Like many people who have placed philanthropy at the centre of what they do, Colllen Mashawana went through many challenges in his early life. His parents separated when he was 12-years old, forcing him and his mother to leave a comfortable middle-class township life and move to rural Venda, Limpopo.
“Life in Venda was totally different compared with the township. I started experiencing the hardships of life. I had to learn how to use a pit toilet. The house had no electricity and no running water. My upbringing made me aware that there are people who live in challenging circumstances. I vowed to do my best to change that situation, especially for my mother. During those hard times, I was helped so much by people, even strangers, who expected nothing in return. I vowed to help people when my situation changed. I felt indebted to this commitment, which is why the Collen Mashawana Foundation was born,” Collen explains.
His life indeed changed for the better from selling fruit to owning a payphone business and a car wash while studying Information Technology. Collen went on to become an executive in some of the top IT companies in South Africa where he learnt the ins and outs of doing business with the public sector. He later ventured into infrastructure development and is now the Executive Chairman of Afribiz Invest, a pan-African investment company investing in the African continent’s strategic sectors, and recently expanding their operations in the UAE. The multibillion Rand firm focuses on infrastructural space and is seeking to accelerate growth in various international markets.
What makes you a philantropreneur?
I use entrepreneurial skills to advance philanthropy ambitions, which are inspired by my love for developing and empowering people. I’ve always looked for the best way to define what I do. When I came across the word philantropreneur, it resonated with resonated with me. I didn’t want to be identified as someone who just helps people or is only an entrepreneur. I also didn’t want to be identified as someone who just does business with government, or what is referred to as a ‘tenderpreneur’.
Why did you choose housing as a priority of the Collen Mashawana Foundation?
There are many things that we would like to do. However, we thought we should focus on housing as a priority. Housing brings immediate dignity to a family. Housing brings stability so that a child can focus on his/her studies. A family can enjoy good health because they have a secure shelter, and access to water and electricity. We realised there are many people who don’t have this primary need. There’s an old gogo (grandmother) somewhere who lives in a leaking shack that is falling apart. She has lost hope waiting for the government to give her a house. Unfortunately, government has its own processes that take time to implement, and we may lose this gogo (to death) before government delivers a house to her. The Collen Mashawana Foundation would intervene and assist someone in her situation. We also provide housing for child-headed households or orphans and people living with disabilities. These citizens of society don’t have a fair chance like you and I.
Text by Vuyo Dlamini. Buy the latest issue to read the rest of the article.