Najwa El Iraki is an entrepreneur, business development and financial services expert. In this interview with Alaba Ayinuola, She talks about some of the biggest mistakes entrepreneurs make in today’s market, the African business ecosystem and advice for entrepreneurs and investors. Excerpts.
Alaba: Kindly tell us about AfricaDev Consulting and the gap its filling?
Najwa: AfricaDev Consulting Ltd is a business development and advisory firm dedicated to the African continent. We work with an ecosystem of partners in Morocco and the rest of Africa in various areas to provide one stop shop for investors and we are supported by senior advisors worldwide.
Our services include: representation and business development for international companies ; investment and financial advisory services; structuring and establishment services in Morocco; strategy consulting in Africa.
As such we support international businesses in their African expansion success. We play a key role in helping them to grow in the continent by leveraging on a deep understanding of local markets in particular in North Africa, as well as using our network of partners in SubSaharan Africa. We work mainly with the private sector, which is a driving force of Africa’s growth, providing business development for financial institutions, professional services firms and digital services companies.
We also help African entrepreneurs carrying out financial advisory assignments notably mergers and acquisitions (M&A) activities and fundraising for private equity and venture capital as well as helping local SMEs with their international strategy and finding the right international partner.
Alaba: As a financial expert with experience in Africa, what’s the biggest mistake entrepreneurs make when they start or run a business?
Najwa: Being an entrepreneur is really hard but also really rewarding. Below are some of the biggest mistakes that entrepreneurs tend to make in today’s market.
- Going for the money only: One of the biggest mistakes that any entrepreneur can make is ignoring their true passion and just opening a company to make money.
- Expecting success right away: Patience is key as well as being realistic about how much money you can actually make at first.
- Not being adaptable: You’d need to go with what is working now then always be ready to make changes in the future.
- Trying to do everything yourself:You’d need to know how to outsource and delegate to others and focus on the tasks that actually need your expertise and attention.
- Overestimating initial sales: This problem often leads to a shortfall in working and permanent capital. It’s no wonder that nearly 50 percent of businesses attribute their failure to a shortage of working capital.
- Ignoring social media: There is a tech revolutionary and entrepreneurs need to use it!
Alaba: What’s your view on small businesses experiencing cash flow problems, and forecast isn’t good. And want to tap into their personal wealth to shore up their emerging businesses?
Najwa: As an entrepreneur, you are thinking about cash flow all of the time. An entrepreneur should not just think about his personal funds but about different sources of funding being it debt or equity when available including from friends and family as business angels tend to be rare in Africa given the cultural context and aversion to entrepreneurship.
Banks are also cautious because they believe that asymmetric information is too important to get a good visibility on the credit quality of SMEs and startups. Investment funds can have too high entry barriers for SMEs and startups, and microfinance institutions offer low funding resources and prohibitive interest rates.
As such, every business needs to consider its financing needs as part of a business plan. The entrepreneur needs to evaluate his personal tolerance for risk. Most businesses have times where business is more robust than others and temporary cash flow problems may need to be addressed with personal funds if financing is not available.
At the same time, the owner should be looking to see if any changes could be made to help increase the cash position as well as profits. While the growth rate is slow, the focus of the entrepreneur remains on making his business successful through delivering value to customers, and that is the most healthy approach an entrepreneur can have.
Alaba: For a small business who have not made as much profit as expected. How can it bridge the gap until it start to make profit? Is profit a key component of a successful business?
Najwa: A profit typically means your business is financially well off. It’s important to identify quickly why your business is not making money. The faster you can discover where the losses are coming from, the faster you can reduce or stop the leak as you can then identify where you need to make changes in your business. There are some common reasons for a small business losing money (e.g. bad or inaccurate accounting, poorly priced products or services, nonexistent investing, etc).
Generally speaking it comes to a strategic use of your cash and investment strategies to potentially provide backup if you find yourself not making a profit. Additionally, there are a variety of available resources one can turn to for lending advice, guidance and support; family members, friends, professional network, financial solutions advisors, small business advocates, online content and more.
Alaba: What is your view about Africa’s business ecosystem?
Najwa: I think that there is still a lot to do based on what I have seen being done elsewhere (in the US for example following the Women Entrepreneurship Program I attended this month as part of the International Visitor Leadership Program –IVLP-). In particular building entrepreneurship ecosystems has become an imperative for African governments and business communities.
