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Africa’s Richest 2020: Steady State With Some Volatility On The Margins

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Like elsewhere in the world, fortunes in Africa can be volatile, thanks to changes like a new currency.


Africa’s billionaires are as a group richer than a year ago. Altogether, the continent’s 20 billionaires are worth a combined $73.4 billion, up from $68.7 billion a year ago.

For the ninth year in a row, Aliko Dangote of Nigeria is the richest person in Africa, worth an estimated $10.1 billion, down from $10.3 billion a year ago amid a slightly lower stock price for his Dangote Cement, his largest holding. The much-heralded oil refinery that Dangote is building in Nigeria is still at least a year away from completion.

Nassef Sawiris of Egypt is the new number two richest, worth $8 billion—up from $6.3 billion last year. Sawiris’ most valuable asset is a stake in shoemaker Adidas worth a recent $4 billion. The increase in Adidas’ share price alone added nearly $1.5 billion to his fortune since January 2019. He also owns a significant stake in fertilizer producer OCI N.V. In 2019, Sawiris and U.S. investor Wes Edens purchased the remaining stake they didn’t own in U.K. Premier League team Aston Villa Football Club.

Number three on the list is Nigeria’s Mike Adenuga, worth $7.7 billion. He owns mobile phone network GloMobile as well as oil producer Conoil and extensive real estate holdings.

One member of this elite group is worth 50% less than a year ago. Due primarily to the introduction of a new (weaker) currency in Zimbabwe, Strive Masiyiwa’s fortune fell to $1.1 billion from $2.3 billion in January 2019. Zimbabwe, which has battled with hyperinflation, had been using the U.S. dollar as its currency, but in 2019 it switched to its own currency, initially called the RTGS. When converted into U.S. dollars, the values of Masiyiwa’s stakes in Zimbabwe-listed mobile phone network Econet Wireless Zimbabwe and Cassava Smartech fell dramatically in dollar terms.

 Just two of the 20 billionaires are women: Isabel dos Santos, the eldest daughter of Angola’s former president, Jose Eduardo dos Santos; and Folorunsho Alakija of Nigeria. Dos Santos’ fortune has declined to an estimated $2.2 billion, down $100 million from a year ago. In late December, an Angola court issued an order to freeze the assets that Isabel dos Santos and her husband, Sindika Dokolo, own in Angola. Those include her stake in telecom firm Unitel and stakes in two Angolan banks; Forbes estimates those assets are worth hundreds of millions of dollars. A statement issued by Isabel dos Santos said the judgment contained “a number of untruths” and that she would fight the decision “by using all the instruments of Angolan and international law at my disposal.”

Country rankings are unchanged from a year ago: Egypt and South Africa are tied with five billionaires each, followed by Nigeria with four and Morocco with two. Forbes found one billionaire each from Algeria, Angola, Tanzania and Zimbabwe. That’s the same as last year but a better representation than nine years ago, when only four African nations were home to ten-figure fortunes.

METHODOLOGY

Our list tracks the wealth of African billionaires who reside in Africa or have their primary businesses there, thus excluding Sudanese-born billionaire Mo Ibrahim, who is a U.K. citizen, and billionaire London resident Mohamed Al-Fayed, an Egyptian citizen. (Strive Masiyiwa, a citizen of Zimbabwe and a London resident, appears on the list due to his expansive telecom holdings in Africa; Isabel dos Santos, a citizen of Angola, has been living in Europe but retains assets in Angola—although they were recently frozen by a court in Angola.) We calculated net worths using stock prices and currency exchange rates from the close of business on Friday, January 10, 2020. To value privately held businesses, we couple estimates of revenues or profits with prevailing price-to-sales or price-to-earnings ratios for similar public companies. Some list members grow richer or poorer within weeks—or days—of our measurement date.

