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Adesuwa Okunbo Rhodes: Leading a $20 Million Fund for Women Businesses

When Adesuwa Okunbo Rhodes decided to found private equity investment firm, she was clear about her aim. She wanted to empower women at the lower end of the business scale to build their enterprises into thriving companies.

Here’s why she made that decision:

Nigerian Women Entrepreneurs Aren’t Getting Enough Support

Despite what the headlines about billion-naira-conglomerates would have us believe, MSMEs offer a more accurate reflection of what Nigeria’s commercial space looks like. They constitute more than 90% of businesses in the country and provide 84% of its jobs.

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The ‘average Nigerian business’ is really the woman selling akara down the street from where you are.

She’s one of the 23 million women who run micro and small businesses in the country. That’s about 41% of all MSMEs, according to the National Bureau of Statistics. The men are involved, but they’re nearly just maintaining prominence in terms of contributing to our economy.

Like many other small businesses, these entities struggle with financing. They often have to rely on their owner’s savings or plough back profits, to remain functional. The banks can lend, but the interest rates, tenures, and other lending conditions make such loans unattractive.

Without adequate funding, many women-owned businesses have failed to scale.

The Solution: a Private Equity Firm Investing in Women-Run Businesses

Adesuwa Okunbo Rhodes’s answer to this problem was to set up a private equity firm that would fund and support women’s businesses. The firm, Aruwa Capital Management, looks at its investment opportunities through ‘gender lenses’ and goes for ventures that are profitable and have a positive impact on women.

Okunbo Rhodes comes to this with a lot of relevant experience. For over 10 years, she worked as an investment banker and private equity manager, in institutions like JP Morgan, Leman Brothers, and TLG Capital. In the latter company, she was involved in private equity transactions in English-speaking African countries.

All through, she’s found that women play only a minimal role in driving investment decisions. She wants to change that through Aruwa Capital.

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As an equity firm, Aruwa raises funds from private investors and puts them in promising businesses that meet its social-impact criteria. These enterprises involve or engage women through most of their processes, including leadership and employment. Preference is also given to entities making products used by females (including girls).

But this isn’t just about enabling growth for enterprises. Investors also want decent returns. Aruwa has a good story to tell here as well: research and anecdotal evidence both suggest that women are more judicious with business finances. There’s a higher chance of earning a return on investment from women-owned ventures.

Financing Growth and Progress

Late in 2019, Aruwa Capital launched a $20 million co-investment vehicle, targeting emerging and established SMEs. The firm aims to invest the funds in four or five businesses over the next couple of years.

At the time, Okunbo Rhodes spoke of her elation at being involved in moving women’s entrepreneurship forward.

“I am excited about playing a part in changing the narrative with regards to women as capital allocators,” she said. “I hope Aruwa will be an inspiration to other African women who have a passion for impact investment.”

Aruwa is continually seeking out new opportunities for impact-investment in Nigeria and Ghana, the two countries in which it is present. One business already in its portfolio is Wemy Industries Limited, a company that manufactures disposable personal hygiene products for women.

In the long run, Okunbo Rhodes intends for Aruwa to help women entrepreneurs across Africa. She’s banking on subsequent support from investors who see the enormous potential for growth that the continent offers. Thankfully, there’s no shortage of examples in this area to cite.

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Ikenna Nwachukwu

Ikenna Nwachukwu holds a bachelor's degree in Economics from the University of Nigeria, Nsukka. He loves to look at the world through multiple lenses- economic, political, religious and philosophical- and to write about what he observes in a witty, yet reflective style.

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