While most of us were trying to make it big in business post-college, a few were simply trying to change the face of a continent for the better. A smart businessman, humble humanitarian, and lover of all-things-Africa, our next SpaceMaker is not your average joe.
Sangu Delle, resides in Accra, Ghana (making him our very first global maker!) and is the Founder of Golden Palm Investments and cleanacwa. A high school graduate from Ghana International School and Peddie School and a double graduate from Harvard University, he oozes dedication and hard work. Let’s just say, Sangu is your everyday new-generation-entrepreneur with a sprinkle of kindness and social consciousness.
We were looking forward to catching up with him while he was visiting San Francisco to meet with some key investors. Not surprisingly, he is always on the road and when asked how he manages it all, he said, “When you love what you do, it’s a little easier.” It is true that many of us are still struggling to find our true calling, but Sangu was born knowing what he needed to do in his lifetime.
Doing Social Good
At the age of 5, Sangu was exposed to social activism through the work of his father, a prominent doctor and a human rights activist, who hosted refugees from Liberia and Sierra Leone. This inspired him to fight for the social welfare of others. In college, he started College Bound with his roommate at Harvard, Darryl Finkton. The goal was to connect intercity high school students with Harvard students as mentors and help them get through school and accepted into colleges.
In 2007, the two founded the African Development Initiative (ADI), an organization that focused on building sustainable initiatives in Africa. He recalls, “We were doing research and we thought we were going to do something in malaria but then we found out that more kids died from lack of access to water and sanitation than malaria and AIDS combined. During that time, one billion people didn’t have access to clean water and 2.7 billion didn’t have access to sanitation—literally, more people had mobile phones in hand! We thought if we could send a man to space and have all these advancements in technology, it’s crazy that we can’t have clean water. It was so basic. We were outraged and felt compelled to help.”
“My hope was that in ten years, we would close shop because the problem didn’t exist. That would be success for me.”
Coincidentally, 2008 was the United Nations Year of Water and Sanitation. ADI partnered with a community in Ghana that was facing a real crisis and planted a water pump, partly subsidized. Additionally, they set up a committee made up of local community members and a bank account with limited funds that the members could use in case any maintenance was needed. This made the model extremely sustainable and was the answer to Sangu’s frustration of most non-profit organizations not giving power to the people they were helping.
In 2012, after implementing a range of projects under ADI, the board of advisors and founders decided to focus on clean water and solve that issue wholly, instead of diversifying the social work. This was the beginning of cleanacwa and today, they are actively working in 120 communities.
Business in Africa and Beyond
Sangu may have a Bachelor’s degree in African Studies and Economics along with a JD/MBA degree but a quick peek at his website or LinkedIn, and you’ll see that Sangu is “All About Africa.” While his fellow Harvard classmates were landing well-paying jobs in finance, banking or private equity in the U.S., Sangu decided to move back to Ghana and take a 90+% pay cut (his family thought he had lost his mind!).
His aim was to build world-class businesses that would not only make great returns for shareholders but also be innovative, disruptive, and in some way, socially conscious. Hence, Golden Palm Investments (GPI) was founded. Presently, the for-profit company counts high growth and high impact sectors such as healthcare, infrastructure, and agriculture in Africa as its main focus. But Sangu’s passion for making a change goes beyond just investing in and advising new ventures. Besides multiple speaking engagements, TED talks, and mentorship programs, he is also in the midst of publishing a book, Seeding Growth, which was shortlisted for the Financial Times/McKinsey Bracken Brow prize. “I have spent time in 43 African countries so far and interviewed 600 young entrepreneurs. This book tells the stories of a new Africa built by young entrepreneurs, chronicles my travels and profiles some of this young blood.”
The 100 Million Dollar Lottery Game
As a resident tutor at Harvard (yes, he is a man of many talents), Sangu was an advisor to students. He shares something that he always asked his mentees, “Imagine you just won the lottery. Remember your last Bank of America balance and now imagine it reads an additional 100 million dollars. What would you do with it? If your mother called, would you pick up? Would you stay at Harvard and finish your degree?” Funnily, pit balling through such questions, Sangu never answered these himself until one day, a student asked him what he would do. He says, “It got me thinking and what I realized was I would do exactly what I’m doing but just scale up. I would no longer have to run chasing investor money and would self-fund things. Maybe fly first class instead of economy, but outside of those little things, I love what I do and I won’t change anything.”
Entrepreneurship, Personal Branding, and Everything in Between
From changing the world to leading profitable businesses, whilst having some kick-ass mentors by his side and accolades like Forbes Africa 30 Under 30, Sangu has learned a thing or two about entrepreneurship, fundraising and personal branding. Here is an unedited roundup from Sangu:
Build a reputation and a rolodex of references: It helps that prospective investors can call people who will vouch for you. Having certain key relationships that are respected is important.
Have a track record: For example, if I want to run a 500-Million-dollar fund, I can’t just go out and ask for that much money. You start small, turn it over into profit. Be realistic and take it in small steps!
Pedigree helps: Being able to have some of the checkmarks will never hurt. The richest man in Africa, Aliko Dangote, once said that people don’t realize it took me 30-40 years to build a billion-dollar empire. Nothing is an overnight success so get ready to work for it!
Know yourself and what truly matters to you: If it’s money you’re after, find a good job that pays well. But, its short term return didn’t appeal to me. The chance to pursue my own dream and do my own thing is freedom to me and the freedom as an entrepreneur is priceless.
Don’t take shortcuts: Too often, people get clouded and are in a rush to get somewhere but never compromise the “right thing to do” and your integrity.
Have a vision of where you want to be and work backwards: Here’s an exercise! Imagine you turned 50 years old, and your wife/partner throws a huge party for you and you have to give a speech reflecting on 50 years to your closest family and friends. Write a draft on that speech. It forces you to imagine where you want to be and how you will get there.
Planning a trip to Ghana and would like to meet Sangu or simply contact him for advice? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll put you in touch.