Exclusive Interview: Unveiling the Vision: A Conversation with Anthony Farr, CEO of Allan & Gill Gray Philanthropies in Africa

Estimated read time 7 min read

In an exclusive interview with Africa Talks Business, Anthony Farr, the CEO of Allan & Gill Gray Philanthropies, shared profound insights into their transformative initiatives and vision for Africa’s future. With a deep commitment to philanthropy, Farr unveiled the organization’s strategies and philosophies that have been driving meaningful change across the continent.

  • What did you think of the Shared Value Initiate Better Future Conference in Kigali and how was the Event?
  • The event was great. I think there was some very interesting discussions. It was great to get a profile of young entrepreneurs that are working towards the aspirations of a better future for Africa. Further, I think it was interesting in the context of a much bigger conference. The global mobile Congress to realize that people are including discussions around topics like shared value, and just understanding that business really can be a force for good and not just a driver for personal wealth creation.
  • Can you share more personal experience of what it’s been like to work with The Shared value Initiative ?
  • Yeah, I think it’s helpful. And I mean, it’s a philosophy or construct that we fundamentally believe in. You know Mr. Gray himself used to speak very passionately about the limitations of, and the final outcome, if any consideration that one had was the stakeholder of the shareholders – if that was your only consideration, it led to some fairly unhelpful and destructive outcomes in the long term so he was an early visionary of the realities and the insights of shared value. Our connection, support, and involvement is the continuing of a very long journey. Starting with Mr. Gray.

  • Personally, what’s been inspiring you and motivating you as a CEO?
  • I mean that what inspires me is the great privilege and honor to be involved in meaningful work. And a lot of what we do is in a particular field. But it’s really about harnessing the extraordinary potential of young people on this continent, and to see that take shape and to see the fruits of that is remarkable. I can’t think of anything more exciting and compelling to be involved in.

  • Can you share any memorable touching moments personally for you in your work, That’s left a lasting impression on you?
  • Led by the vision of Mr. Allan Gray, our philanthropy has taken a very long term approach. And you know, we definitely believe that there’s extraordinary leverage that comes from the compounding of traveling in the same direction, of an extended period of time. And so the ultimate impact of taking a long term approach is, I think, far greater than not doing so. However it does mean that by definition you have to wait a while before you see the fruits of that work, whereas in other cases you can see things much more immediately. I think the personal stories for me have just been having the patience to wait and see. Starting in South Africa, we have been working with young people for nearly 2 decades now, and some of them you first saw as young, bright-eyed high school students filled with passion and optimism, but a little bit sort of wet behind the ears, and I think the most rewarding time for me is when I engaged with those young people at that point, and really made a small contribution to inspire them in terms of what their future contribution might be, and how they might think about entrepreneurship. Many years later, you see the same individuals and they’ve started extraordinary enterprises.

  • What are the key philanthropic initiatives that Allan and Gill Gray philanthropy Africa is currently involved in across Africa?
  • If we can get a critical mass of young people to start aspiring and to start understanding the potential, excitement and the possibilities of that entrepreneurial spirit – we really believe that we can start shifting the future pipeline and future outcomes in terms of the entrepreneurial ecosystem and so we have been running that Wavumbuzi program in the last year across Kenya and Rwanda, we’ve had close to 40,000 young people participate, and we really want to grow that exponentially in the years ahead. So we create this base, this initial funnel of young people that are fighting to get more entrepreneurial opportunities and to take their countries forward. So that’s the one key program and then the other is more at a later stage. The actual entrepreneurial activity, the venture building activities are later on. The program starts off as what people would consider as a talent investor. So it’s really identifying people that have already studied, might have some experience, and really are now ready to launch their entrepreneurial ventures. What a talent investor does is it brings in a hundred of those really high capacity, entrepreneurial individuals together every year. We bring together individuals, pre idea, pre team, and then we have them in cohorts of 50 at a time, in residence for 3 months. By the end of the 3 months those 50 individuals generally become 18 to 20 ventures that are really exciting, and deepen the pipeline of future entrepreneurial input into the ecosystem. We follow those businesses through to achieving some sort of product market fit being established in market, and then we take them further with a growth accelerator, which takes them into more traction and growth to start having significant economic impacts as ventures.

  • What are some of the challenges you face in executing these projects across diverse regions?
  • We had seen that a number of not necessarily philanthropically, but in a corporate expansion context, expanding into Africa. We are well aware that some South African entities had moved into other parts of the continent, having many of the answers, and knowing what to do, and ending up not being very successful – having to retreat from that expansion. So, yeah, I think we were very aware that even though we had over 15 years of experience in terms of working with young people, developing their entrepreneurial ability and fostering that  potential – that we had a lot to learn. This said we are very careful in terms of understanding the different areas that we’re working in, particularly Rwanda and Ethiopia, since these are are more government led than would be the case in South Africa, in terms of the entrepreneurial ecosystem. It’s really identifying the key partners and the key ministries, entering into memorandums of understanding with those particular institutions and approaching things with humility to understand that there’s more that we need to learn about those contexts. It goes slower than one would want. Although, I think if we take that slower, more measured approach, we ultimately would be more successful in those contexts.
  • Would you like to share any advice for individuals, entrepreneurs, organizations, you would say, looking to make a positive change through philanthropy, especially in the context of Africa?
  • Many people have said before – that It’s a lot easier to earn money than to give it away effectively. People are surprised at how difficult it can be, to be effective in one’s giving and often that’s because there’s limited thought given to it, or there’s a superficial understanding. My advice to people would be – Mr. Gray spoke a lot about the power of focus and to find that one area that really excites you that really gives you a sense of making a difference in this particular field and then really go deep in that one area.

  • What does success mean to you?
  • We have measures, and these many millions of lives that we want to meaningfully improve over the next decade. So those are all measured and quantified. I think ultimately, if one had to distill that to something more summarised, I think it’s really success for us is being successful in helping the continent of Africa realize its extraordinary potential. There’s so much possibility, there’s so much talent on this continent, and if we can convert some of that talent into, for instance – extraordinary ventures that are a force for good across the continent, and are positively improving hundreds of thousands, if not millions of lives. I think that that would be the ultimate success for us.

Allan and Gill Gray Foundation – https://allangillgrayfoundation.org/philanthropy/

Shared Value Initiative – https://www.sharedvalue.org/about/

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