By Mfonobong Nsehe*
Ashish J. Thakkar, one of 10 Young African Millionaires To Watch and CEO of Uganda’s Mara Group, has launched Mara.com, Africa’s first multi-lingual online portal for youth mentorship and entrepreneurship.
Mara.com is an offshoot project of the Mara Foundation, one of Africa’s largest non-profit social enterprises. Mara Foundation lends support to emerging African entrepreneurs at the forefront of their journey. Mara Online will be the continent’s first online mentorship network, and will connect young, budding African entrepreneurs to established enterprises and businessmen. Ashish J. Thakkar, CEO of the Mara Group, says Mara.com will be a transformational project and will nurture an ecosystem for African entrepreneurs and youth while improving skills and emerging talent.
Talking about Mara.com, Ashish J. Thakkar, founder of Mara Foundation, said in an interview, “The idea for the Mara Mentors site started as an offline venture by Mara Foundation. We mentored 120 companies but felt we could have more impact and reach more people across Africa and other emerging markets. Through this initiative we want to share knowledge and expertise with the next generation of business leaders in Africa. The mentees will be given guidance by some of the brightest and best minds in the industry who have already volunteered to be mentors.”
The Mara.com platform will have three dimensions to it: mentorship, jobs and dating.
Mara Mentors will put young African users in touch with established, prominent and successful entrepreneurs from across Africa- mentors who will offer insight, expertise and experience into a wide spectrum of industries. The mentors on the network will also provide mentees with access to networks and will transfer knowledge and experience to up comers in order to help them transform ideas into sustainable enterprises. At their own discretion, the mentors can at some point opt to meet in person with the mentees and provide support with funding and infrastructure.
Mara Jobs, on the other hand, will provide a user-friendly platform for employers and prospective employees across Africa to post jobs and resumes, promoting careers and employment opportunities across all industries.
“With more than 5,000 people employed across Mara Groups companies, we understand the difficulties of the hiring process in Africa today. We want to use the knowledge we have gained and give the employers and the job seekers a better user experience,” said Thakkar.
Mara Dating will help young Africans find love and companionship. However, according to the Mara.com team, access to Mara Dating will only be possible after registering with Mara Mentors or Mara Jobs, thus attracting a wide spectrum of youth and inspiring a next generation of African entrepreneurship.
Mara.com is being developed by designers and programmers in Silicon Valley, Bangalore, London, Dubai and a few cities in Africa. Mara.com will be entirely free to all users, but the network’s complementary jobs and dating sites will utilize third party advertising and other revenue generating models to financially support the platform. In addition, revenue generated from Mara.com will be channeled to the Mara Foundation towards financing its other social enterprise initiatives such as the Mara Launchpad (a group of business incubation centers across Africa), Mara Launch Funds (which provides small startup funding for small businesses and startups across Africa) and the Mara Entrepreneurship Academy.
Ashish tells me Mara.com will kick start some innovative initiatives. Considering that Africa is transiting from personal computers to smartphones, Mara.com will base its foundation on mobile and feature phones to fully get adopted by the target audience. Mara.com is currently launching in Nigeria, but the platform will go live globally in December.
Thakkar started trading computers at age 14, after immigrating to Uganda following his escape from the 1994 Rwandan genocide with his family. He parlayed that small computer trading operation into a pan-African conglomerate, the Mara Group, which has interests in everything from Real Estate and tourism to financial services, information and communications technology, renewable energy and manufacturing., and revenues of about $100 million. Through his Mara Foundation, he says he gives back millions of dollars annually towards grooming and mentoring young African entrepreneurs.
“With Mara.com, I want to ensure that other successful African business leaders have a platform to groom and support young African leaders,” Ashish said.