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From assistant priest to Kenya’s steel tycoon

 

AHMEDABAD: He has earned the sobriquet ‘Guru’ amongst his peers in Kenya. With a net worth of $650 million, Gujarati steel tycoon Narendra Raval (53) of Devki Group is one of the wealthiest businessmen of Kenya today.

The Kenyan government recognized his contribution and conferred one of its highest title, ‘Elder of the Burning Spear’, on him. But Raval is known more for his benevolence than his riches.

Hailing from a small town called Maathak in Surendranagar, Gujarat, Raval told ToI that in his recently written will he has pledged half of his yearly profits — almost Rs 250 crore per annum — of his companies for education, nutrition and health in Kenya and rest of Africa, after his death.

“I am deeply influenced by Mahatma Gandhi and Mother Teresa. I believe that wealth should be considered as a trust of the whole society and as trustees, individuals should use it for the benefit of society,” says Raval, who is now in Ahmedabad to attend a social engagement and recruitment drive.

Almost 37 years ago, like many other Gujarati immigrants, Raval went to Kenya and started working as an assistant priest in Swaminarayan temple in Kisumu. Post-marriage, in 1982, he took up a job at a hardware shop in Nairobi and by 1990 he had his own shop in the Gikomba market.

“My wife Neeta and I toiled 18 hours a day. Life was tough,” says Raval. In 1992, Ravals forayed into roofing and fencing solutions business with the help of a $70,000 loan. That same year he set up a small steel rolling mill near Athi River. Then, there were very few such mills in Kenya. Today Raval owns four steel plants and two cement companies in Kenya, and in strife-torn Ethiopia, Uganda and Congo, that produce 7.5 lakh tonnes of steel per annum.

Narendra Raval, through his pragmatic business ideologies and philanthropy, aims to transform the once-hostile perception of Africans about Indian businessmen. His company employs 98% staff from local Kenyan and African populace and also runs many orphanages and schools for the underprivileged.

Rawal recently helped construct bore wells in water-starved Kenyan villages. His benevolence won him UK’s philanthropy award, which was conferred on him at 10 Downing Street by the then Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg in 2012.

“Indians are honest, hardworking and loyal — qualities that have potential to make success of a person anywhere in the world,” says Raval.

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