are inspired by their wealthy parents’ legacies.
Wendy Appelbaum, one of South Africa’s most influential business people, holds the following view on the role of those born into wealth in Africa: “For those who have much, much is expected”. Appelbaum is the daughter of entrepreneur and philanthropist Donald Gordon, who founded Liberty Life at the age of 27. He is globally respected for his charitable work in South Africa and in the UK. He started the Donald Gordon Foundation in the early 1970s, which is one of the largest private charities in Southern Africa today.
Gordon’s business mind and philanthropy are without question present in Appelbaum. She believes that due to her upbringing she is obliged to make a difference in as many people’s lives as possible. “How many beds can you sleep in? How many pillows can you have? How many cars can you really drive? If that is your pursuit in life, I think you are lost from birth. It’s a privilege to do what you can for others,” she said.
Appelbaum’s interests lie in empowering the less fortunate and improving the health and education sectors. She is currently challenging the microfinance industry, which she believes is out of control. “There are more than three million people who are over-indebted in South Africa, there’s something wrong with this system. People are taking advantage of the poor. If we could change legislation so that it rather protects the poor, I’ll be doing a much bigger thing for society,” she said, adding that she is willing to fight for systemic change for those who do not have the means to do so for themselves.
According to Appelbaum, most people in the upper income markets make more money that they know what to do with. “The most important thing is to make sure that you are socially responsible and spread it in an interesting way,” she said. She believes that over time, charity has morphed into philanthropy, which has become a form of socially responsible or “impact” investment. She explains that with her husband, she took over her father’s foundation in the mid-1980s and systemically changed it to take on big, meaningful projects rather than “little hand-outs”. She is involved in projects around low-cost private education, the success of which she said has exceeded expectations. “Obviously one doesn’t get involved in it to make profits, one gets involved to make profits to reinvest in that sector that so badly needs our help,” she said.
Two of the projects she is most proud of include the Donald Gordon Medical Centre and the Gordon Institute of Business Science (GIBS). The Donald Gordon Medical Centre is the only super-speciality post-graduate teaching hospital in Africa. “Even though it’s government’s duty and responsibility to train people across the board they stopped training them as super-specialists so we donated a hospital to Wits University and it’s been incredible. It’s brought enormous depth to the healthcare sector not only in South Africa but Africa as a whole,” said Appelbaum.
She said GIBS has also been a phenomenal success. “Within a couple of years of operating we became one of the top 40 business schools in the world.” She has also invested resources into SPARK Schools, which is the product of two GIBS MBA students who have found a way to deliver excellent low-cost private education. “It’s low-cost to the extent that it competes with government Model C schools on fees but delivers real quality product comparable to expensive private schools. Education is the basis for success and getting somewhere in the world and there are some fascinating opportunities that one can get involved in,” Applebaum said.
Growing up, Appelbaum wanted to be a doctor. However, she was not accepted into medical school mainly because of quotas on women entering the field. Instead, she went to Wits and studied subjects ranging from psychology and economics to geography and art history. Later, she studied women and power as well as health and human rights at Harvard University. This lead to her getting more involved with Harvard. She was asked to sit on the institution’s Women’s Leadership Board and act as a global advisor to the President of Harvard. “I go to Harvard three to four times a year where we look at worldwide education. I have a lot of exposure to education across the world, which is just fascinating,” she said.
Appelbaum has been involved in a number of economic empowerment initiatives and sat on the boards of large companies in South Africa, which she has played a part in transforming. She describes herself as an “unbelievably busy person” who will never retire. Apart from sitting on the boards of charitable organisations, listed and non-listed companies, she also does public speaking, mentoring and is very hands-on when it comes to projects in which she has invested. “We’re talking about investments of R150 million a time, I feel it’s my duty and responsibility to make sure that it has gone to a really worth cause and that it’s being run in a way that we would like it run,” she said.
When Gordon started his foundation, Appelbaum was only 10 years old. She said having her father around was like living in a business school. “My father spoke about massive deals. We would sit at dinner and listen to him cooking up these unbelievable deals and that was probably more important than doing an MBA at any business school. My father was amazing. He was really open with us and it was a privilege and a pleasure to be brought up by him,” she said, adding that she was raised to enjoy a comfortable life but to always remember those who do not have the same – a lesson she has passed on to her two sons.
Appelbaum and her husband live on and run the De Morgenzon wine farm in Stellenbosch, which they purchased 11 year ago. Looking ahead, she said she has plans to add value to South Africa’s wine industry and has no doubt that she will find other “truly riveting” projects to get involved in.
Like Appelbaum, Hadeel Ibrahim is also following in her generous father’s footsteps. Her father is Sudanese billionaire Mohamed ‘Mo’ Ibrahim, who founded and then sold telecommunications company, Celtel. In 2006, he established the Mo Ibrahim Foundation to support good governance and exceptional leadership in Africa.
