Breaking Barriers: Women Shaping the Future of Private Capital in Africa

…and their one piece of advice to female fund managers

“How important it is for us to recognize and celebrate our heroes and she-roes!” ― Maya Angelou

Leveling the playing field

Private Capital investment is on the rise in Africa, with investors from around the world recognising the continent’s potential for growth and development. However, despite the many opportunities for investment, there remains a significant underrepresentation of women in the industry, with just a handful of female investors and executives at the top of the pyramid.

In this article we speak with 2 industry professionals reshaping the future of private capital in Africa; these women are breaking barriers, challenging the status quo, and paving the way for a more inclusive and diverse industry.

Meet ‘Tokunboh Ishmael, Co-Founder & Managing Director, Alitheia Capital


1. What have been 3 accomplishments over the last 5 years that you’re most proud of?

The last five years coincided with my tenure as Chair of the African Private Equity and Venture Capital Association (AVCA) Board. Under my leadership as Chair (2018 to 2022), AVCA recorded significant growth and achievements across multiple fronts that I am proud of: the association membership grew significantly; in light of the pandemic disruptions, uncertainty, and physical limitations, we pivoted to virtual engagements and successfully delivered several summits and events, seamlessly; the value and volume of private capital invested in Africa more than trebled in the past five years; the number of female fund managers operating in Africa’s PE and VC space grew considerably with AVCA under my chairmanship producing a first of a kind look book of female fund managers and sponsoring a cohort of female fund managers in partnership with MEDA. In addition, we also successfully transformed the AVCA Academy into a digital platform available to all stakeholders 24/7 thereby creating more opportunities for participation, engagement, and knowledge dissemination.

Despite the headwinds brought on by public health and economic crises of the last few years, Alitheia remained steadfast in our mission of transforming lives and societies. I am particularly proud of our response as fund managers — both collectively and individually. Alitheia Capital, the fund that I co-founded and lead as Managing Director, mobilised quickly and effectively responded to the pandemic by doubling down on our mission of supporting high-impact businesses and entrepreneurs across Africa. We invested in several new businesses and re-invested in some pre-existing companies with the goal of improving the quality of live for the everyday person by ensuring access to and affordability of essential goods and services. The pandemic exposed the gaps in investments across Africa; however, it also showed the inherent resilience and innovative nature of Africa’s essential businesses and validated Alitheia Capital’s believe that social and economic inclusion is good for the economy as it provides a buffer against crises and disruption.

Finally, in December of 2021, we announced the closure of Alitheia IDF (AIF) at $100 million, making it the first and largest gender lens fund in the Africa. AIF’s mission is to invest in fast-growing women-led, women-focused, and gender-diverse. As a pioneer in this sector, I am proud to have contributed to raising the consciousness of the dividends of gender diversity and both the moral and economic imperative of gender lens investing, which in turn plays a key role in driving for equity in access to funding for female founders and women-led businesses.

2. What would you say has been your biggest challenge when investing in Africa?

Africa has a data problem largely due to the absence of structures for data collection, analysis, and archiving. The paucity of data makes investment a challenge across different phases of the investment pipeline — including during due diligence phase of the investment when historical data is needed to construct an extensive image of the business and the macro- and micro-environments for better decision making. This data problem obviously complicates investment selection, governance and decision making. Local fund managers and companies have developed innovative quantitative and qualitative methods of extracting data using alternative data points. This local knowledge demonstrates the importance of local fund managers in the landscape of making investments in Africa and addressing the asymmetric data challenge.

3. What is 1 piece of advice you would give other female fund managers fundraising and investing in emerging markets like Africa?

Be intentional about your professional and personal growth. As a female fund manager operating within a male dominated sector, you might encounter several ‘nos’ some of which may be unintentional, prejudiced or biased decisions. Do not let this stop you. Persevere. Identify your tribe, mentors and positive community that can guide, champion, and sponsor you. Invest in learning and opportunities for growth and drive for excellence! There are no limits, enjoy the journey and go after your dreams.

