This #BlackLeadersAwarenessDay AVCA speaks with influential leaders in the African private capital industry, spotlighting their professional journeys, greatest learnings, and most influential figures.

“Diversity in leadership means greater depth and breadth of experience and perspective, which in turn allows for a greater ability to relate to employees, clients, and prospective clients. Experience, perspective, and relatability facilitate innovation, which is critical to capturing and maintaining market share.” — Workable

Idris Bello, Founding & Managing Partner, LoftyInc Capital Management

Tell us about your journey to Managing Partner

LoftyInc Capital is a leading seed-stage venture capital firm in Africa, having played a pioneering role in the African tech ecosystem. To date, LoftyInc has invested c. US$25mn into over 150 of Africa’s fastest growing enterprises, including three unicorns and attracted c.US$1.5bn in follow-on funding into its portfolio companies. It has also built an extensive ecosystem in the process, spanning tech hubs, angel networks, and talent platforms. With an extensive portfolio and outsized returns to investors, LoftyInc Capital is leading the vanguard in capital formation and VC investing in Africa.

I am a trained software engineer with undergraduate and Masters degrees in Computer Science. And for the first decade of my career, that is all I aspired to be, with employment stints at Procter & Gamble, Chevron, ExxonMobil, and the Clinton Health & Access Initiative.

However, all that changed in 2010 during my Executive MBA at Rice University, Houston, when I got involved in my first ‘failed’ startup: Libraries Across Africa. There I met my collaborator, Kevin Simmons (who is now my co-GP) and learned more about finding innovative solutions to everyday challenges back in Africa, and thus began my Afropreneurship journey, and a clear mission enhancing African lives by developing and deploying attractive platforms for innovation-driven investments. This was through LoftyInc, a platform to incorporate lofty ideas and turn them into global corporations.

I trademarked the term “Afropreneur” with the strong conviction that thecontinent sorely lacked enough billion-dollar companies required to create economic opportunities at scale. In 2012, I was profiled by CNN as a man on a mission to shape Africa by supporting Afropreneurs, “bright, independent and tech-savvy entrepreneurs using creative thinking and the power of innovation to take over Africa’s economic destiny”.

Upon completing my MBA, I ended up trying my hands at a few more startups and co-founding the Wennovation Hub, a pioneer incubator/accelerator in Lagos, Nigeria, providing strategic guidance to young founders, and assisting in the mission of building an ecosystem of venture -scale Afropreneurs.

That journey was to lead to co-founding the Lagos Angel Network as a means of galvanizing local early-stage capital for African founders in 2012. Along with my other partners at LoftyInc, we then launched the Afropreneur Angels, one of the fastest-growing and most successful angel investment networks focused on the booming African early-stage venture sector, and which wrote the earliest checks into some of the most exciting African startups over the past decade, including Andela, Flutterwave, Moove, Trella, RelianceHMO, WaveMobile, etc.
In 2016, I co-founded our formal VC vehicle, LoftyInc Capital, which now manages our early-stage venture funds and is currently raising its 3rd Fund. I am responsible for fundraising, sourcing, screening, and investment decisions, as well as post-investment portfolio management. I recently became a Kauffman Fellow, joining the largest network of VCs and innovation leaders in the world.

What have been your 3 biggest learnings?

  1. We recognize that the most successful, largest, and most prominent technology companies today were all forged by combining not only excellent components at inception, which include compelling solution visions, determined and focused founders, and very large problem-weary markets, but also excellent value creation systems and networks, such as customer-first execution strategies, business development networks that multiply early growth revenue, and rapid and repeatable market entry levers. Good teams, ideas and business models inevitably reach a stage in their early growth where they stall out unless they continually improve strategic decisions, development pipelines, financial management, and operational processes.
  2. Life is made of inflection points. Lots of them. Leaning into inflection points with curiosity and self-awareness can lead to real growth; there’s no growth in the comfort zone, and there’s no comfort in the growth zone.
  3. Individual intelligence only takes you so far. Help from others, divine providence, and luck play a great part in our successes.