– Written by Kerry A. Dolan

Africa’s Billionaires List

  1. Aliko Dangote

Net worth: $10.1 billion

Origin of wealth: Cement, sugar

Age: 62

Country: Nigeria

Residence: Lagos

Education: Al-Azhar University, Bachelor of Arts/Science

Dangote, Africa’s richest man, founded and chairs Dangote Cement, the continent’s largest cement producer. He owns nearly 85% of publicly-traded Dangote Cement through a holding company. Dangote Cement produces 45.6 million metric tons annually and has operations in 10 countries across Africa. Dangote also owns stakes in publicly-traded salt, sugar and flour manufacturing companies. Dangote Refinery has been under construction for three years and is expected to be one of the world’s largest oil refineries once complete. 

Did You Know?

Dangote’s grandfather was a successful trader of rice and oats in Kano, Nigeria’s second largest city.

Dangote told Forbes that when he was young, he bought sweets, gave them to others to sell, and he kept the profits.

2. Nassef Sawiris

Net worth: $8 billion

Origin of wealth: Construction, chemicals

Age: 58

Country:  Egypt

Residence: Cairo

Education: University of Chicago

Nassef Sawiris is a scion of Egypt’s wealthiest family. His brother Naguib is also a billionaire. Sawiris split Orascom Construction Industries into two entities in 2015: OCI and Orascom Construction. He runs OCI, one of the world’s largest nitrogen fertilizer producers, with plants in Texas and Iowa; it trades on the Euronext Amsterdam exchange. Orascom Construction, an engineering and building firm, trades on the Cairo exchange and Nasdaq Dubai. His holdings include stakes in cement giant Lafarge Holcim and Adidas; he sits on the supervisory board of Adidas.

Did You Know?

A University of Chicago graduate, he donated $24.1 million to the school in 2019 to aid Egyptian students and fund an executive education program.

Nassef Sawiris teamed up with Fortress Investment Group’s Wes Edens to purchase a majority stake in Aston Villa Football Club.

3. Mike Adenuga

Net worth: $7.7 billion

Origin of wealth: Telecom, oil

Age: 66

Country: Nigeria

Residence: Lagos

Education: Pace University, Master of Business

Adenuga, Nigeria’s second richest man, built his fortune in telecom and oil production. His mobile phone network, Globacom, is the third largest operator in Nigeria, with 43 million subscribers. His oil exploration outfit, Conoil Producing, operates six oil blocks in the Niger Delta. Adenuga got an MBA at Pace University in New York, supporting himself as a student by working as a taxi driver. He made his first million at age 26 selling lace and distributing soft drinks.

4. Nicky Oppenheimer

& family

Net worth: $7.7 billion

Origin of wealth: Diamonds

Age: 74

Country: South Africa

Residence: Johannesburg

Education: Oxford University Christ Church, Master of Arts/Science

Oppenheimer, heir to his family’s fortune, sold his 40% stake in diamond firm DeBeers to mining group Anglo American for $5.1 billion in cash in 2012. He was the third generation of his family to run DeBeers, and took the company private in 2001. For 85 years until 2012, the Oppenheimer family occupied a controlling spot in the world’s diamond trade. In 2014, Oppenheimer started Fireblade Aviation in Johannesburg, which operates chartered flights with its fleet of three planes and two helicopters. He owns at least 720 square miles of conservation land across South Africa, Botswana and Zimbabwe.

Did You Know?

Oppenheimer owns Tswalu Kalahari Reserve, the largest private game reserve in South Africa.

Oppenheimer is a sports fan and plays squash, golf and cricket. Notepads in his office read: “Things I must do before cricket”.

5.Johann Rupert & family

Net worth: $6.5 billion

Origin of wealth: Luxury goods

Age: 69

Country: South Africa

Residence: Cape Town

Rupert is chairman of Swiss luxury goods firm Compagnie Financiere Richemont. The company is best known for the brands Cartier and Montblanc. It was formed in 1998 through a spinoff of assets owned by Rembrandt Group Limited (now Remgro Limited), which his father Anton formed in the 1940s. He owns a 7% stake in diversified investment firm Remgro, which he chairs, as well as 25% of Reinet, an investment holding co. based in Luxembourg. In recent years, Rupert has been a vocal opponent of plans to allow fracking in the Karoo, a region of South Africa where he owns land.

Did You Know?

