STRIVE MASIYIWA – Strife. Success. Significance.

The stirring story of an affluent, all-round African who began the burgeoning of Black British billionaires. From a southern African refugee status to a global tech giant stature, Strive Masiyiwa’s life story is loaded with life lessons.



Strive Masiyiwa is a household name in the world of Information Communication Technology (ICT) on every continent of the world. Zimbabwe-born and London-based, the nearly-63-year-old African billionaire businessman and philanthropist worth 1.9 billion USD (2024)[1], a little ahead of Apple’s Tim Cook in the same industry,[2] has caught our eye at PELÉ for several reasons. Our interest has been in how well he straddles the worlds of leadership and entrepreneurship, politics and philanthropy, family and faith. Strive is the Founder and Executive Chairman of Econet Group, the international technology conglomerate comprising Econet Wireless Global and Cassava Technologies.



Early Years

Born to entrepreneurial parents on January 29, 1961 in then Rhodesia, later to become Zimbabwe post-independence, Strive Masiyiwa’s family left the country after the government of Prime Minister Ian Smith‘s Unilateral Declaration of Independence from the United Kingdom.[3] Their refugee family settled in a copper mines area in Zambia where Strive would attend primary school. By the age of 12, his parents could afford to invest in European education and sent him off to a private school in Edinburgh, Scotland as an international student.


In the wake of finishing high school in Scotland, in 1978, Master Masiyiwa returned to Africa to join the freedom fighters. However, “One of the senior officers told me,” he recalls, “’Look, we’re about to win anyway, and what we really need is people like you to help rebuild the country.'”[4] With that he returned to Britain to study engineering, and would later lead “a new African revolution–in telecommunications.”[5]

Strive would finally graduate from the University of Wales in 1983 with a degree in electrical engineering. After a stint in the computer industry in England he returned to Zimbabwe the next year hoping to aid the post universal franchise elections country recover from the Rhodesian Bush War.[6]



When Masiyiwa returned home to Zimbabwe after a 17-year hiatus, he initially worked briefly as a telecoms engineer for the state-owned telephone company before quitting to start up his own electrical engineering business using his monthly salary savings and a Barclays bank loan.

Later he would grow large in his entrepreneurial expedition and diversify into telecoms, with the emergence of mobile cellular telephony, eventually establishing Econet Wireless after much strife with the Zimbabwean government which initially refused to give him a licence to operate. That was a five-year legal battle (1993-1998) which went all the way to the highest court of the land and reportedly took him to the brink of bankruptcy. Strive’s strife was against a crippling cocktail of corruption and cronyism. In the end, his victory was not for himself alone, for it led to the removal of the state monopoly in telecommunications, and is regarded as one of the key milestones in opening the African telecommunications sector to private capital.[7]


Dual Blessing of Southern and South Africa

In 2000 Masiyiwa left Zimbabwe with his family to go to South Africa for a season. “Part of the reason it would be unwise for him to return is almost certainly linked with a decision he took that same year to make a personal loan to the owners of Zimbabwe’s three independent newspapers, including the Daily News, which was later shut down by Mugabe’s regime.”[8] While this was his second refuge in his native southern African region—having been once a refugee in Zambia as a young lad—Masiyiwa maintains that the real reason he moved to South Africa was to realise his dream of creating a truly multinational African business.[9] Hear him: “This is the space we have been trying to fill, to pioneer the development of African companies that have a global outlook. South Africa was the only place where there was an outlook about building businesses that go to other countries.”[10]



Continental Leadership

Strive Masiyiwa’s company’s first cell phone subscriber was connected to the new network in 1998,[11] the same year in which he listed Econet Wireless Zimbabwe on the local stock exchange as a gesture of thanks to reward the thousands of ordinary people who supported him during his long legal battles against the Zimbabwean government.[12]

Today, Econet Wireless Zimbabwe has gone on to become a major business that dominates the Zimbabwean economy. Fifteen years into operation, in 2013, the Zimbabwe Investment Authority (ZIA) awarded Econet Wireless Zimbabwe with a Lifetime Award in the ICT sector, in recognition of the investment the company had made into the country. The said investment included a $1.2 billion injection, certainly responsible for the business outcome of rapidly moving Zimbabwe from low penetration levels of below 15% in 2009 to one of the fastest growing telecoms markets in the world with a penetration rate of almost 100%.[13]

At the turn of the millennium, sub-Saharan Africa had just one phone line for every 70 people, in contrast to almost one per person in the U.S. and Europe.[14]  In just six years, between 1996 and 2002, Africa jumped from 2 million to 35 million mobile connections.[15] Today, the number of smartphone subscriptions in sub-Saharan Africa is over 415 million and is expected to reach 689 million by 2028.[16] Strive has been part of the leadership that has made the continent leapfrog the ‘landlines’ stage in development, with Africa even leading the world today in cell phone innovations in fintech like mobile money (MPESA in Kenya and MoMo in Ghana). Talk of vision, at the start of Econet when Strive had proposed a joint venture and reached out to the national telecoms company, his former employers, the cataractic bosses were adamant and categorically stated that there was no call for mobile telephones in Zimbabwe.[17]