To create efficient and innovative African Business Ecosystem, there are a number of needed solutions.
First a better government is required. Kenya for instance is the most innovative African country in ICT by far, because they have good regulation and support from the government.
Also there is a financing need. A lot of people talk about venture capital in Africa but but not many do much about it. The levels of private equity investment have been increasing in the continent over last decade but most of the investments are in mature companies; only a tiny fraction of them are seed or first-round investments. The problem for African startups is that there are only a handful of true venture funds based in Africa and most U.S. and European VCs don’t have the local knowledge and connections, or the right business models, to make a real go of it in Africa.
As for SMEs, on one hand, we have businesses that complain that there are no financiers interested in partnering with them to grow. And on the other hand, financiers complain about a lack of a deal pipeline, namely viable businesses that can be credibly financed. This has led to the perception that Africa can not absorb the scale of capital theoretically available to the continent. But actually the real issue here is linkages and aggregation. What is required are more platforms and entities that link viable SMEs with interested financiers and aggregate business deals. Which is what our company AfricaDev Consulting helps with.
Then there is the issue of support structures for SME development. So while there is a financing need, an ecosystem that provides niche expertise, long-term partnership and technological support are also key. Here, large multinationals can have an impact as an ecosystem enabler.
Finally, one of the most important changes that could improve the climate for entrepreneurship is culture. There is a hope that the startup path will be more respected by African families and more compelling to youngsters. If that happens, there will be more entrepreneurs, more success stories and more people willing to take risks. It’s a self-reinforcing cycle.
Alaba: What’s your advice for entrepreneurs who want to start a business in Africa?
Najwa: I would just say that despite many challenges, the African continent, which has a population of over 1.2 billion people and some of the world’s fastest growing economies, provides entrepreneurs with a very rich ground on which the foundations of a successful venture can be laid down.
As such, the good thing about developing countries is that they are a lot of things that have not been done yet and a lot of problems that need innovative solutions. And this fact alone presents key opportunities for a lot of entrepreneurs to take advantage of.
I would add that there is no one single advice but the following points are worth taking into consideration for a starting business to succeed in the continent :
- Have a clear and adequate vision for your company that you focus on and learn how to communicate it.
- Choose your founding team wisely, which is what many investors are looking for.
Find a way to fund your startup and be aware of those sources of capital that are around us and within our reach. You should remember that if you have no proven track record, only people who know, like and trust you will be willing to take a chance on you in the early days of your business.
Another source of finance worth looking into is crowdfunding.
There are also hundreds of international and local organisations which support businesses that tackle issues such as environmental pollution, illiteracy, disease and other social problems. They usually provide grants, donations, loans, equity or even training and advice.
As previously mentioned, avoid some of the common financial mistakes entrepreneurs make when starting a new business (e.g. cash flow management is key; focus on customer acquisition; establish financial goals which are reachable and measurable).
Finally, achieving your desired success will take time and you have to be patient for it to happen. They are a lot of exciting success stories in Africa. So if they can do it, so can you.
Alaba: You are also the Managing Director in the North Africa for Opportunity Network. Tell us about this platform and benefits for Africa businesses.
Najwa: Opportunity Network is an exclusive business match making platform for vetted companies to share and connect to global trade opportunities, as well as strike reliable investment deals.
Opportunity Network partners with financial institutions to allow their corporate and SME clients to find their next business partner in over 120 countries in the world. Members can only be invited to join the platform by a leading financial institution, which does a pre-screening of each member of the network.
Current partners include UBS (global), ABN AMRO (The Netherlands), Intesa San Paolo (Italy), Caixabank (Spain), BCI (Chile), Citizens (USA), Alfa Bank, (Russia), Vietinbank (Vietnam), Eurobank (Greece), Sterling Bank (Nigeria), FCMB (Nigeria), YPO (global), GLG (Global), Entrepreneurs organization (Global)… and many more.
The partnerships we have in Africa form part of an effort by banks to put their African customers on a global platform and enhance their ability to do business in a collaborative manner with other investors across the globe. For instance, there are existing opportunities for African companies looking for an opportunity to export commodities, or looking for investment to grow. There are also deals for African companies in tech, healthcare, education, oil and gas looking for buyers, suppliers, distributors or clients of any sort.