He also owns part of the Saracens English rugby team and Anthonij Rupert Wines, named after his deceased brother.

Rupert says his biggest regret was not buying half of Gucci when he had the opportunity to do so for just $175 million.

6.Issad Rebrab & family

Net worth: $4.4 billion

Origin of wealth: Food

Age: 76

Country: Algeria

Residence: Algiers

Issad Rebrab is the founder and CEO of Cevital, Algeria’s biggest privately-held company. Cevital owns one of the largest sugar refineries in the world, with the capacity to produce 2 million tons a year. Cevital owns European companies, including French home appliances maker Groupe Brandt, an Italian steel mill and a German water purification company. After serving eight months in jail on charges of corruption, Rebrab was released on January 1, 2020. He denies any wrongdoing.

Did You Know?

Rebrab is the son of militants who fought for Algeria’s independence from France.

Cevital helped finance a biopic on Algerian resistance hero Larbi Ben M’hidi, who was executed by the French in 1957.

7.Mohamed Mansour

Net worth: $3.3 billion

Origin of wealth: Diversified

Age: 71

Country: Egypt

Residence: Cairo

Education: Auburn University, Master of Business Administration

Mansour oversees family conglomerate Mansour Group, which was founded by his father Loutfy (D.1976) in 1952 and has 60,000 employees. Mansour established General Motors dealerships in Egypt in 1975, later becoming one of GM’s biggest distributors worldwide. Mansour Group also has exclusive distribution rights for Caterpillar equipment in Egypt and seven other African countries. He served as Egypt’s Minister of Transportation from 2006 to 2009 under the Hosni Mubarak regime. His brothers Yasseen and Youssef, who share ownership in the family group, are also billionaires; his son Loutfy heads private equity arm Man Capital.

8.Abdulsamad Rabiu

Net worth: $3.1 billion

Origin of wealth: Cement, sugar

Age: 59

Country: Nigeria

Rabiu is the founder of BUA Group, a Nigerian conglomerate active in cement production, sugar refining and real estate. In early January 2020, Rabiu merged his privately-owned Obu Cement company with listed firm Cement Co. of Northern Nigeria, which he controlled. The combined firm, called BUA Cement Plc, trades on the Nigerian stock exchange; Rabiu owns 98.5% of it. Rabiu, the son of a businessman, inherited land from his father. He set up his own business in 1988 importing iron, steel and chemicals.

9.Naguib Sawiris

Net worth: $3 billion

Origin of wealth: Telecom

Age: 65

Country: Egypt

Residence: Cairo

Education: Swiss Federal Polytechnical Institute, Master of Science; Swiss Federal Polytechnical Institute, Bachelor of Arts/Science

Naguib Sawiris is a scion of Egypt’s wealthiest family. His brother Nassef is also a billionaire. He built a fortune in telecom, selling Orascom Telecom in 2011 to Russian telecom firm VimpelCom (now Veon) in a multibillion-dollar transaction. He’s chairman of Orascom TMT Investments, which has stakes in a major asset manager in Egypt and an Italian internet company, among others. Family holding La Mancha has stakes in Evolution Mining, Endeavour Mining and Golden Star Resources, which operate gold mines in Africa and Australia. Sawiris is a majority owner in Euronews. He’s also developed a luxury resort called Silversands in Grenada.

Did You Know?

Sawiris helped found The Free Egyptians, a liberal political party, at the onset of Egypt’s uprisings in 2011. 

In 2015, he offered to buy a Greek or Italian island to house Syrian refugees, but Greece and Italy turned him down.

10.Patrice Motsepe

Net worth: $2.6 billion

Origin of wealth: Mining

Age: 57

Country: South Africa

Residence: Johannesburg

Motsepe, the founder and chairman of African Rainbow Minerals, became a billionaire in 2008 – the first black African on the Forbes list. In 2016, he launched a new private equity firm, African Rainbow Capital, focused on investing in Africa. Motsepe also has a stake in Sanlam, a listed financial services firm, and is the president and owner of the Mamelodi Sundowns Football Club. He became the first black partner at law firm Bowman Gilfillan in Johannesburg, and then started a contracting business doing mine scut work. In 1994, he bought low-producing gold mine shafts and later turned them profitable.

