Penultimate Friday, NASA astronauts – Christina Koch and Jessica Meir – made history with the world’s first-ever all-female spacewalk. The plucky duo stepped outside the International Space Station (ISS), hovering above the glowing blue earth and NASA live-streamed the spacewalk on YouTube. It attracted much attention from those who are excited to see women in science crossing yet another barrier and are also attuned to the significance of the moment for girls and young women.
“There are a lot of people that derive motivation from inspiring stories from people that look like them and I think it’s an important aspect of the story to tell,” astronaut Koch said at a recent news conference. Without a doubt, the sight of two women getting down to work outside the ISS is meaningful for young people who remain hungry for female role models. “You can’t be what you don’t see,” is a common refrain on the importance of diverse representation in science, technology, business and other spheres.
But there is a flip scenario. Down on earth, in Nigeria, nay Africa’s stern paternalistic and conservative milieu, the “gentler gender” – the female of the human species – is expected to wear a lipstick, speak shyly and softly and carry a handbag. Not any longer. That entire self-serving, male gender conjured motif is being buried as new Amazons enter the fray and are changing the harsh, historical narrative – in all the fields of human endeavour.
Just last week, the Nigerian Air Force winged its first female fighter pilot, Flying Officer Kafayat Sanni and first female combat helicopter pilot, Flying Officer Tolulope Arotile. On the challenging business arena, the Aruwa Capital Management (“Aruwa”), a female-founded and led private equity firm focused on Nigeria and Ghana, announced the launch of a US$20mn co-investment vehicle. Significantly, Aruwa is one of the few private equity firms, jointly owned and led by an African woman – Adesuwa Okunbo Rhodes.
According to the unassuming, gentle but gutsy Adesuwa Okunbo Rhodes, founding partner of Aruwa Capital Management, “We are excited to have launched our co-investment vehicle and to be announcing our first investment in Nigeria at the same time. We are grateful to our co-investors who have put their trust in us and shared our vision for the continent, generating superior returns, while having a significant socio-economic development impact in the countries we invest in.
“Through applying a gender lens to our investment approach, we will ensure we allocate capital to those businesses that help empower women in society and improve the ratio of women in the workforce, at the board level and across the value chain, which is proven to improve profitability and growth and thus investment returns for us and our co-investors.”
Aruwa’s mission is to provide patient growth capital to established and rapidly growing companies in the small to lower middle market and it expects to execute four to five investments, averaging US$1-5m, over the next 24 months. To date, capital has been raised from international and West African-based family offices and high-net-worth individuals. The Vehicle is domiciled in Mauritius and management has committed capital, demonstrating an alignment of interest with co-investors.
Aruwa’s team of investment professionals and portfolio managers, based in Lagos, have already developed an extensive investment pipeline of attractive opportunities, having been on the ground over the last four years. The Vehicle has a generalist sector focus; however, the current investment pipeline comprises companies in the consumer goods, healthcare, non-banking financial services and B2B services sectors.
According to the company’s report, Aruwa follows an “Invest, Operate and Empower” model, whereby the team drives the institutionalisation of investee companies through active, hands-on involvement to support internal financial control, operational improvements in processes and decision-making tools.
As well as being one of the few private equity firms owned and led by an African woman, Aruwa will be investing with a gender lens strategy. Growth capital will be provided to both male and female-owned companies with the aim of helping address the gender equality gap within portfolio companies as well as targeting superior returns.
Adesuwa Okunbo Rhodes declares: “Being one of the few female-owned and led investment firms on the continent, I am excited about playing my part in changing the narrative with regards to women as capital allocators. I hope Aruwa will be an inspiration to other young African women who have a passion for impact investing.”
As it were, certain hard-to-ignore business environment factors make Aruwa’s intervention and novel concept transformational. According to the African Development Bank, over 70% of SMEs in Africa, which account for a third of GDP and just under a half of total employment, lack access to longer-term capital, creating an SME funding gap of more than $140 billion.
This fact resonates with Aruwa’s top-down analysis, which reveals that growth capital demand in Nigeria and Ghana currently stands at US $42 billion, growing to over US $160 billion in the next decade. Both commercial banks and the majority of the private equity industry focus on larger companies and larger transactions. The mismatch of demand and supply provides a significant opportunity for Aruwa to generate attractive returns for its investors while addressing the SME funding gap in its targeted countries, creating significant development impact.
Adesuwa Okunbo Rhodes, no less the proverbial chip off the old block, clearly draws her enormous focus and Chutzpah from her father, Edo State-born billionaire and philanthropist par excellence, Capt. (Dr) Idahosa Wells Okunbo, Chairman of Ocean Marine Solution (OMS) Limited, an offshore asset protection company, and a host of other successful companies.
An unassuming, disciplined, big-hearted, deeply focused fellow with the Midas touch and a large worldview, Capt. Okunbo, is no less a model, a case study of success who, in his life and business experiences, has traversed challenging grounds and come out tops, navigating with integrity and a deep belief in the progress of humanity. He has certainly infused in his children the strength and courage to conquer and explore new frontiers. Adesuwa certainly mirrors this.
Pace-setting business pioneer Adesuwa Okunbo Rhodes, jet fighter pilot – Flying Officer Kafayat Sanni, first female combat helicopter pilot, Flying Officer Tolulope Arotile and NASA astronauts Christina Koch and Jessica Meir, represent compelling models for women. They broke contrived glass ceilings in diverse fields to show the way forward for emancipation of the female gender. That clearly defines the trajectory to chart.