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Profile: Oryx Impact’s Guardans on backing Africa’s local talent to unlock opportunities

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Published on: May 10 2022

Oryx Impact aims to contribute to the creation of more sustainable and resilient societies in Africa by investing in local impact funds which support SMEs and businesses providing essential goods and services across the continent

Teresa Guardans, co-founder, Oryx Impact: “We want to create opportunities in Africa by supporting local talent. Talent is universal, opportunities are not.”

CV

  • Co-Founder, Oryx Impact, 2019 – present
  • Non-Executive Board Member, SI Capital Private Equity 2007 – present
  • External collaborator at Rothschild & Co (2007-2009) and Pictet Group (2009 – present)
  • Director, key client department, UBS Wealth Management, 2003 – 2007
  • Associate director, SBC Warburg Investment Banking, 1996 – 2001
  • MBA, IESE Business School – University of Navarra, 1994 – 1996
  • (BSc) International Relations, London School of Economics and Political Science, 1992 – 1994

In the early 1970s, the Arabian oryx was classed as extinct in the wild. However, ‘Operation Oryx’, a captive breeding programme launched a few years earlier, saved these endangered antelopes from total extinction and eventually allowed for their reintroduction into the wild.

Speaking to Impact Investor, Teresa Guardans, co-founder of Oryx Impact, explains how this tale of successfully reversing human-made damage inspired the name for her firm which aims to mobilise more private capital into Africa to drive solutions to the continent’s most pressing social and environmental challenges.

Guardans has a long and accomplished career in finance. Born to a Catalan family, she grew up in the UK and from an early age developed an interest in “giving back to society and do something for the common good”.

After studying international relations at the London School of Economics, and a stint at the United Nations in Geneva, she decided to move into finance, completing an MBA and later joining investment bank SBC Warburg. Eventually, she moved back to Spain to work at UBS Wealth Management.

Managing the investment portfolios of large clients, she felt things could be done differently: “I felt that one could do much more with their money other than just a financial return. But the way people were structuring things at the time meant they were having traditional investments on one side, and philanthropic interests on the other,” Guardans notes.

“What I came to realise was that philanthropy was really important but the [long-term] financial sustainability of investments was also essential.”

Theory of change

During her years at UBS, and later as an external collaborator to several financial institutions, she saw how that the lack of cooperation and knowledge-sharing between philanthropic institutions was preventing the sector from fully exploiting their resources and maximising impact.

“I could see that things could be so much more optimised, and the euros could be stretched much further. Rather than trying to work just on your own projects, as many philanthropic organisations do, I could see there was a need for more cooperation.”

She highlights attending an impact investment conference in London and joining the Toniic impact investing network, as two important events which helped her see impact investing as “the way forward”.

Together with Guardans, two other people played a crucial role in the launch of Oryx Impact in 2019. One was Sebastian Waldburg, the firm’s co-founder, and Guardans’s life and business partner. The other, was Lisa Hehenberger, director at Esade’s Center for Social Impact and head of impact at Oryx Impact.

Once they agreed on the need “to do something new on the impact space”, their attention turned to forced migration, a pressing social challenge which was making daily headlines at the time.

“We live in Spain, and small boats were arriving from the African continent on a daily basis. It was the end of a horrible journey for many people who embarked into the unknown. And those who made it across were the lucky ones,” she recalls.

NGOs and charities were doing “a fantastic job” in responding to the crisis and providing assistance to those arriving, and there was not much impact investors could do on that front. “We decided that what we could do as impact investors was to invest in the countries of origin to create opportunities. We believe that talent is universal, but opportunities are not.”

Working with Hehenberger, they devised their ‘theory of change’, centred around their vision to contribute to the creation of more sustainable and resilient societies in Africa, to reduce local and global inequalities and, as result, help paliate forced migration.

Their vision is built upon three key impact themes: job creation and economic development, climate change mitigation and adaptation, and gender equality.

Fund of funds

Oryx Impact’s investment strategy follows a fund of funds approach, backing fund managers with strong local presence and networks across North and sub-Saharan Africa.