Who have been your 3 most influential role models?

  1. My Dad: Alhaji R.Ola Bello 
    An academic and entrepreneur, giving me the wings to dream and aim for excellence.
  2. Marshal Sulayman: The First Nigerian American Partner at Deloitte USA
    His journey to Partnership against odds has been an inspiration to me.
  3. Barack Obama: the first black President of the USA 
    Representing the audacity to hope.

What inspires you to start your day?

The Prophet Muhammad says, “He whose two days are equal is a sure loser.”

I am privileged to be in a job where no two days are alike. The excitement to wake up to new problems that need to be solved for founders, jumping between a call about health insurance for market women in Nigeria, to exporting biofuels from Egypt to power ships in Europe, gets my blood pumping every morning.

My greatest challenge is to be constantly better than, to out-think, out-do, out-smart, impress, and surprise yesterday’s me!

Naana Winful Fynn, Regional Director for West Africa, Norfund

Tell us about your journey to Regional Director

I grew up in Ghana, and moved to the US to attend Vassar College. I had a great experience at Vassar, and worked and did internships all through college, which helped me to narrow in on Finance as an area of interest.

After graduating with a major in Economics, I went to work in investment banking for Goldman Sachs. I decided to apply to business school after a couple of years and went to Harvard Business School. I worked for Goldman again during the summer of business school as a requirement for a fellowship I had won from them for business school. After discovering an interest in marketing at HBS, I went into a couple of roles in marketing, first for CVS Corporation (formerly CVS Pharmacy) and then for Timberland.

My family and I had always had ambitions to work on the continent and contribute to its development, so we took the steps to do that. I first took a role in Nigeria, where I worked in PE, and then in Ghana, where I worked for an investment holding company making PE investments. I was headhunted into my current role at Norfund.

What have been your 3 biggest learnings?

  1. Trust is the most expensive currency and the most important asset you have in a career.
  2. Relationships matter and are essential for getting anything done.
  3. Lead with authenticity and empathy.

Who have been your 3 most influential role models?

  1. My parents
  2. My husband
  3. A core group of lifelong friends

What inspires you to start your day?

  1. God
  2. My family
  3. Gratitude for life, health, and blessings

Thaheer Mullins, Partner, Savant Fund Manager

Tell us about your journey to Partner

My career started off with a fair bit of uncertainty and is probably atypical when compared to most of my fund manager peers. I didn’t study finance during my undergraduate career. Furthermore, I am a Partner at a deep tech, science, and engineering VC firm, where I’m the only team member who’s not a scientist or an engineer. Again, I’m quite atypical, but I think my atypical pathway to getting here is precisely why I’m supposed to be here.

My early aspirations in my career were more aligned with artistry, being music and photography. I could never figure out how to crack that mould — probably due to a lack of appropriate talent and a winning strategy ;). I pivoted into a customer service agent role, which really didn’t suit my character at the time.

During this time, my aspirations leaned more toward marketing and specifically, digital marketing, so I shored up some savings and studied marketing management.

While I progressed upward, I still wasn’t able to break into a marketing manager role. In hindsight, it’s not surprising as I wasn’t truly passionate about my work. I liked it. I enjoyed it. The passion just wasn’t there. In my efforts to align thinking and cross over into senior management within marketing, I pursued an MBA at the University of Cape Town’s Graduate School of Business.

This is where I unlocked my core strengths and interest in finance, innovation and entrepreneurship. After a career of meandering through digital marketing and entering a full time MBA, I joined Savant — which operated as an incubator at the time. We worked on all aspects of early-stage companies with a long-term view. Our offering spanned pure incubation, to fundraising support, venture building, product and market development and even administering grant funding. I should add that Savant had been around since 2003. My part of the journey started in 2017.

