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A new-gen African bringing the change 'India-Africa collaboration is so strong and there is so much to do in this space'

By Punita Sabharwal

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Entrepreneur India
Ashish J Thakkar, Founder, Mara Group and Mara Foundation

Ashish J Thakkar is a fourth-generation African, but also wears India on his sleeve. Seeing the rudraksha mala around his neck, I sought the reason, to which he said he had been a follower of spiritual leader Morari Bapu and his teachings of truth, love and compassion.

His family left India in 1890. In 2015, he is back in India launching his business operations. His group's investments and operations span across sectors like technology, financial services, infrastructure and real estate. Thakkar shares his start to a success story.

What made you to startup?

My family has been in Africa for 125 years. It moved to Uganda in 1972. Then, we went to England in 1993 and started everything again. Nine months later the genocide in Uganda started. Million people were killed in that genocide. My family luckily came out alive but unfortunately, everything we built from 1972 to 1993 we lost in 1994, we were back to Uganda and that's when I felt to do something to support the family.

I left school, and at 15, I started an IT business – buying products from Dubai selling them in Uganda. I did that for four months, every weekend going back and forth, filling my suitcase, buying and selling, and getting my cash. I realized lots of people in Africa were doing the same thing, then why didn't I base myself out of Dubai and did it for them.

So I moved to Dubai in 1996 and started extensively travelling across Africa – Nigeria, Ghana, South Africa and realized every single country of ours is so unique and different. Today, our business is in 22 countries in Africa with 11,000 employees.

As a teen entrepreneur, what kept you going?

It was circumstances. When you saw the genocide at such an age and saw your parents working so hard, you feel like giving back in a meaningful manner. That became the push and the motivation.

How did the expansion take place?

It was the entrepreneurial spirit that led to further expansion. Opportunity was so large and we were doing things with a long-term mindset.

Why did you enter India?

We are going to be investing quite heavily in the technology, social media and smartphones. I think the India-Africa collaboration is so strong and there is so much to do in this space. So we are very excited.

You are the Chairman of UNFGEC. Share some initiatives taken by the council to foster entrepreneurship

Our council is the global body finding global solutions for entrepreneurs. One such initiative that we have taken on board is the mentorship program which we are launching globally. The UN is an advocacy vehicle so we are going to leverage the mentorship platform, which Mara Foundation set up with Mara Mentors globally, as UNFGEC. But also find other initiatives which can help.

(This article first appeared in the Indian edition of Entrepreneur magazine (December, 2015 Issue).

Punita Sabharwal

Entrepreneur Staff

Managing Editor, Entrepreneur India

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