The story of Ashish Thakkar is one of building and rebuilding, earning and giving back. He was just 13 when he and his family had to leave everything they had in Africa to escape the Rwandan genocide. But just a year later, resettled in Dubai, Thakkar set himself on the path of entrepreneurship when he sold his own computer to a family friend. At 15, he took out a US$6000 loan and started his first company.
Thakkar would go on to found the Mara Group, an African conglomerate that includes one of the largest IT companies in Africa, and he’ll also be the first East African astronaut when he flies on a Virgin Galactic flight.
Nowadays, 31-year-old Thakkar focuses roughly 40% of his time on the Mara Foundation, which fosters African entrepreneurship with mentoring, incubation space and venture capital. Thakkar spoke with Arabic Knowledge@Wharton about his motivation and core beliefs, which includes a strong faith in maintaining business ethics and giving opportunities to the less fortunate. “It’s important to give back and genuinely; that’s how I believe wealth should be measured,” he says.
An edited transcript of the conversation follows: