Photograph — youth village

As part of their extensive philanthropic work in Zimbabwe, Econet founder and executive chairman Strive Masiyiwa and his wife Tsitsi have launched a $100 million Challenge Fund to support rural businesses and other entrepreneurs focusing on rural areas in the country.

The fund is being financed from their personal resources and will be disbursed as loans through Steward Bank, a member of the Econet Group. The bank will soon set up a special team for the Masiyiwa Rural Challenge Fund, according to the London-based Zimbabwean businessman, noting that the initiative is aimed at challenging global donors to support mass entrepreneurship in Africa.

“My wife and I have decided to set up a special fund of $100 million over five years for ReImagine Rural in Zimbabwe. We have also challenged our friends in the philanthropy community to join us to expand it across Africa,” Masiyiwa confirmed in a statement.

Conditions for the fund

The billionaire revealed that 1.25 percent of the fund will be set aside for Matabeleland and women are going to get a minimum of 50 percent. The other conditions are that the minimum loan will be $1,000 while the maximum is $10,000, while traditional businesses like stores and grinding mills will not be eligible.

Furthermore, there is no collateral, the maximum interest is 5 percent, and repayments will go into a revolving fund. In addition, all entrepreneurs must undergo training before accessing the loans and there will be no political lobbying for support.

“This initiative does not reduce our commitment to other areas of our philanthropy efforts including education and the $60 million sanitation and water initiative in Harare. We thank the Lord who empowers us,” Strive added.

Masiyiwa recently found himself at the centre of a social media storm after appearing to back President Emmerson Mnangagwa calling for the removal of sanctions against Zimbabwe.

He told continental broadcaster, CNBC Africa, that Western sanctions against Harare, now in place for some 20 years, should be lifted, noting that the country could not move forward with its hands shackled behind its back. In addition, he suggested that President Mnangagwa was sincere in his much-touted efforts to open up the democratic space Zimbabwe and turn around the country’s stricken economy.

Masiyiwa has built a legacy of extensive philanthropic work across Africa. Together with his wife, he founded the Higherlife Foundation, which has supported the education of numerous orphaned and vulnerable children in Africa over the past two decades.

Committed to the next generation of African entrepreneurs, Masiyiwa mentors young people from across the continent on his Facebook page, reaching out to more than 3.5 million followers. Also, he is chairman of the board of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa, which is working to improve food security and income levels for 30 million farming households by 2021.

In recognition of the global reach of Masiyiwa’s work, Fortune magazine named him on its list of the “World’s 50 Greatest Leaders” in 2014 and 2017.

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