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Tokunboh Ishmael: Doing good by doing well

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Tokunboh Ishmael

Tokunboh Ishmael is an accomplished and experienced private equity investor with a proven track record. She is the Managing Director and co-founder of Alitheia Capital (www.thealitheia.com). In 2015, she co-founded Alitheia Identity (www.alitheiaidentity.com) a fund manager that invests in high growth small and medium enterprises (SMEs) with significant potential to grow profitably and deliver above-market returns. They do this through a proactive approach by searching for, identifying and funding female led founder and co-founder businesses in order to ensure greater participation of women at all levels from boardroom to factory floor. Tokunboh is a CFA Charter holder, corporate financier and M&A banker with a long history of working on over $5.6 billion M&A deals across the Africa, United States and Europe. With exceptional experience in the energy, oil, gas, technology and financial services, she is now focussed on helping to finance and build sustainable small and medium growth businesses in consumer-led sectors including Agribusiness, Financial Services, Healthcare and Pharmaceuticals, Infrastructure, Transport, Retail and Tech / Telecoms mainly on behalf of discerning institutions, development organisations and corporates looking for a mix of responsible investing, economic impact and social responsibility.

Ten years ago, Tokunboh Ishmael and Jumoke Akinwunmi started Alitheia Capital, a Nigerian-based investment firm channelling private equity investments to transform and close the funding gaps so as to meet the unique business opportunities available on the continent.

The empowerment of women-owned businesses is a key part of their business focus.

From the onset, they wanted to set up a fund management firm that is first, managed, owned and geared towards women; and second, they had a mutual vision and passion to extend access to home ownership and finance for households and small businesses with low income, many of whom are women.

“The problems we encountered daily in Lagos troubled us. There was the problem of access to finance and financial services for small businesses”, Tokunboh says. Furthermore, she argues, “the problem of indoor air pollution and related infant mortality due to a lack of access to clean energy in low-income households, the problem of poor infrastructure in schools in remote areas of Nigeria due to lack of affordable and sustainable construction methodologies troubled us.”

Although between them, they had achieved success in their specialist areas of finance, technology and real estate development, Tokunboh and partner felt that there was more they could do to benefit more people, especially making financial access for the unbanked and entrepreneurs through investments in financial intermediaries and financial technology (now popularly known as FinTech) before it was fashionable.

As pioneer impactor investors in Nigeria, they strongly believed that access to clean energy through the development of innovative working capital and energy-financing products should be a reality for everyone.

Tokunboh tells GuardianWoman that she and Jumoke “felt that all these problems could be solved via private equity while still ensuring positive social returns on our investments. It was as a result of the need to achieve these twin and sometimes perceived conflicting goals that our mission statement, (call it our mantra) was born: Doing well by doing good.”

As two determined women with a combined experience of over 40 years, they resolved to liberate themselves from male domination in key management positions in the financial and investment sector and act as role models for younger women (and men) by occupying those roles as women, not as men, and allowing for all that it entails: from the stereotyped idea of women in business to the awesomeness of their feminine power.

In a sense, it was this power that also gave them the sensitive nudge and desire to invest differently: to invest for more than just money but to also solve social problems, through impact investing.

“At the time, we had no idea that impact investing for both positive economic and social returns would become such a ubiquitous term and we would be pioneers,” Tokunboh says.

“As we launched the first private equity financial inclusion fund in Nigeria, the term would come to symbolise our objective for shared prosperity that is linked to social good,” Jumoke added.

“We fought to expand the mandate of that fund because we knew that technology would play a significant role in financial inclusion, to the point that we became the first institutional investor in Paga (www.mypaga.com), a Fintech company that is now the leading mobile savings and payments platform in West Africa.”

A decade later, the duo have made some incredible achievements that have caused them to smile and hit high-fives.
A few of these include: provision of access to finance for over seven million clients via investments in microfinance intermediaries; enabling access to clean energy for over one million households through partnerships and investments between energy and financial intermediaries; activation of digital accounts for over six million mobile payments users through financial technology investments and facilitation of investment in excess of $10 million into affordable, sustainable and safe school buildings for over 12,000 children in rural communities by deploying a simple manually-installed building components system

Recently, Tokunboh had cause to reflect on an article by Mckinsey, Women in the Workplace 2017 and was reminded that she and Jumoke have come a long way over the past decade, even if there’s still much for them to do. One thing they are, however, determined to do is to celebrate as they launch the first women-led private equity fund management partnership in Africa: Alitheia Identity (www.alitheiaidentity.com).

The partnership, proudly led by her, Polo Leteka and Anne-Marie Chidzero, brings together “our deep experience in investing and supporting growing businesses in Nigeria and South Africa.” The success of this partnership is a reminder that diversity, gender parity and equity is not only good for society but as the Mckinsey article shows, also ‘leads to stronger business results.’

The article reveals that black women report that they rarely, if ever have senior level contact, this in turn affects how they view their opportunities in the workplace and consequently impact on whether they go on to start their own ventures, more so than any other group.

Alitheia Identity, is the first African investor to proactively seek to influence the role of women at senior levels in the African economy and beyond by funding female founders and co-founders who are building scalable businesses with regional expansion and export potential in Africa.

Attesting to their joint belief, Jumoke says, “investing in women is not only because we are women … there is a clear commercial angle to this.  There are sufficient statistics that show that women owned/led businesses produce better financial and non-financial outcomes for all stakeholders”.

For Tokunbo, “This brings us full circle to Alitheia’s raison d’être – empowering women to reach their full potential, a quest upon which me and my partners embarked on for ourselves.”

It has been an empowering journey so far. But Tokunboh and Jumoke are already looking to the decades ahead to be in the company of more women in management roles who are creating global companies.



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