mead School as part of Belvoir S form group, his parent later returned to Africa and settled in Rwanda but was on they moved again in 1994 due to the Rwanda genocide which took them to Burundi and later back to Uganda where they settled as refugees. In 1996 at the age of 15, he started his first business which was importing computers and accessories from Dubai and selling it in Uganda, he took a $5000 loan to expand his business and later relocated to Dubai where he started a company and was selling to Africa companies.

The Pains of Ashish Thakkar

1.       Living as a refugee: After fleeing Rwanda in 1994 due to the Rwanda genocide, they settle at Uganda as refugees.

2.       Initial Disapproval from his parent:

“After some intense convincing, my parents agreed to let me start my own business on the condition that I would go back to school if it didn’t work out.”

3.       Divorced: One of Ashish Thakkar problems as been from his divorce with his wife Meera Thakkar, which significantly impacted on his company as a percentage went to his wife as settlement.

4.       Economical Imbalance:  the stock of Atlas Mara co-founded by Ashish Thakkar is facing a downward drift due to the economical situations in most African countries, where his company bought shares of Bank like Nigeria and Zimbabwe facing currency devaluation and financial problems due to bad loans.

Lessons Learnt from Ashish Thakkar Story

1.       When starting a business, make use of your major or best skill: if you have a lot of dreams or skills and you wish to startup, develop your best skills and start with that. Ashish started business at 15 years by selling computer parts to friends and the school.

2.       Ashish J Thakkar believes that by ‘doing good’ you ‘do well’: you good should be good enough not just for yourself but in the sight of others even if not everyone must appreciate but a good number of people must see it to be good.

3.       Don’t despise starting small: Ashish Thakkar started with selling computer but now have gone into other business ventures.

“We started in IT, then diversified into packaging and property development, and through the years have ventured into infrastructure, asset management and now agriculture.”

4.       Take a major risk if you are sure it’s going to help you at last: Thakkar drops out of school to start the Mara group at 15yrs.

5.       Find a problem in your environment: Ashish discover they lack computer accessories in native Uganda and decided to solve it by importing computer and accessories like a floppy disk from Dubai.

6.       Build networks and have a mentor: Choose a mentor (a person who has succeeded in your chosen field you can go to for advice and guidance.) and have access to a community of like minds, this one of Ashish Thakkar’s major advice to young Entrepreneurs.

 “So, for me, the first element is mentorship and having access to a community of like-minded individuals. If you have the idea, the business plan, the team and the leadership to execute it, the funding will come more easily, but the key to all this is a mentor to guide you! The advice I would give is to be persistent and never give up, challenges are a part of the process, take them on head-on.”

 5.       Learning from Others:  One of Ashish Thakkar desires is to learn from others, this pushes his curiosity to find out from every business person that comes his way how the reach the level is.

 “I bugged everyone I met about their businesses and how they did what they did,” he says. “It’s a vital lesson that I want to pass on to anyone that will listen.”  

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Ubong Udoka is personal development coach with a high passion to inspire the greatness in you to excel and live beyond your current limitations.

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