After the fund was formed, I moved over into the fund manager full time and eventually progressed to Partner. Looking back, it wouldn’t be earnest to state that this was a goal. My career has been one of shifting working environments and short stints. I ended up being a great fit for the environment and the team at Savant. The flat structure and entrepreneurial culture were the key attractive qualities. To this date, I can’t think of one day that’s been predictable. Working with founders and early-stage businesses is exciting, terrifying and rewarding. While there’s a bit more hierarchy now, we’re all still very accessible and always encourage an entrepreneurial culture. My progress has just been the result of a great fit and finding that passion.

What have been your 3 biggest learnings?

  1. My first of three biggest learnings along the way is that human connection is everything. People don’t leave environments and businesses. They leave people. They join teams. They work with people. Whether you’re engaging with a startup, colleague, investor, supplier or service provider, always remember that there’s a human being — with the exception of AI chatbots — on the other side. When I go out and network, I go out to meet people. The benefits of a working relationship is secondary. If there is a value proposition to explore, it’s much easier to do so as connected humans. You tend to go the extra mile on both sides to make things work than in a purely transactional environment.
  2. The second lesson would be that timing is the ordained parent of success. Approaching clients, launching a new strategy, seeking out new opportunities, promotions, relationships, etc, is all a matter of good timing. Success only works when the right confluence of factors is in place. This can be a combination of micro, macro, personal and professional factors affecting both you and those around you. The key is to be able to recognise those opportunities when they arise and/or to forecast for them when you have the ability to do so.
  3. The third lesson is that you are the culmination of a unique set of thoughts, experiences and relationships. On my side, the fact that I have worked in a number of different working environments with different cultures, resources hierarchies and stakeholders means that I’m able to get along with most founding and management teams that I encounter. It also means that I can talk to multiple stakeholders for business development and fundraising for both our founders and firm, regardless of technology stacks industries and sectors.

Who have been your 3 most influential role models?

Role model 1:
This is more of a category than a specific person. Basically, anyone that’s gone been able to exit poverty or really poor living conditions — particularly those that have done so without formal education. When you’re in that situation, it’s not an easy journey to look up and then move beyond that context. I come from that environment and know a few people that have moved into phenomenal spaces and places. Singling out a single person wouldn’t be fair to all those going through that same process.

Role model 2:
Kevin Hart — not because he’s a great entertainer, but because he offers so much to learn from. He’s found a formula that works and is sticking to it. As tedious as it may sound from an outsider’s perspective, he crafts each one of his specials from the ground up. He builds his product offerings through series of alpha and beta tests, soft launches and then hard launches to mass audiences. There’s a lot to learn from the discipline of sticking to first principles and repeating pathways to success. We can transfer those qualities and process into fund management and entrepreneurship too.

Role model 3:
Manjit Minhas
owns a US$155mn beermaker with a remarkable story about owning the value chain. She started off with a product marketing value offering, then started competing with her clients. She later shifted gears and bought the suppliers’ production facility. She then goes further upstream and owns key inputs and builds out a logistics operation. Not to leave out the part where she owns the studio that executes on the marketing efforts. She did this off the back of relationships and healthy cash flows — without funding. She’s an amazing entrepreneur.

What inspires you to start your day?

I’m inspired to see tech companies break the mould. New technologies can sometimes be met with scepticism, but seeing companies sell and adopt new technology solutions in different ways every day is an exciting place to be. Helping these types of companies gather momentum is tough, but fulfilling. I’m inspired to be a part of those journeys.

Mareme Dieng, Lead, Africa 500 Global

Tell us about your journey to Africa Lead

I am currently the Africa Lead at 500 Global. I am also one of the Forbes Afrique 30under30 2022 nominees, and was the Head of International Partnerships and Relations at Draper University and an associate of Draper University Ventures. I have been working in venture capital for the last 8 years going from running accelerator programs to investing in emerging market founders to working with different stakeholders towards catalyzing startup ecosystems.