Global Impact

Econet Wireless International, Econet Global, Mascom Wireless Botswana, Econet Wireless Nigeria (now Airtel Nigeria), Econet Satellite Services, Lesotho Telecom, Econet Wireless Burundi, Rwanda Telecom, Econet Wireless South Africa, Solarway, and Transaction Processing Systems (TPS) are all key Strive Masiyiwa businesses established with partners. Mr. Masiyiwa’s operations and investments run across Africa and the United Kingdom, Europe, US, Latin America, and New Zealand, United Arab Emirates, and China.[18]

Strive Masiyiwa’s entrepreneurial and leadership success has had its financial payoffs, even on a personal level. For instance, he  owns two adjacent apartments atop the 29-storey Eldorado Tower at 300 Central Park in New York City, bought for US$24.5 million in 2016.[19] On 7 July 2022, Masiyiwa became the first black billionaire to enter the Sunday Times Rich List with a net worth of £1.6 billion.[20]


As a brand that values integrity, we cannot help but reproduce one of our favourite Masiyiwa quotes on the issue: “Integrity is better capital than money. You can accumulate it just like money, and you can use it just like money, but it goes further, and is enduring.”[21] A related Masiyiwa quote is: “If we tackle corruption, no child would sleep hungry, there would be no injustice, every child would be in school. The most powerful force against corruption is one person saying “no”.” You may find these, along with eight other powerful quotes of his, in a brief Forbes article.



If indeed “true success is when those who know you the best, love you the most” (John Maxwell) then Strive is successful on that count. Strive is married to a queen of philanthropy, Tsitsi, with whom he has six biological children: Elizabeth, Sarah, Vimbai, Moses (the only male), Joanna and Esther.  Their oldest is now thirty-two. The family resides in London, England.


At PELÉ, we are convinced that individual success must lead to societal significance. Well, the man once picked by Time magazine as one of its 15 “global influentials” has been mentioned in the same breadth as greats like Nelson Mandela and Kofi Annan, both of the African soil with global impact.


Strive runs a non-profit organisation, Higherlife foundation, together with his wife, Tsitsi Masiyiwa. The Zimbabwean billionaire couple’s NGO empowers vulnerable children through education and creates opportunities for highly talented young people. They run one of the largest support programmes for feeding and educating orphans on the continent through this family foundation.[22] As part of the The Giving Pledge, a commitment to philanthropy by the world’s wealthiest individuals, it appears Masiyiwa “spends nearly as much time and money giving back as he does growing Econet Wireless.”[23]

As a down-to-earth man of the people for the people, Masiyiwa still maintains a public Facebook page through which he primarily mentors budding African entrepreneurs and all who have ears to hear what he has to say about success in life, leadership, integrity, family, faith and entrepreneurship. This page currently has 5.7 million followers.



Masiyiwa’s international appointments and board memberships over the years, both for profit and non-profit, include: Unilever (board member), Netflix (board member), Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (trustee),[24]  the National Geographic Society (trustee), Bank of America (Global Advisory Council), UN Commission on Adaptation (former Commissioner), Generation Africa (co-founder), Pathways for Prosperity Commission on Technology and Inclusive Development (co-chair), The Rockefeller Foundation (former board member),[25] and the US Council on Foreign Relations (former Global Advisory Board 2012-2023).

Mr. Strive Masiyiwa has also served the Asia Society (former board member), Stanford University (Global Advisory Board), the Africa Progress Panel, Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (chair, now Chair Emeritus), The Micronutrient Initiative of Canada (former board member), Grow Africa, the African Union‘s Ebola Fund (co-founder), Morehouse College (former Trustee), the African Academy of Sciences (Honorary Fellow) and the Pan African Strategic Institute. A couple of years ago, Strive was involved in helping to organise the Global Africa Business Initiative launched in New York in 2022. He is the only African member of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum‘s Committee on Conscience. Masiyiwa has also served on a couple of UN Advisory Panels.



