[Tanzania] Mohammed Dewji redefines impact investing
Mohammed Dewji, the man at the helm of the $1.25bn MeTL Group in Tanzania, and the 16th richest person in Africa according to Forbes Magazine, has been on a mission to rewrite the rules of giving and reaching out to the underprivileged in East Africa through impact investment.
The business conglomerate with interests in agriculture, textiles, real estate and manufacturing has over time changed its business strategy with a keen focus on the economically disadvantaged.
The idea has been to treat them not as charity cases but potential buyers who cannot afford certain commodities due to their pricing. The company has therefore modeled its products to serve the poor especially in the rural areas with a product portfolio that spans from sugar, detergents, oils, soaps and pens among others.
One of its flagship products, Mo Cola, a fizzy soft drink and a favorite among the low end consumers, costs Tsh1000, $0.25, for a 500 ml bottle compared to its closest mainstream competitor Coca Cola that goes for Tsh500, $0.50.
Mr. Dewji has always argued that such kind of impact investment is key to not only increasing the saving power of the poor because of their ability to purchase products and services at lower cost, but also improve their satisfaction in life which stems from their improved purchasing power.
“While foreign aid across the continent has been instrumental in various aspects of human-development, ultimately, only homegrown development can act as a catalyst for sustainable social and economic grown and through MeTL products, we have taken incremental steps towards this through local-led impact investments,” he wrote in a letter committing to join the Bill Gates and Warren Buffet-supported Giving Pledge, a cause where wealthy individuals pledge to set aside more than half of their wealth to philanthropy.
But Dewji’s resolve to move beyond impact investing to end poverty in Tanzania was inspired in 2000 when on a visit to his home district of Singida in Central Tanzania, and one of the poorest in the country, he met an old man scooping yellow water into a bucket.
Few steps ahead he would find children drinking the same yellow water from used plastic bottles. He knew he had to do something bigger to change this.
In 2005, he joined politics, becoming the Member of Parliament for Singida. He immediately got down to work, established Singida yetu, Swahili for our Singida, an in initiative that has since inception spent over $1million in projects that seek to alleviate the plight of the suffering while improving living standards of the people of Singida.
They span from supplying food rations to the people affected by the 2006 drought, one of the most severe in the country’s history, food support to people living with HIV/AIDS, construction of schools, equipping farmers, rehabilitation of health centers, churches and mosques and installing streets lights.
And as he quit politics after representing his people for ten years, he decided to set up the Mo Dewji Foundation that would look for lasting solutions to some of the most pressing problems in Tanzania.
The fund with which Dewji hopes to give $100 million of his fortunes to various projects, is already actively working in school refurbishment and educational scholarships, capacity building in agribusiness and patient assistance programs.
It is also running an entrepreneurship initiative that provides financial literacy among the rural people while giving interest free loans to budding SMES in the country.
Mohamed Dewji who has been honored by the World Economic Forum as a young global leader hopes to use his foundation to align it with his vision of championing for a poverty- free Tanzania.
“Our role as citizens of this world is to truly to support the betterment of our society so that our future generations and their offspring grow up to live even better lives and strive for even more than they think is possible for them today,” he wrote in his pledge letter.