I was also a graduate nominee on the board of Trustees of Bennington College, and was involved in the decision-making body of the College. I have also worked for innovation studios offering consultancy in innovation to top European corporations. I have created content for innovation workshops and been an active content developer for innovation and entrepreneurship programs.

After having lived and worked in Senegal, South Africa, France and the United States, I have devoted my work to human development and structuring systems that maximize individuals’ potential. I have worked with several educational organizations in Johannesburg, and have developed different educational models with them in order to promote entrepreneurship, leadership and innovation within the African education system.

What have been your 3 biggest learnings?

  • The importance of mentorship:
    As several mentors have contributed to the success of my career and my development as a person.
  • The power of agency:
    Young African girls and boys are taught through schools, social media, tv and entertainment to build an image of themselves related to helplessness, victimhood, and misery. That is not what Africa or Africans are or have ever been. The continent is full of bright, intelligent and motivated individuals and communities who are capable of achievements and progressive innovation.
  • The importance of relationship building:
    Business after all is a people business. No matter the sector or the field, business is about working with people, understand them, collaborating with them, empowering them and understanding the existing complementarities. People have always been and will always be at the center of everything.

Who have been your 3 most influential role models?

  1. My mother
  2. My father
  3. Chimamanda Adiche

What inspires you to start your day?

Knowing that the work I do can allow young girls and boys in Africa not to have to go through what I went through in order to make it to where I am today. That my work can impact the continent in a way that kids wouldn’t have to leave their families and communities in the pursuit of a better life for themselves and their families elsewhere.

Magdi M. Amin, Managing Partner, African Renaissance Partners

Tell us about your journey to Managing Partner

I grew up between Sudan and California, where my father, a diplomat, and professor, had relocated us after some political turmoil. Like many immigrant families, we lived in a contrast between an African household, led by my Nubian grandmother and our food and conversations at home, and a typical California childhood of youth football, baseball, and homework. I felt fine navigating these worlds. But when my parents sent me to Sudan for a year of high school, it sparked a sense of the injustice of inequality in the world and a desire to do something about it.

While I had intended to study engineering, a few professors at Princeton sparked my interest in economic development. After doing a thesis on the role of Islamic finance in Sudan’s rainfed agricultural sector, I set a goal of joining the World Bank’s Young Professionals Program. It took me a decade, a graduate degree, and experience in banking and turnaround consulting, but I achieved that goal. My first assignment was in Bangkok during the Asian Financial Crisis, where my previous work in turnaround management was helpful.

As the crisis abated, my work tended more toward economic growth, technology, and the role of the private sector. I spent a few years working in Southeast Asia, especially Thailand, Vietnam, and Cambodia, then had the opportunity to move to Addis Ababa to lead a private sector development program in a country that was skeptical about the private sector and bitterly divided after controversial elections.

I then moved to Cairo, where I led a regional reform program focused on unleashing private sector investment in a region dominated by state-led economies that had largely failed to deliver on the employment needs of youth. As soon as I took that job, the Arab Spring broke out across the region. After a few years of rebuilding our program in response to those dramatic changes, I returned to Washington to head country economics and strategy for IFC. We introduced a new strategy, IFC 3.0, which helped with a capital increase, and we introduced disruptive technology across IFC sectors.

I took some time away from IFC to join Omidyar Network, which was focused on how technologies such as digital ID can transform opportunity but must be done to minimize risks and harms. This included early-stage investment and leading an initiative in Africa.

When a popular revolution overthrew Sudan’s long-time dictator and a technocratic government was put in place to rescue the economy and steer the country to elections, I was asked to join as a Senior Advisor to the Minister of Finance. I worked on significant reforms such as fuel subsidies and currency reforms, an extensive digital cash transfer program, and debt restructuring in a fragile environment. After about 20 months, we were starting to succeed. I was putting the finishing touches on a presentation of a significant financial sector reform when a coup took place, ending the transitional government.