“For us this is all about impact investing, not an ego trip. What I mean is that we want to support what is already in existence and local talent. Because who is going to know better what is needed? Who is going to know better how to do business and how to invest in African countries than somebody from that country who is already investing there?” Guardans says.

The firm started building its team by hiring senior experienced professionals with impact investing experience. Eva Abel, a Polish/Nigerian national who previously worked at the European Investment Fund and has extensive experience in fund of funds investing and venture capital, leads the investment team and is based in Lagos. Impact investor Kanini Mutooni also joined the company as senior executive advisor, based in Nairobi.

Oryx Impact is hoping to raise $250m for its first fund of funds, seeking to invest in local impact funds with a minimum of $30m under management.

“There is a big gap between institutional investors and the funds currently available in Africa. The largest investors in the continent are the DFIs and supernational organisations, and we think that to get closer to achieving the SGDs, much more private capital is needed.”

“We want to support what is already in existence and local talent. Who is going to know better how to do business and how to invest in African countries than somebody from that country who is already investing there?”

Teresa Guardans

Guardans says the size of the fund makes it more attractive to institutional investors who normally would not consider smaller funds. “From the point of view of the underlying funds, it also allows scalability. We can invest in smaller, emerging fund managers, who in turn are backing local SMEs” and businesses offering essential goods and services.

She notes that many of those smaller-sized fund managers are often led by female teams which “was something really exciting for us, because at the beginning we were worried that in terms of gender lens investing, we would not find enough fund managers who had that strategy”.

Using different impact funds databases, own market research and the team’s local networks, the team identified some 700 impact funds active in Africa, 200 of which have been screened for “intentionality of impact”, one of their key selection criteria, which also include being based in Africa with strong local teams, and the ability to generate attractive investment returns because “we want them to be able to attract capital and be sustainable in the long term”.

After a series of interviews and further research, Oryx Impact ended up with a shortlist of 60 fund managers, of which around 25 are now going through due diligence.

Ecosystem-building

Right at the start, initial conversations with institutional investors yielded mixed reactions, with some voicing concerns about both investing in Africa, and doing it via a fund of funds vehicle.

“We decided we needed to explore further, to gain more knowledge and be able to build a stronger base. Now, we feel confident, after having spoken to so many local fund managers, and really understanding what is happening on the ground.”

She adds: “A fund of funds is a really interesting way of ‘dipping your toe’ if you want to do impact investing in the African continent. Many people think that impact investing in Africa is all about microfinance and it is so much more than that”.

A fund of funds vehicle, she explains, offers investors the opportunity to reduce the risk of  their investment in Africa by diversifying across asset classes, sectors and geographies while giving them a broader view of what is happening in the region in terms of opportunities for both impact and financial returns.

“We are talking to investors about how this approach can help them scale and diversify their impact, as well as change or complement the way they deliver impact”, moving away from grants and pure philanthropy into impact investing.

She notes: “Investing in clean energy in Europe is so important, it means reduction in carbon emissions and creates a better environment for everyone. But in Africa, impact investing means saving lives, or allowing children to have an education, or to be able to have better food security or more efficient climate adaptation solutions. It is essential.”

“A fund of funds is a really interesting way of ‘dipping your toe’ if you want to do impact investing in the African continent. Many people think that impact investing in Africa is all about microfinance and it is so much more than that.”

Teresa Guardans

Oryx Impact aims to reach a first close for its fund before the end of the year, having already secured backing from several family offices, foundations and impact investors. They are currently talking to other institutional investors in Europe and hope to also attract African investors into the fund.

Guardans adds that the firm wants to contribute to the development of the African impact investing ecosystem by providing technical assistance to help local fund managers manage and measure their impact more efficiently.

“If you don’t have the resources to invest in ESG and impact reporting you are at a disadvantage”, something that is creating a big divide between fund managers in developed countries and those elsewhere, she says. “We want to help the managers that we work with to measure and report their impact, and that should trickle down to the underlying companies that they invest in.”