How to Spread it: Anna Mokgokong

2013-06-09 11:00

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Dr Anna Mokgokong is the co-founder and executive chairperson of Community Investment Holdings, a multibillion-rand black investment holding company.

Born in Soweto and raised in Swaziland, she did a BSc at the University of Botswana and qualified as a medical doctor at Medunsa in South Africa.

A born entrepreneur, the woman known simply as “Dr Anna” to her peers and employees was already doing business on the playground – selling sandwiches to classmates at her primary school.

In 1999, Dr Anna was elected as the Business Woman of the year and in SA the Star Group Leading Woman Entrepreneurs of the World 1998.

She serves on the University of Pretoria’s Department of Economic Sciences advisory board. In 2010, she was invited by former US president Bill Clinton to become a member of the Clinton Global Initiative. She lives in Pretoria.

Q: It seems the entrepreneur bug bit early! Was either of your parents in business?

A: My parents were teachers, however my father did dabble in selling vegetables. He was not very successful in that. I learnt that my great maternal grandfather was a trader from Scotland. My paternal grandfather was a very successful farmer who used mules to turn the soil.

Q: There’s a growing trend among African philanthropists to respond to need by investing their time and resources in imaginative ways, with long-term development in mind. What kind of philanthropist would you describe yourself as?

A: A very simple-minded one, as you must begin with simple things first. Charity begins in your own household. The very people who work for you, this is where you should begin. I also invest a great deal of my time in community involvement.

I sit on many state owned boards as a value add to communities at large. This is apart from many philanthropic activities that I engage with. It is a path I walk every day. It’s not only about giving out money but being the role model and leader that you should be.

Q: You are passionate about giving women more power. Can you give us an example of how you’ve been involved in this?

A: I was president of both the South African Women Entrepreneurs’ Network and the International Women’s Forum South Africa. I am a motivational speaker at events for personal, corporate SA as well as in my own companies.

I promote women to be on boards as well as in procurement. I consider myself an activist in this regard.

Q: The Clinton Global Initiative does not give out funds, but it is a think-tank and networking organisation that encourages its influential members to “turn ideas into action.” What value have you got out of this initiative?

A: Rubbing shoulders with big names such as Bill Gates and his wife and many others has taught me a lot about humility as they are very humble. You also learn about the spirit of giving – to see the profound change they have made to communities where they live and globally.

They’ve made a lot of money themselves, their personal wealth is enormous, you don’t take all that money when you pass on, so why not use it while you’re alive to make a difference to those in need? I’ve also learnt to engage with global leaders. President Obama and his wife are also members who attend the annual forum in New York. When you leave the conference, you have inner peace.

Q: Do you believe the rich have a duty to give?

A: It’s not just a duty, it’s imperative that you share in ways that can make a difference to the broader masses. Profits made are invested in causes that can transform the social landscape.

Q: In your early years, you moved around a lot – from Soweto, to Swaziland and then to Botswana. What was your family situation?

A: My parents were teachers in Benoni and Pimville. They decided to pack their bags and move to Swaziland to give us hope for the future. I think that this was a good move as we all had the benefit of a solid education.

When I matriculated I moved to Botswana to study for my BSc degree. My siblings were fortunate enough that my parents got them bursaries for their tertiary education in America and the UK. I was also fortunate to have a bursary for my tertiary education. This formed a very strong foundation of my life.

Q: Was there anything – or anyone – in your childhood that shaped the way you think about giving?

A: My paternal grandparents always had other children and relatives who they helped to educate. My parents always took in people to teach. I learnt from an early age to share. I didn’t understand it then, but I understand it now. At one stage I had to sleep under a couch because the house was so full.

Q: What influence did your first career as a medical doctor have on how you give now?

A: As a community doctor, I was the only doctor serving eight villages and had 40 000 patients. That’s when I learnt a lot about being part of the community. Some people had no money, but I had to help them. This gave me endless blessings as my practice grew from strength to strength.

My first patients the very day I opened were the old ladies who lived in the same street. They gave me my first ‘tickies’ in the till even when they were not ill, just to support me. This taught me a lot about being a community person that you are an integral part of the community where you have to act as social worker, psychologist, healer, mentor, philanthropist – you are everything that the people need from you.

Some of the people who were not ill just wanted someone to talk to or a shoulder to cry on.

The gesture of the old ladies support taught me about humility as some of them could not even afford to pay for services rendered.

Q: At the end of the day, giving is about people. Do you have a favourite memory of a giving moment?

A: Travelling through one of our airports, I met a young man who helped me with my luggage. He complained how he was battling financially. I gave him a business idea that was basic and simple, but could have a profound impact on his cash flow. To me this is a small, but very significant contribution to him and his family.

Q: Does giving make you happy?

A: It’s the most wonderful thing to see a smile on someone’s face and to make a difference.

» This series was developed in partnership with the Southern Africa Trust

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