The revolution was led by women and youth who had lost hope and knew they could not live lives of dignity under oppression. They took matters into their own hands; the revolution gave them agency and hope. They will ultimately succeed on a different timetable.

Below the radar screen, there was a quieter revolution. Entrepreneurs were emerging that saw the economy differently. They didn’t accept that broad swaths of the country should live without energy or access to finance or be satisfied with outdated ways of managing transportation, agriculture, or education. They saw a better way forward, using technology. Just as the Arab Spring mostly failed in political terms, the entrepreneurial revolution did not.

I had kept in touch with my friends in Ethiopia from 15 years earlier and observed Africa on my many visits. I saw a critical mass of reformers starting to deliver transformative policy changes and how those changes create an opportunity for entrepreneurs who want to move the region forward. The primary constraint they face is needing more capital and sound advice.

I started African Renaissance Partners with my friend and Co-Founder in Ethiopia, Henok Assefa. Another former IFC colleague, Atul Mehta, has joined and chairs our IC. We share a vision of backing entrepreneurs in underinvested markets in East Africa and the Horn of Africa, where key reforms are happening that unleash economic potential. 
We built a team, went through the formation process, and gained the support of initial investors to get to our first close. We have made our first investments and are working through an exciting pipeline.

What have been your 3 biggest learnings?

The first lesson applies to startups, large organizations, or countries. One can do mountains of analytical work, but in key moments of crisis, success or failure comes down to leadership. Leaders are tested not when they sell their grand visions but must make the tough, nitty-gritty choices needed to save the enterprise and convince others to back them, even when the decision is uncertain or unpopular.

The second lesson is less specific; more of a benefit of having been in multiple types of organizations: consulting, banking, World Bank, IFC, academia, government, and now venture. I see a problem or opportunity from various perspectives. I can see it in terms of income statements and balance sheets, but also at the sector or economy level, how policies shape the market and competition, and how that investment may be viewed by impact investors, commercial investors, or IFIs.

The final lesson is about innovators and entrepreneurs I saw while living and working in Egypt, Ethiopia, Sudan, and Southeast Asia. I have seen remarkable progress over three decades across many countries and can often trace transformations back to specific people, policymakers, and entrepreneurs. Those who succeeded had integrity and determination and were focused on clear goals, but were also flexible, willing to pivot and pursue multiple avenues to reach those goals. That also applies to careers.

Who have been your 3 most influential role models?

I won’t put specific people on the spot by naming them, but if they read this, they will recognize themselves.

I benefited from having a series of managers early in my career, ministers, and CEOs who were my clients and colleagues later in my career, who were smart, humble, acted with integrity and determination, and who put people first. I am inspired by business leaders who transform key insights into successful, growing businesses that create jobs and improve the economy. This includes investors in African Renaissance Partners and others that I would like to have as investors.

What inspires you to start your day?

I am inspired every day because I know it is bigger than me. 
It is about backing entrepreneurs who risk their careers and savings to make a difference — a cleaner planet, better services, and an economy that includes everyone. I’m motivated because I know that investors have put their hard-earned money in our trust to identify, finance, and advise those entrepreneurs. I’m motivated to succeed for my family. I’m inspired every day because if we succeed, others will follow, and together we will give more Africans agency, hope, and jobs with dignity.

Abi Mustapha-Maduakor, Chief Executive Officer, AVCA — African Private Capital Association

Tell us about your journey to Chief Executive Officer

My career journey has been varied, spanning financial management, entrepreneurship, public policy and ecosystem building.

My Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees were in Chemical Engineering. Back then, my aspiration was for a career in the downstream petroleum sector in Nigeria, being the oil capital of the continent. I soon pivoted following an elective in Economics as part of my degree — this is where my interest in finance and the impact of financial services began. I qualified as a chartered accountant at EY, specialising as an Auditor the Mining Oil & Gas and Utilities division. Once qualified, I applied this skill to the banking sector in the UK across various roles in securitisation, at the height of the credit crunch which was a steep learning curve.

