Tanzanian billionaire to give away $100m through foundation

Businessman plans to gift around $2m from his fortune to the Mo Dewji Foundation on its launch

Mohammed Dewji, head of the $1.25bn MeTL Group and an MP in Tanzania, is set to launch a foundation in May to give away $100m of his fortune.

Dewji – ranked 31st richest person in Africa last year by Forbes – plans to gift around $2m from his fortune to the Mo Dewji Foundation on its launch, gradually building up the endowment fund to some $100m, he told Philanthropy Age.

“I earned my money in Africa,” said Dewji. “It is my responsibility and priority to give back.”

The foundation will start with work across Tanzania, with the aim of extending its reach into other African countries. The focus areas of the foundation are still being developed, but education, healthcare, water access and enhancing purchasing power for the very poor are all being considered. The timeframe by which the foundation will reach its $100m target is still being decided, he added.

Dewji, 39, heads the Mohammed Enterprises Tanzania (MeTL) Group, an industrial conglomerate. Involved in local development for more than a decade through his political office, Dewji wants to use his foundation to extend his philanthropic reach throughout his country.

Dewji has worked to improve quality and access to education, water, healthcare and agriculture in his constituency of Singida, central Tanzania, since becoming its MP in 2005.

“Just giving money is not enough,” said Dewji, who grew his father’s successful import-export operation into a sprawling business with interests in manufacturing, agriculture, real estate and textiles. “I’m planning to devote at least 10 per cent of my time to [my foundation] to start with.”

Dewji’s own philanthropic journey started in 2000, when he first sought the nomination for MP from his ruling Chama Cha Mapinduzi party. It was an old man’s hunt for water that prompted him to run for parliament, according to Dewji.

“There was a puddle of yellow water and the old man had a bucket and a plate and he was scooping up the water and sand with it,” he said. “I went to see and just 5km outside of Singida I saw young children drinking yellow water from used PET [plastic] bottles.”

Elected in 2005 and again in 2010, to represent Singida district, Dewji has used his MP's fund to build infrastructure in his constituency, including new bore wells, schools and eye care centres. He has worked with organisations such as the Bilal Muslim Mission, Lions Club and the Helen Keller Foundation to combat cataracts and preventable eye diseases.

Named a young global leader by the World Economic Forum, the billionaire is inspired by philanthropists such as Bill Gates, Warren Buffett and the Aga Khan he said. While he has not ruled out signing the Gates and Warren-backed Giving Pledge – where wealthy individuals commit to giving away more than half of their wealth to philanthropy – Dewji is clear he wants to strike out on his own and focus his efforts on Africa.

“The number of [African philanthropists in Africa] is growing,” said Dewji. “[But] we need the wave to get bigger and bigger and it has to trickle down.”

There has been a shift in thinking on the continent as wealthy individuals start to consider giving much earlier on, he adds. Since 2000, he has become more strategic in the way he uses funds, and says he is keen to apply some of the rigours of running a business to his foundation: “Whatever you do has to be viable, sustainable and for the long-term,” he said.

Photo credit: MeTL Group