As more university graduates in Africa go on to become entrepreneurs, while others enter a long, sometimes swerving, career paths miles away from their academic discipline, there is an rising mindset among the emerging labour force that resources – luxurious to many within the continent – could be better utilized to fund a brilliant idea than expend on a lengthy, presumingly not-s0-rewarding academic programme.
The education system – be it the learning environment, educators or infrastructure – in Africa is evidently no where close to commendable, with the best university on the continent, University of Cape Town, South Africa, only ranking 350 in the world. Worse still, business and entrepreneurial ideas are far from encouraged within these vicinities, the very places designated to nurture such traits and ideas at its early stages.
A long list of school dropouts who became renowned for their admirable entrepreneurial achievements might have the younger generation questioning the rationality in seeking a university degree over a compelling business idea, particularly with the poorly developed educational system in Africa.
Across the continent, a pool of successful drop-outs is emerging, drawing up a stronger case for many to follow behind. One thing is however synonymous among most of these entrepreneurs; they have mostly emphasized the need for a strong educational backing.
Here are some Africans whose ideas couldn’t just wait for a long academic upbringing:
Ashish J. Thakkar
The Ugandan-born serial entrepreneur is the founder of Mara Group and Mara Foundation, and an early school drop-out. “My name’s Ashish J. Thakkar. I’m the founder of the Mara Group and the Mara Foundation. I was a refugee. I’m a school drop-out, an entrepreneur, a philanthropist,” said Ashish at a panel during the just concluded U.S. – Africa summit in Washington D.C.”
Despite his success, the outspoken billionaire still harbours deep yearnings to pursue an academic-driven career. “I hope to be an astronaut next year,” he enthused.
Although Ashish’s decision to quit school was not motivated by a dreamy future, it was borne out of necessity. After surviving the Rwandan genocide, Ashish’s family was forced to relocate, leaving everything, including a fledging business behind. The then 15-year-old boy was looked upon for his support, necessitating a drop-out. At the time, Ashish took a loan of $5,000 and set up a little IT company in Uganda, rapidly building it to a pan-African business today.
His bold step 18 years ago now holds the foundation for what is now the Mara Group, a multi-business conglomerate with interests in 22 countries, with about 11,000 employees.
After losing his father at age 4, life became difficult for Maduka. But determined not to live all his life in poverty, his foray into business started as he struggled from being a bean cake seller to becoming a sole distributor for BMW in Nigeria.
He dropped out not because he had a dream of becoming one of the biggest car dealers in Africa, but because he could not afford to pay his fees.
His apprenticeship in automobile repairs at his uncle’s workshop taught Cosmos all he needed to boost his interest in cars and his first major business venture went from 300, 000 to millions within a year. Today he is the Chairman/CEO of Coscharis Group of Companies.
Justin Stanford (South Africa)
Justin is only 29, but he is seen as one of South Africa’s leading entrepreneurs and investors. The tech genius had left school few years after he started his first business (aged 13; He sold apple juice to his classmates, while still in school). Justin had just one reason: classroom was too boring for him. He made his way to the top by starting his first company at 18 and now he ranks among Africa’s youngest millionaires.
Similar stories can be told of Said Salim Bakhresa of Egypt; Moroccan Anas Sefrioui, and South African Johann Rupert, all of whom left school in their early ages and had ventured into business.
At the end of the day, everyone of the billionaire ‘school dropouts’ had a very important decision to make at some point; choosing between their passion/guts and school. While some who left school because they had no other choice may be safe, but for others, a lot has to be put into consideration before making the life-altering decision to continue or stop schooling because of your business idea.