You may have never heard of Ashish Thakkar, but in the next few months you will surely get to know him because he is just about to add the honour of the first East African to go to space on the list of his other impressive list of unbelievable accolades.
To understand him you need to know that at the tender age of 28 the young entrepreneur is not only the owner of Mara Group, a holding company which runs a wide array of interests focusing on real estate development, financial services, telecom, hospitality, energy, packaging, retail and media in four continents.
Currently Mara Group has projects valued at over $1billion internationally including the 36-storey architectural masterpiece in Dubai, the Kensington Krystal.
The British-born Thakkar who was hosted by a Kenyan Television station together with his father will take the Kenyan, Ugandan and Tanzanian flags to space for the first time ever when he joins a group of the 100 founder travellers on the Virgin Galactic, a space travel venture pioneered by famous entrepreneur Sir Richard Branson.
He hopes to demonstrate to the world the opportunities available in the three East African nations.
In the interview, the senior Thakkar narrated how his son had dropped out of school at 15 in Uganda to get into IT where he succeeded.
He said that when his son made the decision to leave school, most of his friends were dead against the move and told him that leaving school at that age was a big mistake. But when he bought Ashish his first computer a few weeks later he was surprised to learn that he had sold it to his school.
During one of his last parents’ meetings, the then head teacher of Ashish’s school told him that his son would not make it in school but would sure make a good businessman.
Ashish then went to Dubai and started a business there and as a result his father had to be called to Dubai to guarantee his fifteen year old son’s contracts.
Thakkar, who can claim to be a real East African, has links to Kenya, Uganda, Tanzanian and Rwanda. His mother was born in Mwanza, Tanzania while his family has gone through the Rwanda genocide and the expulsion of Asians from Uganda during Idi Amin’s regime.
He established his first business in Uganda and has lived in Africa for over fifteen years and in Dubai for eight years. At the tender age of sixteen, Thakkar founded RAPS, an IT company, now hugely successful in Uganda.
He went on to set-up a manufacturing plant, Riley Industries, and later Riley Packaging.
In 2004, he co-founded globally renowned real estate company, Kensington Group which today has offices in Dubai, UK, Uganda, Ghana and India.
The 36-storey architectural masterpiece in Dubai, the Kensington Krystal is one of his jewels. In Uganda, the highlight of the Kesington estate is a house owned by English and Manchester United defender Rio Ferdinand.
Ashish recently founded Shikamano Africa to drive the private sector, bring together like-minded individuals and bring forward the idea of a borderless Africa, according to the Shikamano website.
Money has long stopped being the driving force for Ashish. It is creating something unique and the sole purpose to achieve and reach new heights that compels him.
An example of this is Kensington Krystal, the 36-storey commercial tower labelled by a leading architect’s magazine as “The Gem of Dubai Maritime City”.
The multi-billion entrepreneur has paid US$ 200,000 (Rwf 115 Million) to book a seat of the Virgin Galactic flight and has been undergoing space training at Nastar Space Centre, Philadelphia.
In Shikamano Africa, Ashish has put together a model that will assist more Africans become like him or better through realising their own potential through activities like mentoring and training.
The objective of Shikamano Africa, according to its website, is to lay ground for mentoring, stewardship of the next generation of business people who will run successful companies, empower more Africans and create stable economies.
This will have a huge impact on our economies and our politics as it directly attacks the very foundations of poverty in Africa: poor skills, lack of confidence, ignorance, exploitation, exposure and absence of technological innovation to compete with the world.