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Eye on: Dr. Mohammed Ibrahim
July 30, 2015

(Caroline Broadhurst is deputy chief executive officer at The Rank Foundation and through the Clore Social Leadership Programme was a visiting fellow at the Foundation Center. This is part of her series about the motivations of U.K. donors who have signed the Giving Pledge. For more about Dr. Ibrahim and the other Giving Pledgers, visit Foundation Center's Eye on the Giving Pledge.)

Mohammed Ibrahim“Lucky” is how Dr. Mohammed Ibrahim describes himself when recounting his journey from his Nubian upbringing in Sudan to his work as an international philanthropist and entrepreneur.  Dr. Ibrahim grew up in an African community, but has lived most of his adult life in Britain with his wife Hania, a retired radiologist for the National Health Service.  Always one to work hard, Dr. Ibrahim attributes his good fortune to being in the right place at the right time, and the encouragement he received from his parents to excel academically.  Dr. Ibrahim received a Ph.D. in Mobile Communications from Birmingham University in the north of England and worked within the telecommunications sector for several years before leading the telecommunications company, Cellnet (now O2).  The business had gone where others had feared to tread, and by bringing the mobile phone industry to the African continent, made its 100 shareholders millionaires overnight.

When Dr. Ibrahim sold the business in 2005 he shifted his focus to philanthropy.  Proudly African, he wanted to influence transparency in governance.  He set up the Mo Ibrahim Foundation in 2006 “to focus on the critical importance of leadership and governance in Africa.” The foundation has two key projects: the Ibrahim Index of African Governance, which ranks the performance of individual governments in terms of safety, rule of law, economic opportunity and human development (Mauritius  currently holds the top spot with 81.7%); the second is the Ibrahim Prize, which celebrates and awards strong leadership among former African presidents and heads of state. The Prize is expected to exceed the value of the Nobel Prize, with an initial award of $5 million, plus $200,000 annually for life to the former president or head of state who demonstrates outstanding leadership qualities. In 2014, Namibia’s president, Hifikepunye Pohamba, won the prize.

In addition to the Index and the Prize, the Mo Ibraham Foundation hosts the Ibrahim Forum, a space to share the thought leadership agenda on African issues; the Forum also offers fellowships to the younger generation. The Mo Ibrahim Foundation is not a grantmaking body. Dr. Ibrahim’s daughter, Hadeel Ibrahim, is the founding Executive Director, and works alongside an impressive advisory board, which includes former President of Ireland, Mary Robinson

Known to the media as “Africa’s Bill Gates,” Dr. Ibrahim is now focusing on the transformation of Africa’s fortunes, based on good governance and leadership, rather than good luck.

--Caroline Broadhurst

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  • Transparency Talk, the Glasspockets blog, is a platform for candid and constructive conversation about foundation transparency and accountability. In this space, Foundation Center highlights strategies, findings, and best practices on the web and in foundations–illuminating the importance of having "glass pockets."

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