I reached an inflection point thereafter where I wanted to align my career with my purpose and fundamentally contribute in some way to my home country, Nigeria. After a mini-sabbatical, I returned to Nigeria to try my hand at various entrepreneurial pursuits; first, by providing an accounting and financial management service for informal businesses — this happened to be much harder than I had realised at the time. I then ventured with a close friend to start a CNG distribution business which was the perfect melting point of my first degree and financial experience. I got first-hand insight into the incredible rush and challenges of operating a start-up in Nigeria and felt passionate about helping other entrepreneurs.

What have been your 3 biggest learnings?

  • Relationships are key — The importance of building authentic relationships is probably the most important lesson I have learned in my career. Connecting with people is powerful — finding common ground, being challenged, and collaborating. This has been so important to me both personally and professionally. The reason I say “authentic” in this context is because it is important that we are comfortable in our skin and, as far as possible, that we bring our true selves to relationships. The saying “Be yourself as everyone else is taken”, rings true to me.
  • Vision boards do work — Setting a long term vision for yourself, no matter how unattainable it may seem at the time, is crucial. It helps to ground and provide laser focus. Sometimes, we focus on the incremental short-term goals but there are no limitations to dreaming and thinking big — and that’s a major lesson I’ve learned. With that said, patience is a key part of the process. I often say that God’s time is the best for everything. At times, we are two or three conversations, roles, connections, or discussions away from our overall vision — we just need the patience and the tenacity to realise it.
  • Pay it forward — The power of sponsorship, particularly for women in the workplace, is enormous. Whether it is mentoring others, making recommendations, developing or just maintaining a relationship, I feel we have a collective responsibility to build the next generation of leaders. I am particularly passionate about black female future leaders and play my part in promoting advancement for women.

Who have been your 3 most influential role models?

  • My parents: their tenacity, drive, work ethic, ambition, and my mum’s ability to manage the delicate dynamic of family life and a career.
  • Nelson Mandela: the power of his belief, unwavering resilience, his vision and patience to bring it to reality.
  • Previous bosses, who I won’t mention as they know who they are, taught me about servant leadership, the importance of vision, and paving the way for others.

What inspires you to start your day?

  • Prayer and a spirit of gratitude
  • My family

Mezuo O. Nwuneli, Managing Partner, Sahel Capital

What inspires you to start your day?

Mezuo O. Nwuneli, Managing Partner, Sahel Capital

Tell us about your journey to Managing Partner

An early defining career step for me was the couple years (1997–1999) I spent as an analyst with J.P. Morgan’s investment banking team in New York. The core of my analytical skills were built during this time.

The second defining career point for me was my decision in 1999 to move back home to Nigeria to work for two years before business school. That time in Lagos helped build the passion I have today to develop and build businesses in Africa. Subsequently, my time at Harvard Business School provided me with the tools I needed to work towards achieving this vision, and the confidence to take the risk to return back to Nigeria upon graduation.

The next defining career point for me was my decision in 2010 to become an entrepreneur — first co-founding AACE Foods (a food processing company) and subsequently Sahel Capital (an agribusiness-focused private investment firm deploying capital in Sub-Saharan Africa), which I lead today.

What have been your 3 biggest learnings?

  1. The importance of prioritizing family — at the end of the day that’s what really matters.
  2. It is critical to have more experienced mentors and friends you can call for advice when things get tough. And there will be many tough times.
  3. Strengthening of my faith and purpose over the years has brought more peace and balance into my life.

Who have been your 3 most influential role models?

Very early in my career, it was Reginald Lewis. 
I was inspired by what he was able to achieve in corporate America — buying, building, and then selling McCall at a circa 90x return, and then later buying and building TLC Beatrice.

What inspires you to start your day?

The desire to build businesses that positively impact people’s lives.