Masiyiwa is a practising Christian.[26] It was during the five-year legal strife with his home government that when his wife invited him to church he would realise that “I did not know Him [Jesus Christ]; I only knew of Him.” That moment changed everything for Strive. He borrowed a second-hand Bible, and read the entire book in two weeks, committing his life (and business) fully to Christ.[27] “Christianity is a value system that calls on me to be compassionate, it calls on me to help the weak,” he says. “I generate a lot of money for me and my shareholders and people who have been associated with me, but that cannot be an end in itself.”[28]

Strive is the co-founder of the Capernaum Trust, a Christian charity that sponsors the education of over 28,000 Zimbabwean orphans, and co-founded with Sir Richard Branson the environmental group the Carbon War Room. As noted above Mr. Masiyiwa sits on countless boards, from Grow Africa to organisations leading the charge against evils like HIV/AIDS, Ebola and genocide. He joined forces with Africa’s richest man, Aliko Dangote, to tackle the 2014 Ebola epidemic in West Africa, raising $35 million to stem the tide and bolster the economies of affected countries.[29]



Strive Masiyiwa has striven and succeeded, by all standards, be it in entrepreneurship, leadership, politics, philanthropy, family or faith. Britain’s first Black billionaire is a blessed Prince of Africa, for just like the Semitic patriarch who wrestled with a mysterious man until daybreak when he was eventually blessed by the divine, in prophetically naming him ‘Strive’ his Zimbabwean parents must have had a hunch that he too will strive with God and with humans, and win.[30] He has. Hands down.



[3] Out of Zimbabwe, a telecoms boss means serious business in Africa”. The Guardian. 30 July 2009. Retrieved January 11, 2023.

[4] Robinson, Simon (2 December 2002). “Strive Masiyiwa: Founder of Econet Wireless”. Time.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Arlidge, John. “How Strive Masiyiwa became Britain’s first black billionaire”. Retrieved January 11, 2023.

[7]  Out of Zimbabwe, a telecoms boss means serious business in Africa”. The Guardian. 30 July 2009. Retrieved January 11, 2023.

[8] Out of Zimbabwe, a telecoms boss means serious business in Africa”. The Guardian. 30 July 2009. Retrieved January 11, 2023.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Robinson, Simon (2 December 2002). “Strive Masiyiwa: Founder of Econet Wireless”. Time.

[12] (from Strive’s own blog). Retrieved January 11, 2023.


[14] Robinson, Simon (2 December 2002). “Strive Masiyiwa: Founder of Econet Wireless”. Time.

[15] Ibid.

[16] Taylor, Petroc (18 July, 2023). Smartphone subscriptions in Sub-Saharan Africa 2011-2028. Statista.

[17] The Economist. (8 October, 1998). Judgment Day. This article appeared in the Business section of the print edition under the same headline. Last retrieved January 15, 2024.

[18] Leach, Anna (18 August 2014). “Zimbabwe’s Econet Wireless and the making of Africa’s first cashless society”. The Guardian.

[19] Ojekunle, Aderemi (1 April 2019). “A peek into the life and business empire of Strive Masiyiwa, Zimbabwe’s first billionaire”. Pulse Nigeria. Retrieved January 15, 2024.

[20] Watts, Robert. “Strive Masiyiwa: the first black billionaire to make the Rich List. This is his story”. The Times. ISSN 0140-0460. Retrieved January 15, 2024.

[21] Nsehe, Mfonobong. (Jul 6, 2014). “10 Inspirational Quotes From Zimbabwe’s Richest Man, Strive Masiyiwa.” Forbes. Last retrieved January 16, 2024.

[22] Ojekunle, Aderemi. (4 January, 2019). A peek into the life and business empire of Strive Masiyiwa, Zimbabwe’s first billionaire. Pulse Nigeria.

[23] Last retrieved January 15, 2024

[24] Kulish, Nicholas (26 January 2022). “Three New Faces to Help Steer the Gates Foundation”. The New York Times. Retrieved January 15, 2024.

[25]  “Rockefeller Foundation Board of Trustees-Strive-Masiyiwa”. Retrieved January 15, 2024.

[26] Last retrieved January 15, 2024

[27] Ibid


[29] Ojekunle, Aderemi. (4 January, 2019). A peek into the life and business empire of Strive Masiyiwa, Zimbabwe’s first billionaire. Pulse Nigeria.

[30] The Holy Bible. Genesis 32:27-28

50 Inspiring Living Leaders

This 50 Inspiring Living Leaders series highlights current influencers who are succeeding in leadership, integrity, family or entrepreneurship in whatever field and exhibit most, if not all, of our values of PELÉ. We value people, growth, particularity, excellence, success, authenticity and significance. These stories are largely written in terms of growth, success and significance in leadership, integrity, family and entrepreneurship. While we do our best to receive personal references about each leader, most of our research and writing is based on literature review of publicly-available information. As authorities in leadership, we are fully aware that there is no such thing as a perfect leader, and leaders may have their flaws, but we choose to celebrate these inspiring living leaders for their achievements outlined in our series. Having said that, should you happen to have any incontrovertible evidence that any of our featured leaders does not fit our bill of an authentic leader, please write to us at Our vision at PELÉ is a flourishing global ecosystem of authentic leaders characterised by healthy growth, holistic success and lasting significance.


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