One of the highlights of our time in Tanzania was the opportunity to have dinner with the youngest billionaire in Africa, Mohammed Dewji. A graduate of Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business, Mr. Dewji (or Mo, as he asked to be called) transformed his father’s company into a $1.3 billion conglomerate with interests in manufacturing, exports/imports, distribution, and real estate.
Mo treated us to a four-course meal at the Hyatt on Dar’s upscale peninsula, and shared a lot of his hard-earned wisdom. Here are some of the insights I gleaned from our dinner with the richest man in Tanzania.
- Talent is a lie – hard work is everything. The person who works for what they want will achieve it. Aptitude for a task is great, but without dedication and perseverance, it won’t get you anywhere. In the same way, where you start doesn’t really matter, either; obstacles are there to be overcome, and they’ll strengthen your character along the way.
- Innovate and know your client base. Mo is the president and CEO of MeTL Group, Tanzania’s largest home-grown company. He’s been so successful because he’s focused on creating products that Tanzanians want and involving them in every step of the manufacturing process. He provides essentials like detergents, textiles, bicycles, and even foodstuffs at affordable prices – they’re everyday objects now instead of luxury goods. His presence in the soda and beverage market is even pushing out international giants like Coca Cola, because he’s willing to offer his consumers what they want for less.
- Be thankful. It was clear from our dinner that spirituality has a large impact on Mo’s life. The concept of thankfulness is prevalent in Islam, and Mo emphasized the importance of being grateful to God for his blessings, in addition to recognizing the roles that others have played in your success. No one gets anywhere alone. I am often overwhelmed by day-to-day struggles and forget to take a step back and be thankful for where I am – going forward, I am going to try to put thankfulness into practice.
Getting to meet Mr. Dewji was an amazing experience. African entrepreneurship is incredibly important, and it is an area that is frequently overlooked by mainstream media in its quest to narrate the continent as needing economic “saving.” Mo’s success in Tanzania and across the East African Conference is just one story in a history of African innovation and accomplishment. We in the West just need to open our eyes to it.