Hadeel holds the position of founding executive director of her father’s foundation but is also a member of the boards of the Mary Robinson Foundation for Climate Justice, the Clinton Foundation, Synergos Institute, Women in Diplomacy Committee, Femmes Africa Solidarité, 1:54 Contemporary African Art Fair, and the Governing Board of the African Governance Institute. She is also co-chair of Museum for African Art in New York. Furthering her influence on making a positive impact in Africa, she is also a member of the advisory boards of Africa 2.0, Amnesty International’s Secretary General’s Global Council, and MIT Legatum Centre for Development and Entrepreneurship, among others.
Just 29 years old, Hadeel Ibrahim has spoken at a number of global conferences and was included as one of the 20 women who are moving Africa, according to Jeune Afrique magazine. She holds a dual degree in Politics and Philosophy from Bristol University.
Philanthropy is not the only way the offspring of some of Africa’s most elite are giving back to the continent. Some have inherited their influential parents’ entrepreneurial flair to make an impact.
Summy Francis, president of Africa’s Young Entrepreneurs (AYE) was born into a large family in Lagos. His father, Chief Francis I. Ogunenika, was an entrepreneur in the hospitality industry. While studying Computer Science at the Ondo State University, Francis worked for his father, managing one of his hotels. “It is here that my interests in entrepreneurship were nurtured,” he said.
Francis travelled the globe, finally settling in South Africa to exploit business opportunities he had identified. He ventured into a few start-up companies and is currently the chairman of the most successful of these, SSF investments. He also sits on the boards of several other companies as a non-executive director.
However, for Francis the most meaningful work he has done to date is with AYE. The organisation aims to empower young entrepreneurs across Africa by creating platforms that facilitate intra-trade on the continent. It develops the next generation of outstanding African entrepreneurs who will shape the economies and political landscapes of their home countries. Intra-trade is an important issue for Francis. “Africa is a self-sufficient continent with many natural resources and massive manpower. Primary trade should occur between its countries before any foreign interests. Why do we have to look for experts in the West when we have them on our continent at a cheaper cost? This will keep the riches of our land within its borders,” he said. He also finds the success of other young African entrepreneurs rewarding.
Francis believes his father gave him the step up he needed to be prosper as a businessman. “My father’s risk-taking capabilities and my early introduction into business have helped my decision making immensely,” he said, adding that he believes it is very important that those born into wealthy families give back to others. Thus, he does what he can to help alleviate poverty. “Being born with a silver spoon simply tells you to use that spoon to feed the less privileged,” he said. “But you can buy as much grain as you like and take it to the poor, they will eat and sooner or later become hungry. Rather empower them and they will grow their own grain.”
Through AYE, Francis plans to create a vast business network of African entrepreneurs. He also wants to invest in different sectors across the continent. “Investing in the progress and development of our youth is the future of our continent. Most importantly, helping them get on their feet is a catalyst to eradicating poverty in Africa and this is a cause I greatly stand for,” he said.
Being raised by a single mom was an enabler for Lilian Ajayi’s impressive career. The strength of her mother, Chief Temitope Ajayi, rubbed off on her while growing up and Ajayi has received countless accolades for her work in empowering others. Temitope Ajayi migrated to the USA in the 1990s and devoted her life to doing business that would serve her community. Her work and contributions for the people of Nigeria and other members of the African community earned her the title of ‘Mama Diaspora’. Before the move, she established a fashion and technical school for underprivileged youths in Ibadan, played a role in the Better Life for Rural Women movement, and was appointed as the special assistant to the deputy governor of Lagos. She continues to play a role in the Nigerian government, assisting with various community and entrepreneurial projects, and securing foreign investment for her home country. Chief Ajayi is also the founder and CEO of the Nigerian American Agricultural Empowerment Programme. “I have been fortunate to have a mother like Chief Temitope Ajayi. Her wisdom she imparted when I was a child included the importance of giving back to the community and uplifting the members of our communities in the best way possible,” Ajayi said.
Ajayi is the founder and executive director of Global Connections for Women (GC4W). She also sits on the board of a number of organisations including the HOPE Program and International Women in Business. Her organisation is still in its early stages but has already been involved in a number of projects that have aided those in need, including the restoration of a children’s playground and collecting and distributing toys and books for the less fortunate. GC4W has also created a women empowerment programme that connects, educates and empowers other women looking for means and support to restart their lives.
According to Ajayi, one of the most pressing issues for Africa is access to internet connectivity, which she believes will create a more enhanced educational experience. “GC4W has plans to provide access to internet connectivity to a few colleges on the continent,” she explains.
Through her philanthropic work, Ajayi experiences a sense of empowerment. “It gives me a sense of purpose that extends beyond my immediate household onto my global community,” she said. One project that made an impact was on a recent trip to her home in Nigeria. At a school in Karamajiji in Abuja, GC4W handed out school supplies to each of the more than 800 students who were sharing two classrooms. According to Ajayi, while the majority of the students were handicapped or disabled, they shared a strong desire to learn. “I promised to return to do more for them and my organisation is committed to meeting that promise,” she said.
Ajayi believes the best way to give back is to find a cause that is close to your heart and then invest time or other resources to support the cause. “People underestimate the importance of giving back and that their contributions actually make a real difference. You are never too young or too old to give back to your community,” she said.
By Chana Boucher.