Peter Kang’iri, Chief Executive Officer, QUICKMART LTD

Tell us about your journey to Chief Executive Officer

For over 15 years I have worked for both local and international organizations serving in executive and senior leadership capacities. I have worked in different industries notably Retail, Global Logistics, Consulting, Finance and Technology. As a strategic visionary leader, I have led major transformational assignments.

My journey in the retail space began in 2014 when I discovered a gap in the retail sector in Kenya. By then all retail supermarkets in Kenya were family-owned except one, and they were growing exponentially. This meant, that there were no governance structures in place and the founders did not have the muscle to manage the growth. In addition, as a country, we were witnessing the collapse of a giant retailer as a result of mismanagement.

I, therefore embarked on a journey of consulting for the family-owned retail supermarkets in Kenya to help in formulating and executing agile business turnaround and acceleration strategies that have resulted in achievement of audacious and unprecedented growth, competitiveness, profitability, and sustainability.

Currently I am the Group CEO & Managing Director of Quickmart. Quickmart started from a humble beginning in the outskirts of Nakuru in 2006; Quickmart was able to grow steadily to 4 stores by 2014. In 2014 I started supporting Quickmart. I put in place multifaceted growth strategies and governance structures, and I was able to scale up and grow the business to 11 stores by 2018. In 2018, I was also consulting for Tumaini Supermarkets and was able to bring on board Adenia Partners, to invest in Tumaini Supermarkets and consequently got Adenia Partners to invest in Quickmart in 2019.

As a result, in 2019, a merger was birthed between the two retailers trading under the brand name ‘Quickmart’; the new merged entity become the second largest retailer in Kenya, and I was appointed the Group CEO and Managing Director by Adenia to run the entity. Together with a seasoned management team, I have been able to transform Quickmart into a corporate run entity that now attracts expatriates and other professional experts from other sectors, which was never the norm for supermarkets in Kenya.

Working for the second largest retailer in Kenya has enabled me to master the art of navigating through VUCA (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous) business environments through creativity, agility, and innovation; as a result, I have grown Quickmart from a turnover of above US$130mn as of December 2020 to a turnover of above US$250mn as of December 2023. Today Quickmart has 58 stores across 15 counties. My plan is to have 105 stores across 30 counties in Kenya with a turnover of US$750mn in the next 5 years.

What have been your 3 biggest learnings?

  1. Business environments are often unpredictable — As a leader, I have learned to be innovative and creative especially in volatile and uncertain moments to ensure the business stays at a competitive edge.
  2. The best strategy is delivered by people and therefore a people-centered organization delivers a strategy with ease.
  3. Humility is key when running an organization. It is important to recognize that you don’t know everything and that everyone in the organization has a say — listen!

Who have been your 3 most influential role models?

  1. James Mwangi — Chief Executive Officer, Equity Bank
  2. Michael Joseph — Former Chief Executive Officer, Safaricom and current Chairman, Kenyan Airways
  3. James Mworia — Chief Executive Officer, Centum Investments

What inspires you to start your day?

Leaving a good legacy. In the retail sector, every day is different — sometimes I would go out there and spot, seize and secure business opportunities, other times I enjoy sitting around with my team and confirming how our vision is forming shape.

Kola Aina, General Partner, Ventures Platform Fund

Tell us about your journey to General Partner

I studied Electrical Engineering at university and also completed my MBA. In between, I worked as an Engineer and then as a financial analyst. All through I always had my entrepreneurial endeavors, having been raised in a very entrepreneurial family setting, even though I always had the nagging feeling to build businesses.

I worked in corporate strategy and corporate finance before eventually striking out fully to build an enterprise software business that scaled to serve hundreds of thousands of users across various sectors in Africa. Through angel investing, I became curious about the role venture capital could play in building a better future in Africa and demonstrating prosperity.

This led to the formation of Ventures Platform Fund in 2016. Today we are a leading early-stage Venture Capital Fund in Africa. Our focus is to partner early with entrepreneurs building market-creating innovations that will be tomorrow’s market leaders before they become obvious. I am grateful to now work with the entrepreneurs we invest in as an operator-investor.

