I began my philanthropy work as far back as 1990, when I started to help children orphaned by HIV/AIDS with school fees support. The first group were children of my former employees who had succumbed to HIV/AIDS.
My business was small at the time, but the programme grew with my business, until one day my wife and I agreed to transform it into a Trust. We registered Capernaum Trustrnaum Trust. My wife’s sister quit her job as a lawyer and began to manage it for us as the number of students supported by the programme grew.
This was long before we had the Econet business. It was there all that time, but I was struggling, trying to get it licensed to operate!
As some of you know, Zimbabwe’s first nationalist leader was a man called Joshua Nkomo.
He never became President but he served as Vice President. He was always very keen to support entrepreneurship and young people. He loved me dearly and came out in vocal support of me when I was being denied a licence. I was very close to him and I spent a lot of time at his home.
After he died on the 1st of July 1999, a year after Econet had begun to operate, my wife and I felt we needed to honour him with something that would last forever.
So came the idea of a unique scholarship programme, similar to the Rhodes Scholarship. It would give scholarships to the country’s 100 smartest high school graduates. We set up a panel to review the results of the ‘O’ level examinations and to select the top 10 students from each of the country’s province.
There was only one exception: 50% of each year’s intake had to be GIRLS! This was to honour Joshua Nkomo’s wife, who went by the nickname “Mafuyana”!
The programme would support the selected students to go to A level, and on to university.
The programme (known as the Joshua Nkomo Scholarship Trust – JNST) is now 21 years old and has sent thousands of students to university, who have trained in every profession imaginable.
Many of them made it to some of the best universities in the world, including Harvard, Yale, Oxford, Morehouse, and even China’s Tsinghua.
The programme has produced students who, every year, compete for the Rhodes Scholarship programme itself to go to Oxford University. We have won it 5 times!
We sent hundreds of young people to South Africa and to the United States.
Many of them work for global companies, such as Facebook, IBM and the like, while several others are back home, working as doctors, engineers and civil servants.
The JNST is not the same as our programme for orphaned and under-privileged children, that I started at the beginning. That one is a mass-education programme, and it has helped over 300 000 students since it started.
Once graduated, the students join an alumni called ‘Joshualites’ and are encouraged to find ways to help others.
A few years ago, we began to extend the programme to students in other countries, where Econet has operations, countries such as Burundi and Lesotho.
Now and again, I get a personal ‘thank you’ note from a student who has completed their programme. It’s strange how it is always the girls who do it the most.
But I really expect nothing in return, except that they remember the “old man” – Joshua Nkomo – and his wife “Mafuyana”!