Mohammed Ibrahim, Philanthro-Capitalist

Dr. Mohamed Ibrahim is changing Africa, and the world, in more ways than one. Chosen as one of Time magazine’s top 100 most influential people in 2008, Mo Ibrahim, as he likes to be called, has won numerous awards for his work in academia, business and philanthropy.

A true philanthro-capitalist, Dr. Mohamed Ibrahim has influenced people and issues outside the rigid world of business. His goal has been to bring his knowledge, expertise and ultimately, money, to aid his native Africa, a continent struggling to find its direction and identity.

An expert in mobile communications, he is the founder of one of Africa’s most successful companies, Celtel International, which operated in 16 countries and was sold in 2005 for 3.4 billion dollars. His real claim to fame, however, came not from his phenomenal business success, but from the way he went on to use his extraordinary wealth. Mo Ibrahim began his own unique brand of philanthropic largesse, directed at no less a goal than bringing democracy to African nations.

“After traveling and doing business in Africa, sitting with customers, partners, governments, presidents, whomever – I know our problem in Africa is governance,” Ibrahim explains.

The man who made millions during the mobile boom of recent years understood that poor leadership was at the root of Africa’s woes and was determined to do what he could to change this. To this end, he founded the Mo Ibrahim Foundation in 2004 and the Mo Ibrahim Prize for Achievement in African Leadership, which annually awards a sum of five million dollars to a former sub-Saharan African head of state who has left office in the last three years and demonstrated exemplary leadership (translation: a leader who has voluntarily relinquished power!) The large prize was meant to attract the attention of long-serving leaders who may have been reluctant to let go of the reins, and perks, of office.

In the same vein, the Mo Ibrahim Foundation is also responsible for developing, in cooperation with Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, the Ibrahim Index of African Governance: a new, comprehensive ranking of sub-Saharan African nations according to several measures of transparency and accountability. The index assesses national progress in sustainable economic development, human development (health and education), rule of law, transparency and corruption, human rights, safety and security.

Known simply as The Ibrahim Index, it was first published in September 2007, with the hope that its regular publication would lead to an improvement in the way sub-Saharan African countries are governed. “We want to give African civil society a tool to assess the performance of their governments. Every criteria used has been referenced and so is difficult to dispute. There are 57 measures in all that capture the key elements of government performance. Over a number of years, a clear picture of progress will emerge based on how countries move up and down the scale.”

Ibrahim says his goal is simple: to provide a model that can transform the African continent and release its tremendous potential. He refers to women as another focal point to “moving the continent forward.” For Ibrahim, women are key to the sustainable development of a nation. They therefore play much more than a side role in his projects and goals. “We are not treating gender as an add-on. If women in Africa work an average of 11 or 12 hours a day, while men work an average of four hours a day, why are men dominating women? African women are the real hope to take this continent forward,” he argues.

What Ibrahim feels is needed now, is the willingness of all Africans to step forward and push for change in dramatic new ways. As his life has proven, through initiative one can make the world a better place. Cliché? Sure, but that’s okay if you are one of the most influential people in Africa and the world.

Ibrahim is a Sudanese national who grew up in Egypt and obtained his first Engineering degree from the University of Alexandria.