A RESPONSIBILITY TO EMPOWER
Of Indian descent, Manilal Chandaria was born in Nairobi. His father went to Kenya in 1916 “to earn a living”, which wasn’t easy because he had a very limited education. Now 86, Chandaria is one of the continent’s most respected businessmen and a product of his father’s commitment to education.
His family’s Chandaria Foundation was established in 1956 with an emphasis on education and health. As its chairperson, Chandaria ensures that schools and clinics throughout Kenya, and the countries in which his family businesses operate, all benefit from the trust.
Among his many business accomplishments, Chandaria is also associated with a long list of foundations, trusts and government organisations. He was instrumental in setting up the Chandaria School of Business at the US International University, the Chandaria Business Innovation and Incubation Centre at Kenyatta University, and the Chandaria Accident and Emergency Centre and day theatres at Nairobi Hospital. The foundation has awarded secondary school scholarships for 100 students every year for the past 30 years, and university scholarships for 30 students every year.
In 2011, he was honoured by Unicef and Global Compact in recognition of his work as a champion of children’s rights in the community. Some sources put his philanthropic giving at more than $100 million (R1 billion). But he doesn’t consider himself a philanthropist.
“All I can say is I am a social worker,” he says.
Describe your early life and how you became what Forbes magazine describes as a ‘Kenyan multimillionaire and manufacturing magnate’.
I am a member of a family of 50, so I would not like to call myself a multimillionaire as all we have belongs to the family. We four – myself and my siblings – were the first graduates in the family and my brother and I went to the US, where I did a master’s in mechanical engineering.
When we came back, we were in a dilemma about joining the small family business, but we realised our parents had sacrificed their lives to give us an education and we felt it was our responsibility to fulfil their dreams.
One of our businesses had six family members supervising it. It was small, but we were determined to build it and create wealth for the family. Today we are in 45 countries and employ more than 40 000 people.
Was it always your intention to be a businessman or was philanthropy always something you felt strongly about?
I always intended to follow in my father’s footsteps, but philanthropy was an addition to this desire. In 1953, when we were still very young, we asked our father about establishing a Chandaria Foundation. He was upset and said we were not Rockefellers or Fords. We explained the purpose of a foundation was to keep the family focus on giving towards the communities where we operate and that we have a basic responsibility, if we do well, to look after the people around us. In 1956, when we had more than 500 employees, he came back to us and gave us 10% of the company to set up a charitable trust. This was the start of the Chandaria Foundation.
As a Jain adherent, you are committed to nonviolence and equality between all forms of life. How much of a threat is interfaith conflict to the continent?
Interfaith conflict is a major threat to peace and prosperity on the continent. Religious conflicts can be avoided if secular education is given in every school.
How important do you think education and schools are as a philanthropic focus?
My target is still to build a Chandaria school in every slum. With education, it was possible for my family to achieve what it has – a story from nothing to something. Philanthropy has a major role to play in improving education and providing it where governments fail to do so throughout Africa. And health and education go side by side; you have to be healthy to be educated.
How do you feel we can best create a culture of giving on the African continent?
This can only be achieved by having role models. We need to set examples of how we can change the culture of giving by people demonstrating it. There is a feeling among the elite that as long as they are doing well, they do not have to support society, in much the same way that companies creating jobs is enough – but it is not enough. We need a cultural change that sees giving becoming a part of life.