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Agent of Impact: Adesuwa Okunbo Rhodes, Aruwa Capital Management

ImpactAlpha, Nov. 15 – One early deal stands out in Adesuwa Okunbo Rhodes’ accomplished but traditional career in finance: Quality Chemicals. The Ugandan pharmaceutical company supplies antiretroviral therapy and antimalarial drugs in East Africa. Rhodes invested for private-equity firm TLG Capital, and took a personal stake as well. The nice return “spurred my interest in impact investing on the continent,” Rhodes told ImpactAlpha.

To fuel more such deals in Africa, and for women in particular, Rhodes founded Lagos-based Aruwa Capital Management. She is raising a $20 million private equity fund, primarily from West African individuals and family offices, to invest in growth-stage businesses across the continent. She is keying in on gender throughout the process, from who is leading Aruwa’s investment decisions to the executives, suppliers and customers of the companies Aruwa invests in.

“I want us to have a coherent and consistent story from inception,” Rhodes says, “so that when people look at the impact and the success that I know will follow, they will think about allocating capital to women-owned funds and gender-lens funds in the future.”

Aruwa’s first investment is Nigerian personal hygiene company, Wemy Industries (whose male CEO is eager to recruit more women). Aruwa aims to make three or four more investments of up to $5 million over the next two years. Most private equity dry-powder on the continent is looking for deals between $50 and $100 million, which very few African companies can absorb.

“This segment of the market is the bread and butter of the African economy,” Rhodes says. “There is a significant mismatch between small- and mid-size businesses’ demand for growth capital and the supply.”

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