B I O G R A P H Y
Najwa El Iraki is the Founder & Managing Partner of AfricaDev Consulting Ltd, a business development and advisory firm dedicated to the African continent. She is the Managing Director in North West Africa for Opportunity Network, a global business matchmaking platform headquartered in London that connects CEOs worldwide. She is also currently the General Representative of Lloyd’s of London in Francophone Africa.
Prior to this, she was the Head of Business Development at Casablanca Finance City Authority (CFCA), a public-private held organization dedicated to positioning Morocco as a regional financial center and a premier gateway into Africa. Najwa structured the project from its inception, contributing to the overall strategy for building a regional business and finance center.
Previously, she was Senior Manager within Mazars’ Financial Services Group in London. A role she took on after working within both large international investment banks (Lehman Brothers/Nomura) within their EMEA equity derivative business and a big four firm (KPMG London) advising financial institutions and corporates in various consulting areas including tax, corporate/project finance and restructuring.
Najwa has accumulated 15 years’ experience and holds a Master’s degree in Business Management and Finance from leading French and British business schools (Kedge Business School & Aston Business School). She is a qualified Chartered Accountant, member of both international accountancy and UK tax leading professional institutes (ICAS & ATT). She holds a certificate in leadership management from Harvard Business School and she is an Alumni of the IVLP, Women Entrepreneurs – 2019 (International Visitor Leadership Program by the US Government).
She is also actively involved either as a co-founder or a member in a number of business associations and networks in Africa (e.g. Africa Expert Network, CasaExpats, Women in Business Network of Africa CEO Forum…)
Najwa was named among the 60 most influential women in Africa in 2016 by “New African Woman Magazine”.
Najwa speaks fluently English, French, Arabic and intermediate Spanish.
Chantel Cooper: The Epitome of Empathy and Care
Chantel Cooper, CEO of The Children’s Hospital Trust (Image: Supplied)
Chantel joined the Children’s Hospital Trust in 2013 as the Head of Fundraising and Communication and was appointed as CEO in 2019. For her, 2020 was a year that reinforced the importance of the core purpose of the Trust and the difference the organisation wants to make in the lives of children. “Our cause is driven by the need to make a difference in the lives of sick and injured children. We are people who work together to save the lives of the children who matter. We all have a purpose!” she says.
Sharing excerpts from her journey, Chantel says:
“My purpose in life is to serve those who are most vulnerable: women and children. My career was driven by my passion to make a real difference in the lives of women and children. When I was 18 years old, I volunteered for an organisation that provided support for women who had been raped. While volunteering, I started working with women in rural areas in the Eastern Cape where we found opportunities to grow their businesses.
“My passion for women led me to Cape Town where I became Director of Rape Crisis Cape Town when I was 27 years old. After the birth of my two children, I moved to an organisation called St Joseph’s Home for chronically Ill Children. St Joseph’s is a step-down facility for tertiary hospitals like the Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital. It was a profound move for me as I was able to work with children who inspired me.
“One of the most valuable lessons I learnt is the power of love. You can offer a child the best healthcare in the world, but what a child wants most is their parents to love them and be by their side. This is the value I most appreciate about the Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital and my past experiences. This hospital believes in child-centered care and knows that a child heals when their parent or caregiver is by their side – even during the COVID-19 pandemic. All other hospitals had restricted access to patients, but the presence of a parent is imperative to their sick or injured child’s healing.”
“The COVID-19 pandemic taught our team that life can change in a blink of an eye and that we need to be prepared for all possibilities. The pandemic hit the world with such speed and velocity that we had no choice but to find a way to not only sail through the storm but also find ways to get out of the situation stronger than before.”
Chantel also states that 2020 provided the Children’s Hospital Trust with the opportunity to learn extraordinary lessons that they would not have normally had the opportunity to learn and some of these include:
- The value of deep listening and the importance of demonstrating kindness.
- Working in collaboration created the opportunity for meaningful impact for our beneficiaries.
- Opportunities do exist during challenging times; positivity exposed the opportunities.
- Adapting to change during uncertain times helped to build a resilient team.
“Our Trust team demonstrated ingenuity, compassion, resilience, commitment, and fortitude during a very difficult time. As a result, we surpassed our goals, and this enabled our organisation to reach more children and families. We are grateful for the contribution from every individual,” adds Chantel.
