Botho Founder on Importance of Investing in Women

Originally published on March 8th, 2018 in honor of International Women's Day:

Why This Man Is Investing in More Women


To press for progress, you have to put your money where your mouth is

I dove into the entrepreneurship ecosystem in 2005 with the goal of being part of a generation of leaders committed to “building transformative businesses in Africa.” That mission has led me to become involved in groundbreaking deals and innovative projects as an entrepreneur, as an implementer, and occasionally, as an investor. In the world’s second-fastest growing region, that isn’t necessarily a unique idea. Each day, new companies and investors scramble to make inroads in these diverse emerging markets.

However, there is one aspect of our approach at Botho Emerging Markets Group that is different: from our internal staff to the external companies we invest in, women are at the core of our company. It’s not a marketing accent nor is it by accident. Rather, Botho’s decision to operate with a gender lens is built on another simple idea: we work with the best. In many cases, “the best” have been truly inspiring women, a definition that has been shaped by the strong female characters in our lives.

Here’s what I know: Women excel in emotional intelligence, which can translate to better customer service and employee management. Investing in women-owned businesses can lead to higher returns to society because, according to OECD data, women typically invest higher proportions of their income back into their families and communities than men. The data isn’t the only thing guiding this decision — it’s also what I was raised with and the foundation of my early professional life.

There are several women who have played a key role in shaping the way I approach life and business. Without a doubt, the first is my mother, Cecilia, who gave me first taste in business at 11 years old when I worked as a sales clerk in her catering business. That small shop paid for my school fees for many years. Through her business dealings, my aunt Matilda, who sold textiles and other products across West Africa, taught me more about intra-African trade than any textbook ever could as did my aunt Kate, who through her steely-eyed negotiations with government officials and business leaders taught me the art of “hustle” and never to take no for an answer. As a newly minted graduate, my first managers Kim, Courteney and Katin, stretched my mind by pushing me to embrace the science of operations management in a real way. Finally, I am forever in awe of Loretta, who even when dying from cancer, taught me about sacrifice, grit, and hard-work. In a world in which women are often paid less than men and receive less access to resources, these female influencers in my own life taught me patience, discipline, and a willingness to learn. They helped strip me of the blinders covering the eyes of many investors today when it comes to the under-tapped potential for women-led ventures.

But despite Botho’s optimism and commitment to supporting women-led businesses in Africa, we also recognize the unique hurdles that these businesses face. According to the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor, Sub-Saharan Africa has the highest female entrepreneurship rates globally; however, this figure is misleading. While Africa is no stranger to women in the workplace forging their own paths, women across the region are often involved in early-stage entrepreneurship driven by subsistence as they simply try to get by. There are many women like my mother and aunts, for example, who worked hard running their businesses to put food on the table. Despite their grit, these businesses often fade when the founder moves on. My goal is to work alongside the businesses we work with to ensure that they expand beyond their founders, and become catalysts for long term growth.

Globally, women in business face considerable challenges from lack of access to capital to insufficient networks for peer support, investment, and business opportunities. But to solve these long standing challenges, we need new approaches. At Botho, we’ve developed two interventions aimed at governments and donors committed to accelerating their contributions to women’s empowerment, on one hand, and a capacity-building strategy our investees (the majority of which are women-led) on the other.

Our advisory work is collaborative rather than prescriptive. There are innumerable reports and white papers that circulate on business, entrepreneurship, and women’s empowerment in Africa; however, for all the proposals critically examining the problems at hand, there is a scarcity of continuous reflection at the implementation stage. As we advise governments and donors, we pursue a partnership model. We believe that this approach enables opportunities for critical thinking, but, even more importantly, it generates opportunities to course-correct based on ongoing lessons learned rather than a post-project assessment.

Success takes a village, not only a check. To that end, we are advocating for a new approach to investments in early-stage businesses that doesn’t only provide financial capital, but also encompasses some technical capacity-building. Botho’s staff sits alongside our investees over the course of several months to share our resources from financial modeling to business development strategy to improve operational strategy and build team confidence. Investing in women-owned businesses can’t just replicate the same structures of the male-dominated past. It has to take a forward thinking approach if we hope to reach gender parity across all spheres in the future.

There’s too much research to deny the fact that overlooking women’s businesses means overlooking a vast number of brilliant ideas and profitable ventures. According to Goldman Sachs, the world’s income per capita would be 5–15% higher if women were able to fully participate in the business community. Investing with a gender-lens is not only good for women, it’s good for business.

Isaac Kwaku Fokuo Jr. is founder and principal of Botho Emerging Markets Group, a leading African investment advisory firm.