Nigerian-born Efe Ukala is the founder of ImpactHER and Vice President and Assistant General Counsel for a Wall Street Investment Bank. She spoke to Ifeoluwa Ogunbufunmi about bridging the institutional finance gap for African women-led businesses.
In 2017, Ukala set up ImpactHER, an organisation that promotes and supports more than 40,000 African women entrepreneurs in every African country through providing access to capital and markets.
“We have provided an incredible opportunity to help women across the continent tackle different business issues while also helping them access institutional capital,” she says.
ImpactHER’s intervention has launched more than 1000 female-led businesses online; equipped dozens of women-led businesses in Africa with business technology tools, thereby converting them to become tech-enabled; helped African women supply their products to US vendors; and provided millions of dollars in institutional funding to African female entrepreneurs to scale up their businesses.
Ukala has vast legal, compliance and private equity experiences, where she has advised and supported capital structuring projects for companies in Africa.
“I was always interested in finance and law and how we can utilize both to contribute to the development of Africa. ImpactHER started as a result of those two interests,” she says.
Keenly observing the African entrepreneurship space, and having led and advised on numerous investments into sub-Saharan African companies, she noticed certain trends.
“African female entrepreneurs were not accessing capital as were their male counterparts.”
She realised that African women who attempted to access institutional funding, were often unable to make it at the latter stage of the process. This was because their businesses were not properly formalised, lacked “good governance”, and often had financial management issues.
“My research on these issues revealed that there was a huge entrepreneurship-funding gap for African female entrepreneurs – the African Development Bank estimates this gap to be about US$42 billion. ImpactHER is my own way of bridging this gap.”
In the thick of the pandemic, ImpactHER overserved a heightened need for business support from women in its community.
“A lot of them needed help to access emergency business funding, transition their businesses to being completely remote and rebranding,” says Ukala. As an impact-driven organization, ImpactHER has been able to provide these essential business services to women which helped minimise financial loss.
“For example, a woman-owned Ugandan milk and yogurt production business was able to decrease its loss from about 50% to 25% immediately after our intervention.”
The highlight of her work with ImpactHER remains transforming small businesses to become more formalised and then giving them the opportunity to access capital and/or markets. Her organisation also supports access to new markets through the use of technology and helps businesses become investor-ready. She notes however, that although the pandemic has been a recent challenge, “it has been a great opportunity for growth”.
Ukala grew up in Nigeria but moved to the US where she obtained her bachelor's degree from the University of Chicago (where she was a Jeff Metcalf Fellow) and her juris doctorate degree from Washington and Lee University School of Law. She is also a member of the New York State and New Jersey State Bars.
Her advice to young lawyers is: “Be dynamic! Being open to constantly learning is extremely important. Make it a goal to learn something new each week. Such an approach allows one to provide more value to clients and other stakeholders.”
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