11. Koos Bekker

Net worth: $2.5 billion

Origin of wealth: Media, investments

Age: 67

Country: South Africa

Residence: Cape Town

Education: Columbia Business School, Master of Business Administration; University of Witwatersrand, LLB

Bekker is revered for transforming South African newspaper publisher Naspers into an ecommerce investor and cable TV powerhouse. He led Naspers to invest in Chinese Internet and media firm Tencent in 2001 – by far the most profitable of the bets he made on companies elsewhere. In 2019, Naspers put some assets into two publicly-traded companies, entertainment firm MultiChoice Group and Prosus, which contains the Tencent stake. It sold a 2% stake in Tencent in March 2018, its first time reducing its holding, but stated at the time it would not sell again for three years. Bekker, who retired as the CEO of Naspers in March 2014, returned as chairman in April 2015.

Did You Know?

His Babylonstoren estate, nearly 600 acres in South Africa’s Western Cape region, features architecture dating back to 1690, a farm, orchard and vineyard and more.

Over the summer of 2015, he sold more than 70% of his Naspers shares.

12.Yasseen Mansour

Net worth: $2.3 billion

Origin of wealth:  Diversified

Age: 58

Country: Egypt

Residence: Cairo

Education: George Washington University,

Bachelor of Arts/Science

Mansour is a shareholder in family-owned conglomerate Mansour Group, which was founded by his father Loutfy (d.1976) in 1952. Mansour Group is the exclusive distributor of GM vehicles and Caterpillar equipment in Egypt and several other countries. His brothers Mohamed and Youssef are also billionaires and part owners of Mansour Group. He’s chairman of Palm Hills Developments, one of Egypt’s biggest real estate developers.

Did You Know?

Mansour Group is the sole franchisee of McDonald’s in Egypt, as well as the distributor of Gauloises cigarettes.

13.Isabel dos Santos

Net worth: $2.2 billion

Origin of wealth: Investments

Age: 46

Country: Angola

Education: King’s College London, Bachelor of Arts/Science

Dos Santos is the oldest daughter of Angola’s longtime former president, Jose Eduardo dos Santos, who stepped down in fall 2017. Her father made her head of Sonangol, Angola’s state oil firm, in June 2016, but Angola’s new president removed her from that role in November 2017. Forbes research found that while Isabel’s father was president, she ended up with stakes in Angolan companies including banks and a telecom firm. She owns shares of Portuguese companies, including telecom and cable TV firm Nos SGPS. A spokesperson for Isabel told Forbes that she “is an independent business woman and a private investor representing solely her own interests.” In December 2019, an Angolan court issued an order freezing her stakes in Angolan companies, part of a suit about funds she owes to the state oil firm.

Did You Know?

Isabel dos Santos is nicknamed “the princess” in Angola.

Santos’ mother, Tatiana Kukanova, met her father while he was a student in Azerbaijan. The couple later divorced.

14.Youssef Mansour

Net worth: $1.9 billion

Origin of wealth: Diversified

Age: 74

Country: Egypt

Residence: Cairo

Education: Auburn University, Master of Business Administration; North Carolina State University, Bachelor of Science in Engineering

Mansour is chairman of family-owned conglomerate Mansour Group, which was founded by his father Loutfy (d.1976) in 1952. Mansour Group is the exclusive distributor of GM vehicles and Caterpillar equipment in Egypt and several other countries. He oversees the consumer goods division, which includes supermarket chain Metro, and sole distribution rights for L’Oreal in Egypt. Younger brothers Mohamed and Yasseen are also billionaires and part owners of Mansour Group.

Did You Know?

Former Egypt President Gamal Abdel Nasser nationalized his father’s original cotton trading business.

Mansour is a founding member of the American Egyptian Chamber of Commerce.

