From special adviser to private capital champion. Seeking to make an impact, Abi Mustapha-Maduakor, the new CEO of the African Private Equity and Venture Capital Association, is driving the extraordinary explosion in investment across the continent
- CEO, AVCA 2021 – present
- Head of Finance & Business Operations, MedAcces 2019-21
- Chief Operating Officer, AVCA 2016-19
- Director, 3V Partners Ltd 2015-16
- Special Adviser, Nigeria’s Ministry of Industry, Trade & Investment 2012-5
- Various banking roles 2008-12
- Auditor, Ernst & Young 2005-8
- MBA, University of Oxford 2021
- Master of Engineering, Imperial College, London 2001-5
Abi Mustapha-Maduakor realised what she wanted to do with her considerable gifts while working in Nigeria in the office of a government minister.
“It made me aware of just how important the regulatory environment is for doing business in Africa, and it also convinced me that I wanted to go into an area where I could combine both investment and impact. My role as CEO of AVCA very much fulfils this,” she says.
AVCA, The African Private Equity and Venture Capital Association, is the pan-African industry body, which aims to promote a prosperous Africa that is sustainable, inclusive, and innovative by championing and enabling private investment.
Mustapha-Maduakor tells Impact Investor that the organisation focuses on four ‘verticals’: research, capability building, advocacy and networking.
In practice, this means AVCA tracks all the deals that happen in Africa and reports on them, as well as issuing more in-depth research pieces looking at important trends. An example of this is its recent work on achieving the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in Africa through private capital.
As part of its capability building work, AVCA offers private capital master classes to all emerging fund managers, venture capitalists and pension funds on such things as due diligence and financial competence.
“I am keen to educate potential investors and to build a greater appetite for investing in African venture capital. This is particularly true amongst Africa’s own pension funds who are allocating less than 1% of what could be allocated to this kind of investment,” she explains.
AVCA’s advocacy focus revolves around engaging “with governments and policymakers to ensure that the policy framework is favourable towards venture capital and private capital in general”, which is something Mustapha-Maduakor has had direct experience of.
Networking is also key for the organisation which hosts major industry events bringing together key players in the sector. “Obviously during Covid this has had to be a digital event, but going forwards I am very keen for it to be a real ‘in-person event,’ hopefully this year in Senegal,” she notes.
More private capital needed
The need for more private capital is clear. “A peculiarity of the African investment scene is that most of the funding of digitalisation is undertaken by DFIs (development finance institutions),” Mustapha-Maduakor says. The biggest challenge to changing that, she adds, is that “it requires a lot of capital funding, and the number of managers who can write the big cheques required is limited”.
AVCA is trying to get more private capital involved principally from Europe, the United States and indeed Africa itself. She says some of her “members are attracting funding from family offices; we just need more venture capital and direct investors as well”.
“The opportunity in Africa is vast. The fundamentals for the continent are very good, most obviously the large population growth which is leading to a growing middle class.”Abi Mustapha-Maduakor, AVCA
She hopes to see more private capital initiatives, such as infrastructure specialist Meridiam’s investment in the sustainable Raxio Data Centres platform . At the moment, more than 50% of venture capital deals have come from the United States, 30% from Europe, and only 20% from Africa and the Middle East.
Yet, “the opportunity in Africa is vast. The fundamentals for the continent are very good, most obviously the large population growth which is leading to a growing middle class. This has led to the consumer sector skyrocketing, and considerable capital being deployed to play this trend. Entrepreneurship in Africa is rife with 80% of businesses being SMEs,” she explains.
“There is a proliferation of tech in Africa and Covid has leap-frogged this phenomenon. The digital economy is booming – it is already 5% of African GDP according to the African Development Bank and is growing fast. Tech is disrupting a lot of sectors that were previously ‘analog’ leading to growth in ecommerce, data centres, ride hailing apps, and AI in healthcare.”
“Impact is a big output”
The World Bank estimates that approximately 45% of Africa’s population is further than 10 kilometres from fibre network infrastructure, which is higher than any other continent.
A recent EU report states that “while the continent reported the highest growth rate of internet access over the past decade, still only less than 10 % are connected to the internet in the least developed regions”.
Further figures included in the report show that internet usage of individuals is below 30%, internet access at home is at only 14.3% and just 7.7% of households have access to a computer in their homes.
Mustapha-Maduakor agrees. “The biggest challenge in Africa is the poor level of connectivity which means the foundation for digitalisation is lacking in terms of internet penetration of fibre optics.” According to her, there is huge variation across geographies with “some strong patches such as in South Africa and the major cities in Nigeria, Kenya and Egypt, and a few countries developing fast like Rwanda. Otherwise, a lot of areas are underdeveloped”.
Because of this “impact funds are very busy in this space in Africa. Which is no surprise given that impact is a big output of all investment in Africa, and this is an area where private capital can maximise its impact. As we move on from dependence on just DFIs we will hopefully see a lot more impact investors getting involved such as Leapfrog. I also believe, in the future, a lot of generalist funds will start to create their own impact funds.”
Mustapha-Maduakor pushes back against complaints of higher risks in Africa. “Yes, there may be currency risks, and there are some political risks, but in my opinion no more than other emerging markets. For investors it’s very important to go in with a partner who understands the local environment.”
‘Fintech is part of infrastructure’
Like US President Joe Biden, Mustapha-Maduakor is a firm believer in “soft infrastructure” – this refers to all the services required to maintain the economy, including healthcare, financial services, education, government and law enforcement.
She says that “when it comes to digitalisation, we need to redefine what we consider as infrastructure in Africa going forwards. Soft infrastructure is very much at the forefront of investors’ thinking and increasingly investors are regarding fintech as infrastructure. I expect a lot of investor interest. When it comes to fintech we haven’t even yet scratched the surface.”
Some of the most exciting areas for her are in healthcare and education. “Healthcare with the growth of self-diagnostics, and education with the growth in remote learning.” She believes both of these sectors are critical for the continent’s development and will have massive social impact.