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CEO mentors millions of young Africans
01:29 - Source: CNN

Story highlights

Africa's youth perish in dangerous journeys to Europe through the Sahara and the Mediterranean

Econet CEO Strive Masiyiwa is responding to this crisis by mentoring young people across Africa

Lagos, Nigeria CNN  — 

He is arguably one of the most successful businessmen in Africa and Strive Masiyiwa has an urgent message for young Africans: “You don’t have to cross the Sahara. We can create solutions.”

It’s a timely message. Many of Africa’s youth are perishing, risking their lives in perilous journeys across the Sahara desert on their way to Europe.

Some get stranded and die of thirst in the desert. Others fall into the hands of kidnappers who sell them into slavery in Libya, as a recent CNN investigation discovered.

Twenty-six young girls, thought to be from Nigeria, recently died on a perilous crossing to Italy.

October 2017 - (October 2017)

According to Oxfam International, 80,000 to 150,000 people made their way across the harsh northeastern Niger zone of the desert to Europe in 2015.

Around 71,000 migrants made it to Europe by sea just five months into 2017, a UN Migration Agency report said.

The migrants all have one thing in common: they search for greener pastures elsewhere when home holds no hope.

Masiyiwa, the founder and CEO of Econet Wireless, a pan-African telecoms company, is putting his money where his mouth is by traveling across the continent in a series of townhalls where he directly connects and engages with young people.

Strive Masiyiwa, Founder and Chairman, Econet Wireless

At one townhall held in Lagos, Nigeria in September, Masiyiwa was so taken with one young entrepreneur’s business idea that he donated $100,000.

Responding to the crisis

“I believe sharing ideas with each other is so important to the future of the African continent,” Masiyiwa – who is worth an estimated $280m – says.

By teaching young Africans to be self-reliant and proactive, the telecoms tycoon is encouraging them to stay in their countries and contribute to the development of the continent.

“I realized that if we don’t do something to help young people create jobs in the African economy… that Africa’s progress would be reversed.”

“I understand we face the problem of corruption, bribery, bad policies,” he says. “But it doesn’t mean you should take to crossing the Sahara or the Mediterranean.”

“We see the drownings… in the Mediterranean, young people trying to get to Europe,” he adds. “So this is my own way as well to try to respond to that crisis which is to say, ‘hey’ to young people. ‘Listen, let’s do something. We can create jobs. You can be entrepreneurs, or you can work for entrepreneurs. You don’t have to take this incredible risk.’”

Most influential business leader on Facebook

Masiyiwa has taken his message directly to the youth by mentoring and influencing entrepreneurs on Facebook.

He started posting business insights on Facebook after his daughter encouraged him to share some advice he gave her with a larger audience.

Today, Masiyiwa has nearly three million followers on the platform and for 12 consecutive months he ranked as the most influential business leader on Facebook, according to social monitoring platform Crowdtangle.

From how to spot new business opportunities to how to manage successful businesses or survive the challenges of running one, his Facebook posts propose practical new ways of dealing with entrepreneurial challenges in Africa.

He posts once a week on average and tries to respond to as many comments as possible.

“Every comment that I select, I answer as though the person were in my office,” he says.

An average post on his Facebook page has over one million likes and thousands of comments and shares.

“I read the thousands of comments myself, and try to engage back directly as much as my schedule allows,” Masiyiwa says.

“I write every post myself. I’m very prayerful and contemplative about each post because I’m mindful of the fact that I am addressing the next generation of leaders.”

Masiyiwa and his wife Tsitsi are devout Christians who have committed a portion of their income to philanthropy and charitable giving. This includes the Higher Life Foundation which pays tuition for thousands of orphans and vulnerable students, according to the website.

In 2012, he set up a $6.4 million trust to send at least 40 African undergraduates to Morehouse College in Atlanta, over a four-year period.

The couple have also collaborated with Yale University to sponsor 900 students who will attend the Yale Young African Scholars Program for three years.

Raising a generation of women leaders

In a continent where equality between men and women is yet to be attained, Masiyiwa is also leading by example by empowering women and appointing them to leadership roles in his businesses, a decision he says is inspired by the type of world he wants for his four daughters.

“You’re achieving two things when you do this: you’re making everybody including the men themselves recognize that you must take steps to promote the role of women in these positions, but also helping the young women understand that they can reach the top.”