Meet Ann Wyman, Senior Partner, AfricInvest

Listen to the Podcast:


1. What have been three accomplishments over the past five years you’re most proud of?

That’s a very good and challenging question. I think we at AfricInvest have thankfully many things that we are quite proud of, I would say the biggest achievement is on a firm-wide level, that we’ve been able to build a platform that is both highly impactful; on the transversal approach to impact, on the social side in job creation and on the climate side where we are in the process of measuring our platform-wide carbon footprint; and also combine that with strong financial returns. Getting the balance right between impact and being able to speak to our investors about the attractive financial returns they’re receiving, is something to be really proud of.

A highlight story that exemplifies this is a recent exit that we’ve had in our financial inclusion vehicle called Five from a company called Instadeep; Instdeep is an AI company, which we invested in for its potential to bring value to the financial services industry. Later it went on to have some very important successes well beyond financial services, particularly in the biotech industry. It was an important contributor to the COVID vaccine, as well as other important discoveries and treatments of other diseases. It’s that kind of combination of factors that makes us proud to say we are investing in companies that are providing essential goods and services to more than 900 million people in Africa.

Another area where I would say, we feel we’ve had some big successes, or big achievements was being a pioneer in the venture capital space in Africa. There are now many more venture capital funds out there. But back in 2017, when we were launching this idea, it was still quite new. It seems today that is widely accepted, but we are quite proud of having been pioneers in the space and that our venture capital fund has got 11 companies providing solutions for service for more than 150 million Africans.

And finally, I would say one of our great successes over the past five years has really been around staying resilient throughout our portfolio during the COVID crisis — not an easy feat. Today AfricaInvest is still invested in almost 100 companies across its portfolio. I think one of our proudest achievements was really being able to be there for many of our portfolio companies as a strong partner, and helping them through what was a very difficult time; whether it was financially, changing business models and getting access to short-term financing when it was needed. We have local operations across the continent, with offices across North and Sub-Saharan Africa, and it really was that on-the-ground presence, that allowed us to be present for many of our companies.

2. What would you say has been your biggest challenge when investing in Africa?

Like many places in the world, the macroeconomic context of any investment destination is a double-sided coin. It provides opportunities; Africa’s strong growth trajectory with large demographic increases, growing cities, and increasing urbanisation provides tremendous investment prospects. On the flip side, it can provide periodic challenges; large foreign exchange moves can be very challenging for anyone investing in the market, along with political changes and regulatory shifts. These are themes that will be familiar to people investing anywhere in the world, not just in Africa.

One of the ways that we try to mitigate these challenges is by considering ourselves a truly Pan African firm. This means our fund strategies operate in many markets, which provides diversity; so even if there are macroeconomic challenges in one market, they will be outweighed by better opportunities in other. Even at the portfolio company level AfricanInvest try to deliver our ‘special sauce’ where we encourage company’s to think larger, whether that’s expansion regionally, or even to other places in the continent. This can cushion the effects of market-specific risks like foreign exchange pressure by making up revenues in and being able to shift into other markets.

The best way to approach this is to think of Africa is as many markets and to try and have exposure in as many places to mitigate those risks.

3. What is the one piece of advice that you would give other female fund managers fundraising and investing in emerging markets like Africa?

I would put this in a female context, only because when you approach fundraising it’s such a personal experience. Even if I or anyone else out there is raising money on behalf of an organisation, there is an interaction with whomever you are fundraising or hope to fundraise from, and I think women can take decisions not to invest with their fund on a personal level. My words of advice would be to try your best not to take it personally. We’re all in the business of trying to do wonderful things for Africa and raising money to make an impact in Africa.

So my real advice would be to keep having faith in the potential to raise money for Africa, and raise money for investments in private markets because there is an opportunity there. An opportunity not only to have a really important impact but also a strong commercial return. And that should give you the confidence to invest in this opportunity and persevere, even if in the short term you bump up against institutions or others who are not ready to invest today.