Born: 1961, in Zimbabwe.
Education: University of Wales, BS, 1983.
Family: Married Tsitsi (director, Econet charitable trust); children: four.
Career: Zimbabwe Posts and Telecommunications Corporation, 1984–1988, senior engineer, then principal engineer; Retrofit Engineering, 1988–1994, founder and CEO; Econet Wireless Holdings, 1994–, founder and CEO; Associated Newspapers of Zimbabwe, 2000–, chairman.
Awards: 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.
Strive Masiyiwa is a London-based Zimbabwean billionaire businessman and philanthropist. He is the founder and executive chairman of the international technology group Econet Global.
He has gained international recognition for his business expertise and philanthropy, and is considered one of Africa’s most generous humanitarians.Masiyiwa has provided scholarships to over 250,000 young Africans over the past 20 years through his family foundation.He supports more than 40,000 orphans with educational initiatives and sponsors students at universities in America, The United Kingdom, and China.Over the last few years, Masiyiwa has devoted his time to mentoring the next generation of African entrepreneurs on Facebook.Facebook has identified his platform as having the most engaged following of any business leader in the world.
Masiyiwa also funds initiatives in public health across the African continent.
Strive serves on a number of international boards, including the Rockefeller Foundation, the Council on Foreign Relations’ Global Advisory Board, the Africa Progress Panel, Chairman of the Alliance for the Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) and the Micronutrient Initiative.
Strive is a juror of the Hilton Foundation’s Humanitarian Prize. He is also one of the founders of the Carbon War Room and a founding member of the Global Business Coalition on Education.
When he was seven, his family fled the country as Ian Smith’s embattled government began to crumble. The family settled in Kitwe, a city in north central Zambia known for its copper mines.
Masiyiwa’s mother was an entrepreneur with interests in retail sales, small-scale farming, and transportation. His father worked at first in one of the nearby mines but later joined the family business. By the time Masiyiwa was 12 years old, his parents could afford to provide him with a coveted European education. They sent him to private school in Edinburgh, Scotland. When he graduated in 1978, he traveled back to Zimbabwe, intending to join the anti-government guerilla forces there. “One of the senior officers told me ‘Look, we’re about to win anyway, and what we really need is people like you to help rebuild the country'” ( Time , December 2, 2002). Masiyiwa took the man’s advice and returned to school in Britain, earning a degree in electrical and electronic engineering from the University of Wales in 1983. He worked briefly in the computer industry in Cambridge, England, but soon returned to Zimbabwe in 1984, hoping to aid the country’s recovery after the war of independence it had won in 1980.
Masiyiwa joined the Zimbabwe Posts and Telecommunications Corporation (ZPTC), the state-owned telephone company, as a senior engineer. ZPTC quickly promoted him to the position of principal engineer. Masiyiwa became frustrated with the government bureaucracy, however, and left ZPTC in 1988 to start an electrical contracting firm named Retrofit Engineering. He was chosen as Zimbabwe’s youngest-ever Businessman of the Year in 1990.
- 2017: Appointed Chair of Unilever’s Corporate Responsibility Committee
- 2016: Appointed as a Non-Executive Director of Unilever PLC and was a member of Unilever’s Compensation Committee
- 2009: Co-founded the Carbon War Room
- 2003: Joined the Rockefeller Foundation Board of Trustees
- 1993: Founded Econet Wireless
He owns just over 50% of the publicly-traded Econet Wireless Zimbabwe, which is one part of his larger Econet Group. Masiyiwa also owns just over half of private company Liquid Telecom, which provides fiber optic and satellite services to telecom firms across Africa. His other assets include stakes in mobile phone networks in Burundi and Lesotho, and investments in fintech and power distribution firms in Africa.
THE START OF ECONET
Masiyiwa recognized the great potential for wireless telephones in sub-Saharan Africa because the region had only two fixed-line telephones for every hundred people in the 1990s. He saw that wireless networks would be quicker and less expensive to build than land-based networks that required stringing miles of telephone lines across rough terrain. Wireless telephone service would also be less vulnerable than traditional landlines to the theft of copper wire for resale. Masiyiwa first approached ZPTC about forming a mobile telephone network in Zimbabwe. The company wasn’t interested, however, saying that cell phones had no future in the country.
Masiyiwa then decided to create a cell phone network on his own. He sold Retrofit Engineering in 1994 and started to finance Econet Wireless through his family company, TS Masiyiwa Holdings (TSMH). He met with fierce opposition, first from ZPTC, which told him it held a monopoly in telecommunications, and second from the Zimbabwean government, which swamped him with red tape and demands for bribes. As a devout Christian, Masiyiwa was opposed to paying bribes and kickbacks to government officials. He decided to pursue his case through the courts. After a landmark four-year legal battle that went all the way to the nation’s Supreme Court, Econet finally won a license to provide cell phone service in Zimbabwe. The court declared that the government monopoly on telecommunications had violated the constitution’s guarantee of free speech. Econet’s first cell phone subscriber was connected to the new network in 1998.
While Masiyiwa waited to gain the government’s approval for operations in Zimbabwe, he was able to start a cell phone network in neighboring Botswana. Econet Wireless Holdings then established a presence in over 15 countries, including other African nations, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom. The company also diversified into satellite communications, fixed-line telephone services, and Internet service.
Masiyiwa decided to relocate his family and the Econet headquarters to the Republic of South Africa in 2000. Some observers suggested that he was going into exile from his homeland once again. Masiyiwa himself said simply that South Africa was the best place from which to launch a multinational corporation because it had the continent’s most vibrant economy.
Masiyiwa’s international appointments and board memberships over the years include: Unilever (board member), the National Geographic Society (trustee), Bank of America (global board member), Prince of Wales Trust (trustee), UN Commission on Adaptation (Commissioner), Generation Africa (co-founder), Pathways for Prosperity Commission on Technology and Inclusive Development (co-chair), The Rockefeller Foundation (former board member),US Council on Foreign Relations (Global Advisory Board),the Asia Society (Board member), Stanford University (Global Advisory Board), the Africa Progress Panel,Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (Chair, now Chair Emeritus),The Micronutrient Initiative of Canada (former board member),Grow Africa, the African Union’s Ebola Fund (co-founder),Morehouse College,the African Academy of Sciences (Honorary Fellow) and the Pan African Strategic Institute.
Masiyiwa is the only African member of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum’s Committee on Conscience.Masiyiwa also served on two UN Advisory Panels.
Masiyiwa owns two adjacent apartments atop the 29-storey Eldorado Tower at 300 Central Park in New York City, bought for US$24.5 million in 2016