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Interview with Najwa El Iraki, Founder and CEO AfricaDev Consulting Ltd

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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.

Also Read Prioritizing A Traditionally Underserved Somaliland Population Over Profit – Adan Abbey

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.

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CEO Corner

African Bank Appoints Kennedy Bungane, CEO

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African Bank New CEO, Kennedy Bungane (Press Release & Image: African Bank)

African Bank (“Board”) announces the appointment of Mr. Kennedy Bungane as the Chief Executive Officer (“CEO”) and as an executive director of the Bank and its holding company, African Bank Holdings Limited (“ABH”) effective 14 April 2021. The Bank confirms that the appointment of Kennedy was done in accordance with African Bank’s policy on the selection and nomination of executive directors, and in order to fill a vacancy as well as add to the skillset on the Board.

Kennedy brings over 20 years of banking experience with him, having started his career at Standard Bank in 1991, holding a number of senior positions, including Head of Global Markets Sales, Head of Institutional and Corporate Banking, CEO Corporate and Investment Banking for Standard Bank South Africa, and a member of the Standard Bank Group Executive Committee. After joining Barclays Africa in 2012 as Chief Executive of Barclays Africa Limited and Head of Absa Group strategy, Kennedy led the sale of Barclays Africa Limited to the ABSA Group. More recently, Kennedy headed up the Phembani Group as its CEO. He also brings investment and strategic experience gained as the founder and chairman of Nokeng Telecoms and chairman of Idwala Capital.

Kennedy holds a Bachelor of Commerce degree, a Master of Business Administration, and completed the advanced management program at the Harvard Business School (USA).

Commenting on Kennedy’s appointment, the Chairman of the Board, Thabo Dloti, stated, “We welcome the appointment of Kennedy as the new permanent CEO. Kennedy has a keen sense for managing complex stakeholder issues. He has a proven track record in identifying and nurturing leadership, which promotes strong teams to deliver successful results. His passion for the role that banking can play in transforming society resonated strongly with the Board.

As an experienced banker, he also critically has a good grasp of the strategic challenges facing the Bank, within a muted South African economy and competitive landscape, as well as the required regulatory and governance framework.

 

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CEO Corner

African Visionary Fund (AVFund) Appoints New co-CEO, Atti Worku

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African Visionary Fund (AVFund) New co-CEO, Atti Worku (Source: African Visionary Fund Website)

About a year ago, African Visionary Fund launched with a bold mission to tackle the inequities and power imbalances in global philanthropy by driving unrestricted resources to African visionaries. At the heart of all they do their values of equity and solidarity, which compel them to center African voices at every level of the organization. They are thrilled to announce the Fund’s new Africa-based co-CEO, Atti Worku!

Atti brings a wealth of experience in the nonprofit world, is a strong advocate for local founders, and is dedicated to righting the historic funding inequity that can hold them back. Prior to joining the Fund, Atti founded and led Seeds of Africa for over 10 years. Seeds is an Ethiopian grassroots organization dedicated to developing the educational foundation for the next generation of African leaders. Under her leadership, Seeds grew from an after-school program serving 15 kids to becoming a full-time multi-dimensional school educating 250 students from pre-K to middle school, and working with over 150 of their mothers providing small business entrepreneurship micro-loans and resources. In just over a decade Seeds has impacted the lives of over 2,000 people, transforming the trajectories of students, teachers, mothers, and their families and creating a future brimming with possibilities beyond a poverty trap.

“My mission is to advocate for African visionaries to be recognized by funders as experts, equal partners and critical drivers of systems change. I’m excited to learn from incredible African leaders with big dreams and even bigger global potential.” -Atti Worku, AVFund co-CEO

Why Co-leadership

The African Visionary Fund is built on the firm belief that proximity matters. Seeded by a group of foundations and philanthropists who wanted to not only take action on equity but also be intentional about shifting the power over resources to African visionaries, shared leadership has been part of the Fund’s DNA from the beginning.

“Co-leadership is mission critical. We cannot build new models for equity-centered philanthropy without living those values within our own institution.” -Katie Bunten-Wamaru, AVFund co-CEO

The AVFund’s organizational journey started with collective and shared leadership in mind as our Founding Working Group worked with our leadership to inform and design all aspects of our organization and funding model. This majority-African, majority-doer group considered a number of different leadership structures for the Fund but gravitated towards co-leadership because it prioritizes proximity and equity, centers the experience of African visionaries, and ultimately helps us shift power.

Our Founding Working Group proved that we can co-create new models of philanthropy centered on collective leadership that shift power and center equity – our co-leadership model is the natural, values-aligned extension of that founding idea.

The Fund

Atti’s lived experience as an African founder has given her firsthand experience of the realities and complexities that local innovators face, making her a great partner in executing the Fund’s mission.