“Walking through the corridors of a children’s hospital during a crisis gave perspective on the real value of care, kindness, and collaboration. While children were not the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Social Work Department experienced first-hand the profound impact the pandemic had on children’s health and well-being.
“Unemployment, food insecurity, child safety and schooling were common concerns for many patients and their parents who entered the doors of the Hospital. The Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital values patient and family-centred care which includes care for the whole family from a holistic perspective.
“In response to the needs of the families, the Trust secured funding to enable the social workers to provide additional counselling services and material support such as the provision of food, hygiene, and home-schooling supplies to vulnerable families when children were discharged from the Hospital.” Read more on the Family Care Project here.
The core to achieving our vision is upholding our values of Integrity, Accountability, Kindness, Dynamism, and Collaboration in every aspect of our work. The Trust has a sound financial record in administration and good governance. For the past 28 years, we have raised funds to address many pressing needs, but much has yet to be done. With the help of many donors, we continue to give hope and healing to our little ones who need it most.
The Trust raises funds for the upgrade and expansion of the Hospital’s buildings, the purchase of state-of-the-art medical equipment, and new medical treatment projects and funds the training of medical professionals across Africa – ensuring that the Hospital not only retains its world-class stature but is able to continue providing life-changing and life-saving care for children.
The Trust relies on donations to fund these needs. When you donate to the Trust, 100% of your donation goes towards funding projects that change children’s lives (and the lives of the people who love them). The operational costs of the Trust are funded from an endowment, so your generous contributions are never used to cover administration costs.
Donate to the Children’s Hospital Trust today! www.childrenshospitaltrust.org.za
Neya Kalu, the new Chairman of The Sun Nigeria
Neya Kalu (Image supplied: Her Network)
Neya Kalu is the Chairman and Publisher of The Sun Nigeria, founded and published in Nigeria. A reputable company that publishes relevant news in Nigeria and around the world in over ten categories. She is also the founder and CEO of Basecoat Nigeria.
Educated at the University of Buckingham with a degree in Law and Finance, Neya leads the Board on strategic matters, establishes high governance, and oversees the company’s business.
Before becoming Chairman/Publisher of The Sun Nigeria, Neya, an entrepreneur, built and runs several successful businesses, the most recent being Base Coat, a nail salon chain in Lagos. She is also the Vice-Chairman of Sun Heavens Hotels and Resorts.
With a strong interest in social issues and a desire to empower women, Neya works with the OUK Foundation to contribute to the achievement of the SDGs one through six.
IoDSA CEO Parmi Natesan on Building Great Directors in South Africa
IoDSA CEO, Parmi Natesan
Established in 1960 as a branch of the Institute of Directors in London, the Institute of Directors South Africa (IoDSA) is a non-profit company (NPC) with members and is the only professional body for directors that is recognised by the South African Qualifications Authority (SAQA) (ID422). IoDSA mission is to influence, develop and advance corporate governance and directorship by pursuing ethical and effective leadership in South Africa. In this exclusive interview with Alaba Ayinuola of Business Africa Online (BAO), Parmi Natesan talks about the IoDSA she leads, its contribution to the south african economy, challenges, gender inclusion and diversity and much more. Excerpts.
Alaba: Το begin, brίefly tell us about the loD South Africa and your strategic role?
Parmi: The Institute of Directors in South Africa is a non-profit company and a SAQA-recognised professional body for directors in South Africa. It is also a promoter of corporate governance, acting as convener and secretariat of the King Committee and having ownership of the King Reports on Governance for South Africa.
Its vision is – Better Directors. Better Boards. Better Business.
Its mission is – To influence, develop and advance corporate governance and directorship by pursuing ethical and effective leadership in South Africa.
We drive corporate governance awareness and improvement through thought leadership, hosting learning events, performing governance advisory services and board performance evaluations. We contribute to enhancing the effectiveness of directorship through training and certifications.
Alaba: What would you say are the major contributions of the institυte to the South African economy?
Parmi: The enhancement of corporate governance and directorship has a knock-on positive effect to the South African economy.
Major recent contributions include:
- We submitted a letter written to the Chair of the Zondo Commission containing good governance recommendations for director competencies and appointment processes.