15. Aziz Akhannouch

& family

Net worth: $1.7 billion

Origin of wealth: Petroleum, diversified

Age: 59

Country: Morocco

Residence: Casablanca

Education: Universite de Sherbrooke, Master of Business Administration

Aziz Akhannouch is the majority owner of Akwa Group, a multibillion-dollar conglomerate founded by his father and a partner, Ahmed Wakrim, in 1932. It has interests in petroleum, gas and chemicals through publicly-traded Afriquia Gaz and Maghreb Oxygene. Akhannouch is Morocco’s Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries and the president of a royalist political party.

Did You Know?

His wife Salwa Idrissi runs her own company, which has franchises for Gap, Gucci and Ralph Lauren in Morocco.

16.Mohammed Dewji

Net worth: $1.6 billion

Origin of wealth:  Diversified

Age: 44

Country: Tanzania

Residence: Dar es Salaam

Mohammed Dewji is the CEO of MeTL, a Tanzanian conglomerate founded by his father in the 1970s. MeTL is active in textile manufacturing, flour milling, beverages and edible oils in eastern, southern and central Africa. MeTL operates in at least six African countries and has ambitions to expand to several more. Dewji, Tanzania’s only billionaire, signed the Giving Pledge in 2016, promising to donate at least half his fortune to philanthropic causes. Dewji was reportedly kidnapped at gunpoint in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, in October 2018 and released after nine days.

Did You Know?

Dewji retired from Tanzania’s parliament in early 2015 after completing two terms.

Dewji, who is known as Mo (short for Mohammed), launched Mo Cola several years ago to compete with Coca Cola.

17.Othman Benjelloun

& family

Net worth: $1.4 billion

Origin of wealth: Banking, insurance

Age: 87

Country: Morocco

Residence: Casablanca

Education: Ecole Polytechnique de Lausanne, Diploma

Benjelloun is CEO of BMCE Bank of Africa, which has a presence in more than 20 African countries. His father was a shareholder in RMA Watanya, a Moroccan insurance company; Benjelloun built it into a leading insurer. Through his holding company FinanceCom, he has a stake in the Moroccan arm of French telecom firm Orange. He inaugurated in 2014 a $500 million plan to build the 55-story Mohammed VI Tower in Rabat. It will be one of the tallest buildings in Africa. FinanceCom is part of a project to develop a multibillion-dollar tech city in Tangiers that is expected to host 200 Chinese companies.

Did You Know?

He co-owns Ranch Adarouch, one of the biggest cattle breeders in Africa.

Benjelloun and his wife received the David Rockefeller Bridging Leadership Award for building schools in rural Morocco in 2016.

18.Michiel Le Roux

Net worth: $1.3 billion

Origin of wealth: Banking

Age: 70

Country: South Africa

Residence: Stellenbosch

Le Roux of South Africa founded Capitec Bank in 2001 and owns about an 11% stake. The bank, which trades on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange, targets South Africa’s emerging middle class. He served as chairman of the board of Capitec from 2007 to 2016 and has continued on as a board member. Le Roux previously ran Boland Bank, a small regional bank in Cape Town’s hinterland.

Did You Know?

The bank has more than 800 branches and over 13,000 employees.

Fellow South African Jannie Mouton’s PSG Group owns a 30% stake in Capitec Bank.

19.Strive Masiyiwa

Net worth: $1.1 billion

Origin of wealth: Telecom

Age: 58

Country: Zimbabwe

Residence: London

Education: University of Wales, Bachelor of Engineering

Masiyiwa overcame protracted government opposition to launch mobile phone network Econet Wireless Zimbabwe in his country of birth in 1998. He owns just over 50% of the publicly-traded Econet Wireless Zimbabwe, which is one part of his larger Econet Group. Masiyiwa also owns just over half of private company Liquid Telecom, which provides fiber optic and satellite services to telecom firms across Africa. His other assets include stakes in mobile phone networks in Burundi and Lesotho, and investments in fintech and power distribution firms in Africa. He and his wife Tsitsi founded the Higherlife Foundation, which supports orphaned and poor children in Zimbabwe, South Africa, Burundi and Lesotho.

Did You Know?            