What have been your 3 biggest learnings?

  1. Grit trumps everything else.
  2. It’s important to start with why.
  3. The journey (or method) is as important as the destination (or outcome)

Who have been your 3 most influential role models?

  1. My dad for his grit.
  2. Nelson Mandela for his grace.
  3. Don Valentine for what he built at Sequoia.

What inspires you to start your day?

Remembering why I started, and why the mission is bigger than me.

Adesuwa Okunbo Rhodes, Founder & Chief Executive Officer, Aruwa Capital Management

Tell us about your journey to Founder & Chief Executive Officer

My professional journey began at a young age with a strong foundation of hard work, focus, and independence. I attended primary school in Lagos, Nigeria, and also completed one year of secondary school before heading to boarding school in England at the age of eleven.

From an early age, I always had a deep interest in the world of finance. I found the impact finance had in every aspect of our day-to-day lives very interesting, so I pursued a degree in Economics at the University of Bristol. After attending a spring week for undergraduates, I was fortunate enough to secure a rare opportunity: an investment banking job at Lehman Brothers during my first year of university at just 18 years old, making me the youngest person at the investment bank at that time.

Following the collapse of Lehman Brothers and after graduating from university, I was fortunate to secure an investment banking internship with J.P. Morgan where I worked in the Mergers and Acquisition department and worked on several interesting transactions. I was fortunate enough to receive the full-time offer but I decided to take a year out to explore other passions before starting full-time with J.P. Morgan. In that year, I delved into the field of private equity by securing a position at TLG Capital where I worked on several PE transactions in Anglophone West Africa and made an attractive investment in a Ugandan generic drugs manufacturer. This investment not only had attractive prospects but also contributed to the country’s self-sufficiency in producing genuine medicines, resulting in substantial social impact. This experience solidified my passion for impact investing and private equity in Africa.

What have been your 3 biggest learnings?

The first would be witnessing my father’s commitment to work, there was a lot of sacrifice on his part even if it meant missing family holidays. It instilled in me the values of hard work, sacrifice, and focus early on. These values shaped me into the woman I have become, facing challenges head-on and giving all I have with hard work and determination.

The second would be that I knew in order for the change I desired to happen, I could not be a bystander, I had to roll up my sleeves and be the change I wanted to see in the world. I was determined to address the inherent biases and inequalities women, particularly women of colour, face in the fund-raising process, so I launched a fund of my own that could be a success story and a beacon of hope to other women struggling to fundraise.

The third lesson I have learnt is the power of collaboration. I have realized the immense power of collaboration and building strong networks. Surrounding myself with talented individuals, both within and outside my organization, has been instrumental in my success. Collaborating with like-minded professionals, diverse teams, and strategic partners has not only expanded my knowledge and expertise but has also opened doors to new opportunities and strengthened my impact.

Who have been your 3 most influential role models?

Sola David Borha, the former CEO of the Standard Bank Africa Regions is a role model of mine. Her consistency over a more than thirty-year career in pursuing excellence and best-in-class corporate governance in Nigeria has been incredible to witness. She paved the way for women in finance in Nigeria to operate at a high standard always. Another role model of mine is Ursula Burns, being the first black CEO of a Fortune 500 company in the United States is no mean feat and doing it successfully with grace inspires me to always reach for the stars. Another role model of mine is Serena Williams, her dominance of the sport over such a long period of time highlights resilience, hard work, persistence and is a huge source of motivation for me.

What inspires you to start your day?
I get my biggest inspiration from my faith in God, and the unwavering support of my family. 
One has to look up to God for strength and wisdom because it is not easy for a woman to give her best in all situations, there are a lot of responsibilities that compete for your attention. It is challenging balancing it all but with a supportive family, the grace of God, and determination, I have been able to achieve a balance.