- We issue numerous media releases and broadcast interviews to raise awareness of governance learnings
- We offer discounts on our services to NPOs and SMEs, in an effort to assist them with improving their governance and thus growing and thriving as a business.
Alaba: Since your appointment as the institute CEO, what are your biggest challenges and role in corporate governance?
Parmi: We have a duty to hold our members to account in the public interest. This has meant introduction of a new member code of conduct and disciplinary regulations to govern this. What has been a challenge is that membership of the IoDSA is currently voluntary. An individual does not need to be a member in order to serve as a director. So there is unfortunately no common benchmark or standard for directorship.
Sometimes the IoDSA brand gets tainted by “bad” directors who are found to have acted unethically, as the public does not realise that these directors are not necessarily our members, and thus we have limited mandate to act against them. Another challenge is the way in which corporate governance gets applied in corporations, often in a tick-box compliance fashion. This is form over substance and not conducive to achieving the desired outcomes of good corporate governance. Changing mindsets and behaviour around this is critical and there is no one size fits all solution.
Each organisation needs to consider what makes sense for their business. Instead of wanting to follow a compliance driven approach of ticking boxes, organisations should follow a mindful application approach of putting practices in place that in their judgment ultimately achieve the necessary outcomes of ethical leadership, effective control, good performance and legitimacy. The judgment of the governing body is critical in this approach.
Alaba: What is your view on how leadership is changing, amid broader efforts in society to see greater inclusivίty in terms of race, gender, and socio-economic background, and a move towards making a more positive and sustainable contribution to society?
Parmi: We are advocate for diversity on boards, not only in terms of race, gender and socio-economic background, but also in terms of skills and experience. Diverse groups are able to tackle problems from various angles and this leads to better decision making. We have a specific focus on advocating for more women on boards. With women controlling consumer spending and forming half of the educated workforce, it does not make sense that they are still largely underrepresented in South African boardrooms.
The role of directors is definitely changing as we move towards a more stakeholder focused way of running business. In the past, the primary focus of directors was financial return for their companies. That has changed considerably over the years, where business is now seen as a corporate citizen of the country in which it operates. And it thus needs to be conscious of the impact that it has on society and the environment in which it operates. This is why integrated reporting (as opposed to just financial reporting) is so critical.
In today’s fast-paced world, achieving the right skills as a director is not a target but a journey: business models, socio-economic models, political models – sometimes it seems everything – are changing and old certainties seem to be in the process of continual redefinition. Directors, who play such a critical role in organisations and, indirectly, the fabric of public life, are least able to feel they have achieved the right skills mix.
In general, professionals have a certain credibility and respect in the market, which they need to protect through ongoing learning, adapting and competence.
Alaba: Let’s talk about entrepreneurshίp. What is your view on how female entrepreneurship can be fostered?
Parmi: Entrepreneurship is a critical contributor towards our economy and should thus be fostered.
Alaba: Το what extent can digital connectivity catalyse South Africa’s economic recovery, for example helping foster both flexible working and the levelling-up of rural areas?
Parmi: Digital can open many doors and opportunities for people to participate in economic activity.
Alaba: Before the year ends, what would you ultimately like to achieve?
Parmi: Greater awareness of the power and impact of good corporate governance can make, not only on companies, but also on a country. South Africa as a country desperately needs ethical and effective leaders to steer our country in the right direction to prosper. We have been lobbying for enhancements in director appointment processes in both the private and public sector in South Africa. It would be great to see some traction on this from the policy makers.
Alaba: Lastly, what has been the most significant-ever moment for you professionally – and what advice would you give your younger self?
Parmi: I have received many accolades including:
- Rising Star Award from the Nelson Mandela University.
- Finalist for Businesswoman of the Year at the Top Women Awards.
- Global Woman Achiever at the World Women Leadership Congress.
- Ethical Leadership Award at the SAICA Difference Makers Awards.
However, I think my most significant moment professionally has to be having the privilege and honour to lead the IoDSA. In fact I was the youngest person to be CEO of the IoD SA, and the first ever person of colour. This platform gives me an even louder voice to influence and advocate for ethical and effective leadership in South Africa.
In terms of advice to my younger self, a few things I actually often tell my daughter
- Girls can do anything boys can do – never let our gender hold you back.
- Pick your battles and don’t sweat the small stuff.
Watch IoDSA HERE