After studying at university in Britain, Masiyiwa worked at ZPTC, Zimbabwe’s phone company.

He left ZPTC to start an engineering services firm, then sold it and founded Econet Wireless Zimbabwe, but had to battle the government in court for years

20.Folorunso Alakija

Net worth: $1 billion

Origin of wealth: Oil

Age: 69

Country: Nigeria

Residence: Lagos

Folorunso Alakija is vice chair of Famfa Oil, a Nigerian oil exploration company with a stake in Agbami Oilfield, a prolific offshore asset. Famfa Oil’s partners include Chevron and Petrobras. Alakija’s first company was a fashion label whose customers included the wife of former Nigerian president Ibrahim Babangida. The Nigerian government awarded Alakija’s company an oil prospecting license in 1993, which was later converted to an oil mining lease. The Agbami field has been operating since 2008; Famfa Oil says it will likely operate through 2024.


What It’s Like Meeting Africa’s Richest Man

 FORBES AFRICA journalist Peace Hyde says she first interviewed Aliko Dangote in Nigeria about three years ago for the popular FORBES AFRICA show, My Worst Day With Peace Hyde, airing on CNBC Africa, and has since had the privilege of meeting and speaking with him several times at both official and private functions.

“Dangote is someone who is extremely focused and driven with a bullish passion for Africa. For him, the goal is to dream as big and as grandiose as you can when it comes to the future of Africa because he believes, we have the human capital and resources to transform our continent. Everything is possible in his mind. His approach to business is testament to this fact.”

The largest employer in Africa’s most populous economy, he is also seen as a stabilizing force within the economies of several countries across the African continent. His story, however, has not been without failure.

“Dangote has had his fair share of ups and downs. But his advice to young entrepreneurs is having the ability to delay gratification and work hard through tough times so they can enjoy the fruits of their labor at a later date,” says Hyde.

Through the Dangote Foundation, which has the objective of reducing the number of lives lost to malnutrition and disease as well as combating Severe Acute Malnutrition (SAM) in children, thousands of children have been saved from the brink of death.

Dangote is also known as a man of few words. “I have seen him spend an entire afternoon answering questions about his business to a room of MBA graduates and proceeding to take pictures with everyone before leaving.

“You will not find any of the obvious trappings of wealth like flashy cars or a big entourage with him and he takes the time to speak to anyone who approaches him at a function,” adds Hyde.

Billionaires

Elon Musk, Kim Kardashian Endorse Kanye West Running For President

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After years of hints, Kanye West formally announced he is running for president this year in a challenge to Trump, who he once supported, and Democratic rival Joe Biden, winning support from his friend and Tesla CEO Elon Musk.

KEY FACTS

  • Rounding off his Fourth of July, West tweeted on Saturday night: “We must now realize the promise of America by trusting God, unifying our vision and building our future. I am running for president of the United States! #2020VISION.”
  • Musk tweeted in response: “You have my full support!”
  • Wife Kim Kardashian also publicly pledged her support, retweeting West’s statement and adding a U.S. flag emoji.
  • West’s announcement follows years of hints that he would run for office this year which he later postponed to 2024, after publicly declaring at a Fast Company event in 2019: “When I run for president in 2024…We would create so many jobs! I’m not going to run, I’m going to walk.”
  • But the rapper, who recently inked a 10-year deal with Gap through his Yeezy brand, is reportedly yet to file any paperwork to get on state election ballots, while he has missed the deadline for states including Texas, New York, and Indiana.
  • It is not known how serious West’s intentions are this time around, however, he still has time to file as an independent candidate across most states, according to Ballotpedia.
  • West’s declaration was met with skepticism on social media, while some commentators pointed out that it could work out in Trump’s favour.

KEY BACKGROUND

West’s declaration suggests the rapper is looking to cement political ambitions he has expressed throughout Trump’s presidency. West previously forged alliances with Trump, and was pictured in the Oval Office in 2018 wearing a signature Trump ‘Make America Great Again’ cap. He once called the president his “brother” and previously hit back at criticism towards his support for Trump, likening the backlash to racial discrimination. Although he says he didn’t vote in 2016, West later said he “would have voted for Trump”, and earlier this year doubled down, suggesting he would vote for him in November. But that could very well change given Saturday’s announcement.