“This role is very personal to me. I see myself in the ambitious and innovative entrepreneurs we engage with at the AVFund. I hope to learn from them, and partner with them to redesign funding systems that give African visionaries an equitable chance of success.” -Atti Worku, AVFund co-CEO

The barriers for African visionaries have been well documented with data showing that less than 5.2% of US foundation giving specific to Africa goes to African-led organizations. And in Atti’s experience, sometimes philanthropy’s oversight of African founders translates into a heavy emotional toll, an internal struggle she also had to deal with in her experience fundraising for her organization. She is committed to helping other African visionaries by being “the voice that reassures and validates them in the face of injustices.”

“Raising philanthropic dollars can be a long trauma for African social entrepreneurs and other leaders of color. On one hand, you’re doing innovative, high-impact work, but on the other, you are constantly being asked to prove yourself on a level far beyond your peers, doing so, and somehow still falling short. Aggregate data on racial inequity in philanthropy already speaks volumes, but systemic injustice is deeply personal. It took me years to realize that I wasn’t the problem,” Atti shared.

On Co-leadership

At the core, the AVFund seeks to create a bridge between global philanthropy and innovative African social changemakers and to do that, it’s critical to have proximity to both our visionary partners and our funding partners. Shared leadership makes this possible.

“There is an inherent tension in the work of the AVFund – we call it the ‘play the game, change the game’ balance. We want to support African social changemakers to play the game to access more sustainable funding now, while also challenging the status quo in ways that build a more equitable philanthropic ecosystem in the long run,” Katie explained. “There will always be a need to balance this tension – having a co-leadership model helps us balance both sides of our work and not lose sight of either goal.”

Having been on both sides of the table, Atti believes a further added benefit of co-leadership lies in the fact that representation matters. “I have been a micro-funder through Seeds and have seen the value of someone like you believing in your vision and empowering it,” she shared.

“At AVFund, we celebrate and choose co-leadership because we recognize the importance of diversity for strong, grounded and authentic leadership.” -Melizsa Mugyenyi, Advisory Board Member.

The Future

Atti joins the Fund at a crucial season of our organizational journey as we look to deepen our impact across the continent – we are more than a third of the way towards reaching our goal to raise US$10 million which will enable us to provide 35 nonprofits across Africa with unrestricted, multiyear grants by 2023.

In the near-term, the Fund is also on track to commit atleast another $US1 million later this year and partner with more African social innovators. Atti is particularly excited to work with those at the forefront of leading-edge innovations whose potential for impact is inhibited by lack of resources and buy-in from funders.

“African visionaries aren’t often given the resources they need to validate the new concepts they have which really makes innovation very difficult. A lack of unrestricted funding for the disruptive ideas coming out of Africa limits potential and slows development. I’m ready to help change that in every way we can!” -Atti Worku, AVFund co-CEO

Source AVFund

 

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CEO Corner

Rolake Rosiji, ex-Country Manager M-KOPA Solar Appointed As The New CEO Of Jobberman Nigeria

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Rolake Rosiji, CEO at Jobberman (Source: ROAM)

Jobberman, the single largest job placement platform in sub-Saharan Africa, has announced the appointment of Rolake Rosiji as the new CEO. Rolake takes over from Hilda Kragha, now Managing Director of ROAM Africa Jobs, and will continue the work of establishing Jobberman as the primary platform for job searching, talent acquisition and transforming workplace productivity across Nigeria.

Jobberman’s technology-driven platform, which uses tools such as application tracking, data science for skills and personality assessment, connects over 1 million job seekers to employers. With over a decade of experience in the recruitment industry, the company has built a reputation of trust and strong partnerships with the country’s most coveted employers; matching talented candidates with jobs according to their skillset.

Rolake joins Jobberman with a decade of global experience in strategic leadership and operational excellence. Most recently, she led the technology and sales operations for credit financed smartphones and solar power sets as Country Manager of M-KOPA Nigeria; a connected asset financing company that makes financing for everyday essentials accessible to everyone. Prior to that, she was Head of Strategy & Business Development for Arla Foods Africa, where she developed distribution and joint venture partnerships across West Africa to rapidly scale up sales and worked in Corporate Strategy roles in Denmark and the USA. Her proven track record of business expansion projects, digital and technical transformation and executing strategic partnerships will be key to her implementation for growth and development of the brand.

Commenting on her new role as CEO, Rolake Rosiji said “This is a very exciting chapter in my career and I am delighted to be joining such a passionate and innovative team. Jobberman has built a brand of excellence by using technology to revolutionise the recruitment sector. I look forward to steering the company vision to build a market of greater technology adoption, democratic access and transparency that will tackle dominant challenges, notably youth unemployment and underemployment.  It is a privilege for me to be at the helm of this dynamic team as we set out to empower job seekers with key skills and improve workplace productivity for employers in Nigeria.”

Hilda Kragha, Managing Director of ROAM Africa Jobs added “I am delighted that Rolake has taken on this position. Rolake’s expertise, understanding of different markets and high performance is what makes her the perfect person to anchor the next phase for Jobberman. I look forward to working with her to take Jobberman to even greater heights.”

Rolake took on her role as CEO on February 1st 2021. Her focus will be to broaden the impact beyond the white-collar space and continue to work closely with Jobberman’s impact partners in tackling youth unemployment in Nigeria.

ROAM

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