Addis Ababa, Ethiopia — Zhang Huarong points out of his office window to a bleak block of grey portacabins at the Huajian International Shoe City, in Addis Ababa. “That is what I lived in for six months when I came to Africa,” he says. “I am 60 years old. Back in China, I am a wealthy man — my house in Dongguan even has a swimming pool. But I chose to come here and do something very difficult.”
In 2011, this self-made textile tycoon from Jiangxi province became one of the first Chinese entrepreneurs to heed the call of Ethiopia’s then-Prime Minister Meles Zenawi to open a factory in his country. Within three months, Huajian was producing footwear for giants such as Nine West, Guess and, later, Ivanka Trump’s fashion line, before it closed.
“This is something God is telling me to do,” Zhang (pictured below) says, framing himself as a 21st-century manufacturing missionary whose goal is to create more than 100,000 jobs in the poorest parts of Africa. Rwanda is next. “In China, no one wants to make shoes anymore,” he adds. Read more >>