American rapper and producer Kanye West embraces real estate developer and US President Donald Trump in the White House’s Oval Office, Washington DC, October 11, 2018. West wears a red baseball cap that reads ‘Make America Great Again,’ Trump’s campaign slogan. (Photo by Ron Sachs/Consolidated News Pictures/Getty Images)

TANGENT

West and Musk were pictured together on July 1st, with West tweeting: “When you go to your boys [sic] house and you’re both wearing orange.”

Isabel Togoh, Forbes Staff, Business

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Billionaires

Quote Of The Day

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We have grown past the stage of fairy-tale. As women, we have one common front and that is to succeed. We have to take the bull by the horn and make the change happen by ourselves.

– Folorunso Alakija, Billionaire Businesswoman

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Billionaires

MacKenzie Bezos And Melinda Gates Team Up On $30 Million Gender Equity Contest

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One of the most powerful women in the world is teaming up with one of the richest women in the world—Melinda Gates and MacKenzie Bezos, respectively—to host a competition with one goal in mind: gender equality.

Gates and Bezos announced the competition, called the Equality Can’t Wait Challenge, through Pivotal Ventures, Gates’ investment and incubation company. The challenge will be managed by Lever For Change, a MacArthur Foundation affiliate, and will grant $30 million to the organizations (or the coalitions of organizations) with the best ideas for helping to expand women’s power and influence in the United States by 2030.

“Closing the gap on gender equality will benefit everyone. History keeps teaching us that when a diversity of voices is represented in decisions, the outcome is better for all,” MacKenzie Bezos said in a statement Tuesday. “I’m excited that the Equality Can’t Wait Challenge will focus energy and innovation on this vital catalyst for positive change.” 

“The entrenched inequalities that divide America—race, gender, class—will not go away without systems-wide change,” added Melinda Gates in a statement of her own. “This challenge is seeking bold ideas to dismantle the status quo and expand power and influence for women of all backgrounds.” 

While Melinda Gates has long been an outspoken advocate for women’s health and gender equality, Bezos has been quieter with her philanthropy and influence. Since finalizing her divorce from Amazon founder Jeff Bezos last year, Bezos has indicated her philanthropic intentions by signing the Giving Pledge (thereby committing at least half of her now-$51 billion fortune to charity) and joining the board of Blue Meridian, an organization dedicated to helping children and families in poverty. Her contribution to the Equality Can’t Wait initiative marks her biggest public gift to date.

A spokesperson for Lever for Change said that the competition had been in the works for the past six months, and that the timing of its announcement—just weeks after massive protests against systemic racial inequities started spreading across the nation—is not meant to be a reaction to the current reality, but a continuation of serious conversations.

Broadly, the challenge will look for ideas that help dismantle barriers that hold women back (including but not limited to sexual harassment and discrimination, racial inequity, and inadequate federal policies around caregiving); fast-track female participation in sectors like technology, government and entrepreneurship; and change outdated systems and beliefs around gender. Specifically, according to the challenge’s website, successful proposals should create real, measurable change for women in at least one of the following areas: wages and wealth, unpaid care, share of leadership roles, content creation (in other words, increasing the percentage of cultural and intellectual content created by women), and public perception.

“When I taught my first course on women in the U.S. economy back in 1985, a female full-time, year-round worker made 65 cents for every dollar earned by a man. In 2018, she earned 82 cents. That’s a raise of less than a penny a year,” noted Cecilia Conrad, the CEO of Lever for Change. She’s hopeful that the Equality Can’t Wait competition will accelerate parity in wages and societal treatment.

To participate in the challenge, organizations must register online by September 1, 2020; fuller applications are due by September 22. Finalists will be announced in early 2021, and winners will be chosen next summer. The $30 million in prize money will be divided among the two most compelling ideas (each will receive a minimum of $10 million) and the remaining finalists.

Maggie McGrath, Forbes Staff, ForbesWomen

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