It’s well proven that for a progressive society, gender inclusive opportunities are imperative. Women must have equal access to education, employment, healthcare and financial services to name a few. Yet, the picture is bleak. With all the gains made through innovations such as microfinance and mobile money; a large population (women, youth and the extremely poor) remain financially excluded. In 2011, 7% more men than women had access to a bank account. By 2014 the figure had not changed. The case in Africa is particularly striking because women entrepreneurs represent a large proportion of African businesses but are still largely ignored.
Initiatives under financial inclusion typically focus on providing small loans to microbusinesses (excluding SMEs) which form the backbone of an economy. Unfortunately, in the case of Africa, this thin focus means growth-oriented businesses owned or managed by women are restricted to micro trading/services. Further, even when capital is available, women entrepreneurs are often not specifically or proactively targeted, and are even less likely than men to seek external funding.
Women-led businesses with high potential for growth and scale are the target of the Alitheia Identity Fund: a private equity fund that will invest in SMEs with significant womenparticipation, and gender diverse teams. Below is an interview between Capria staff and the CIO and CEO of Alitheia Identity Fund: ‘Tokunboh Ishmael and Anne-Marie Chidzero.
Tell us a bit about Alitheia Identity Fund. Who is behind it, and how did the idea of a ‘Women’s Fund’ come to be?
Anne-Marie: The Alitheia Identity Fund is a pan-African SME fund with a gender focus. The Fund will invest in innovative, growth stage SMEs that are women led or gender balanced. In Africa, SMEs are businesses that have less than $10 million turnover, and/or less than 100 employees. Our standard for women participation means at least 30% ownership or management of the business by women. The target size of the Fund is $100 million, and it is seeded by the African Development Bank (AfDB), who has committed $12.5m towards the first close. We, the Alitheia Identity Managers (AIM) are a value-add investor, going beyond the provisioning of finance to facilitating access networks, mentorship, and markets for our portfolio companies.
Instituted in 2014, AIM is a fund manager co-founded by three highly accomplished women who met on their individual quests for gender inclusive finance. Our Chief Investment Officer, ‘Tokunboh Ishmael is the co-founder of Alitheia Capital, a private equity fund in Nigeria, focused on SMEs in the finance, energy and housing sectors. With over two decades experience in investment banking and private equity in the USA, Europe and Africa, ‘Tokunboh has managed and advised on investments worth over $5 billion. The principal partner and COO, Polo Leteka, is the co-founder of the South Africa based private equity firm, Identity Partners. Polo began her career as a chartered accountant and later became the Chief Director responsible for Broad-Based Black Economic Empowerment policy for the South African government. Polo currently serves on a number of boards and continues to advise the South African government on economic matters. I, Anne-Marie Chidzero, am the CEO of AIM and have over 20 years experience in financial inclusion and private equity. I am currently active in various leadership and management capacities such as the Africa Enterprise Challenge Fund, and have managed investments worth over $300 million.
‘Tokunboh, Polo and I have known each other for many years having engaged at various fora including African Venture Capital and Private Equity Association and African Women’s Economic Summit. Partnering to create a pan-African fund to invest in SMEs with a lens on women came after a joint engagement with the Gender Head at AfDB in 2014. Soon after AIF was founded, a merging of ideals, experience and vision. The founders of AIM are passionate, prepared and proficient to successfully drive and deliver the mandate of the Fund.
What part of the investment cycle is the Fund at currently? Any investments yet?
‘Tokunboh: AIM is still fund raising. We have secured commitments from AfDB and have been invited to be in Capria’s second Cohort. We are also in the due diligence process for a number of other potential investors. We are aiming for a first close by early 2017.
What has been your greatest challenge in the process so far?
Anne-Marie: [Laughs] Fund raising! Convincing investors is always a challenge. We’ve noticed that people quickly categorize us as an impact investment fund, but we think of ourselves as a standard private equity fund capitalizing on a funding gap that will have impact on Africa’s women. Our experience has been that once a potential investor meets the team; they are much more excited about the opportunity.
AIM is differentiated by its strong team and investment mission. Why did you apply to Capria? Tell us about your relationship with Capria and your expectations.
‘Tokunboh: Capria is uniquely positioned as not just an investor, but also an accelerator for fund managers. We expect to benefit from Capria’s expertise, network, and resources, as well as learn from other fund managers in the cohort. To be candid, we were initially a bit sceptical about working with Capria, but were soon convinced after conversations with their team. In the competitive market, it is important that our fund raising strategy speaks to different investor categories and that we are able to communicate effectively to the touch points of different kinds of investors. Capria’s approach to fund raising is already enhancing our skills and expanding our network beyond our typically DFI funders, which is critical to attracting institutional LPs.
Before we head to Seattle in September, we are benefitting from Capria’s input into our fund raising strategy and marketing materials. We expect to be continuously learning as we go through the investment cycle, and gain from Capria’s experience and insight into structuring deals and making exits.
What types of applicants would you encourage to apply to Capria, and what would your advice to them be?
Anne-Marie: Alitheia Identity Fund aims to be a company with a global brand and sustainable impact. We believe Capria has a lot to offer fund managers who have started to test their investment thesis and are looking beyond their familiar investor networks and standard geographies. We began making referrals to others in our network the week after we signed the term sheet. Our advice to anyone applying is to be prepared to demonstrate real fundraising traction and a deep understanding of the region in which you’re investing. Also, be ready to work really hard, as it’s the only way to get accepted and benefit from the program!
Anne-Marie Chidzero and Tokunboh Ishmael are co-founders of Alitheia Identity and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Strengthening Access to Finance for Women-Owned SMEs in Developing Countries
- Giving credit where it is due – How closing the credit gap for women-owned SMEs can drive global growth (A report by Goldman Sachs)
- Establishing a baseline for lending to women-owned businesses (A report by International Finance Corporation)