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Our Story

Now in our third decade, LifeCo was founded in 1997, with 16 students determined to build their confidence, develop their critical thinking skills and run small entrepreneurial projects.

A pioneering team built the early LifeCo in a community in the South of Johannesburg – and then slowly grew it to serve South Africa and participants from 44 countries around the world (Rest of Africa, Europe, Asia, the America’s). 


Today the business has morphed into a stellar enterprise, with exceptional governance, employing business principles for personal, social and economic impact. It continues to develop entrepreneurial human capital and invests in early to growth-stage impact enterprises and selected large scale established businesses. 

Our Purpose

A generative economy – championed by Entrepreneurs and Leaders

LifeCo strives to build a sustainable nation of champions by serving as a catalyst – providing essential projects in entrepreneurial education, as well as support for and investment in impact enterprises. We work to reduce poverty and measured climate change mitigation strategies.

Our dream is to be part of a generative economy, that does no harm and is shared by all.

Key Moments



A customer service model evolves

  • Start-up capital of $2,000

  • Founding principles: Self-reliance, give value first, trade for change


LifeCo UnLtd SA was founded and funded by two families in 1999 the Pillai family and the Di Rito family.

  • LinkedIn
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Pat Pillai


Patmanathan Pillai is a Teacher, Businessman and Entrepreneur. He has previously held executive directorships in the media industry, e.g., Primedia. He’s been in broadcast media for 22 years in various roles with the SABC and, more recently, 10 years at ETV News (News Anchor and Executive Producer). He writes for the Daily Maverick and other news publications. He is invested in the real estate and media production sectors.


However, Pat’s passion is teaching and entrepreneurship. After generations of oppression in South Africa, his family being evicted from District Six in Cape Town in the 60’s, Pat’s response and passion was to be a teacher and help build his community. He was awarded the Ashoka Fellowship in 2007 for his work at Life College. Ashoka is the global association of the world’s leading social entrepreneurs. Pat was also selected as an Ashoka Globalizer Fellow – a group of 35 Ashoka Fellows drawn from approximately 2 800 fellows.

Carmen Di Rito


As an entrepreneur and educator, she has contributed significantly to the visionary and strategic growth of the organisation. In her executive capacity she takes care of programme and process research, development, refinement, implementation and facilitator training and development.


She is a trustee on LifeCo UnLtd SA Trust. From the 1980’s, her family was invested in a bulk energy distribution business, which operated across Southern Africa. The company also consulted to European infrastructure investors in Africa.

Executive Leadership


Emanuela Di Rito

General Manager


Sharon Lazarus

Finance & Governance


Anele JL Malumo, Avra Moodley, Ferdinand A Gazendam, Mervin Naidoo,

Ntombi B Langa-Royds, Pat DS Pillai, Richard Benton (UK), S Carmen Di Rito, Zanele B Xaba.

Advisory Committee

Doug Smollan, Dr Reuel Khoza, Joel Netshitenzhe, Pregs Govender, Prof. Njabulo S Ndebele, Santie Botha, Wendy Lucas-Bull.


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