‘The Best is Yet to Come’: Munya Maraire Talks the Future of Africa’s Athletics Industry
Munya Maraire hosts arguably one of the more unique backgrounds in African athletic history which is indicative of the continent’s spirit of resilience amidst adversity and determination in the face of opportunity.
Today, the Founder and CEO of World Wide Scholarships (WWS) sits atop a transcontinental social enterprise which has held partnerships with elite international outfits such as the Manchester United Football Club soccer schools, AC Milan, Usain Bolt’s Track Club ‘Racers,’ Nike and Penn State (the latter, Munya’s alma mater), before he went on to become Zimbabwe’s first NFL-drafted athlete.
From its inception, WWS has successfully placed hundreds of athletes in global universities and professional leagues alike, in sports such as track, tennis, soccer and field hockey, but to name a few.
In 2015, the former sprinter, of whom Penn State would come to name relays after, was involved in a tragic accident as he headed for Pretoria, having traveled overnight. Within minutes of his arrival at the hospital, doctors knew his left arm had to be amputated just below the elbow.
Undeterred, Munya continues to not only oversee his thriving enterprise, which includes Africa Soccer Trials, Africa’s leading soccer talent scouting and professional talent linking platform; Sports Spirit, Africa’s first made in Africa sportswear outfit with a view on creating a competitor to the ‘Nike(s)’ of the world in the Africa space, specifically; Africa Sports Insure – A boutique sports-specific insurance vehicle for the African athlete and Sportsman’s Wealth Management, a programme bringing wealth management and financial planning and intelligence to tomorrow’s sports stars from the continent.
He also will actively compete, taking advantage of the very opportunities so badly needed for facilitation for Africa’s next generation of superstars in Paralympic sports, continuing to build his personal athletic legacy.
Ahead of the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, we had the opportunity to meet with Munya about his corporate outfit’s Pan-African ambitions, his upcoming contest at the Paralympic Games and how best Africa can promote its elite athletic talent through likeminded conduits such as World Wide Scholarships.
Tell our readers about your upbringing – what drove you to athletics and later to sports entrepreneurism?
Born to a Jamaican mother Dorine Maraire and a Zimbabwean father, Nkosana Maraire, I grew up at a time and in a nation where sports is frowned upon as a possible career even today. Parents would rather push their kids into more conventional careers like medicine, law or finance.
However, I was always the fastest athlete in school and played several sports.
In high school, the combination of speed and talent took me to the prestigious Craven Week tournament in South Africa, representing Zimbabwe. After being one of the top rugby players in this tournament, I was offered opportunities by numerous rugby franchises the following year. I refused.
For I had been bitten by the American “football bug”; a game not even played on the continent of Africa.
I learned the game playing computer games with my friends and knew this was the sport I wanted to pursue against all odds.
And so my story was unique – I had American ties, talent and accordingly, a first-rate opportunity. This is not always the case for those like me across our continent.
Now being raised by an entrepreneurial mother has been the key driver in my passion towards starting sports specific-centric businesses; a natural fit and on the African continent, I believe this is the next big revolution to overthrow even industries like mining and banking; leveraging raw talent and human capital.
Africa is a mine in and of itself of natural sporting talent and with that comes a myriad of athletic opportunities in all sectors. We just need to explore it and in the words of my business mentor and owner of Nike, Mr. Phil Knight, “…Just do it.”
What is the protocol to allow athletes from South Africa or anywhere in Africa, for example, to be able to participate at internationally-viewed exhibitions such as
the Penn Relays?
As a company, through one or more of our group entities, namely our Sports Tours, Travel & Events division, we sponsor and scout top events and invite talented athletes to participate. From these events, athletes have the opportunity to showcase their skills to top universities or internationals scouts, depending on the sport: prospects that would be otherwise unavailable to them due to a deficit of resources or knowledge of the avenues available.
We are now busy with a service to bring international teams through our Sports Travel, tours and events division to Africa to play fixtures and build a sports-exchange culture between Africa and international high schools / professional talent.
What are the challenges and opportunities inherent in your enterprise as it exists on the continent of Africa and in ‘doing business’ abroad.
The main challenge is the mindset in Africa to look to more conventional careers of old. The dream of international sporting prowess is seemingly farfetched; so far that parents would rather motivate their children to safer careers that rely on their mind and academic performance.
Being a student who had more sporting ability than academic it has always been my goal to educate parents, schools and families of these opportunities. It is interesting to note that we have begun to employ many of the top academic students from universities to work for our enterprises.
What other international organizations has WWS had the pleasure of partnering with as it grows its intercontinental footprint?
Our company works with sports federations and Olympic committees across the continent of Africa and works closely with school associations in many countries. The goal is to bring our opportunities closer to the students in Africa, a continent very much lacking in opportunity and exposure but bountiful in world-class talent.
There are companies making moves in the sporting space such as fellow countryman Robert Gumede and both his social enterprise, the Keni Foundation; Dave Van Niekerk as MyBucks in their corporate social responsibility endeavors (CSR); Strive Masiyiwa and Kwese Sports; these brands are steadily and surely taking a strong position in the sports media arena. We too are busy fostering relationships with the NFL and other top international federations in order to bridge the sporting divide and multi-nationalize athletics.
I have had the pleasure and honour of being mentored by Phil Knight, whose wisdom and support inspired my vision to want to start Africa’s Nike – Sports Spirit athletics line.
In finishing; Africa is proudly ‘green’ despite the abundance of oil and natural resources that if exploited would alter that landscape. When it comes to sports business, it is an honour that my companies are at the forefront of this development and adhering to a ‘green’ mantra. You could not be more natural or rawer, than working with raw talent and raw, limitless potential.
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