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Demystifying Impact Investing in West Africa, with Evelyne Dioh
Episode 2614th July 2023 • Be & Think in the House of Trust • Servane Mouazan
00:00:00 00:25:37

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What if investing with a gender lens, and in a relevant way, could mean more impact and returns than we think?

In this episode of Be and Think in the House of Trust, I am listening to gender-smart investor Evelyne Dioh Simpa.

Evelyne is the Managing Partner of WIC Capital, the first investment fund in West Africa that exclusively targets women-led small and growing businesses. Evelyne was also recognized on the Black Women in Asset Management (BWAM) 40 under 40 list of Black women who are shaping the future of asset management.

Passionate about gender issues in modern African societies, Evelyne’s life mission is to contribute to the development of the African private sector, by reinforcing and growing small businesses.

In this insightful episode, we learn how to de-mystify impact investing when it's done in different parts of the world and how to focus on systems change to achieve breakthroughs.

Evelyne also paints us a picture of what international investors would have understood by 2033.

Highlights of this episode

(3:39) Be generous with business plans, and see all the potential

(5:18) International Capital is not used to fit our landscape

(12:01) Bring the capital where it's needed

(15:35) The dichotomy of return and impact

(16:35) The successful impact story of the Mburu bakery franchise

Useful Links

WIC Website:

Evelyne Dioh on Linkedin

Mburu Bakery (Mburu = Bread in Woloff)created by Isseu Diop Sakho

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Servane Mouazan 0:03

How do you show up when you are an impact investor in your part of the world? What do you need to demystify, in order for impact to take off?

Hello, welcome to Be and Think in the House of Trust, a podcast where we share a thinking moment with an inspiring leader who loves to invest in social and environmental change and helps us tell one another and the planet “YOU MATTER”.

In this series, we explore how to maximise our collective wisdom, grow trusted relationships, and how we can lead on investments that tackle today's and tomorrow’s thorny problems.

Today, my guest is Evelyne Dioh, calling from vibrant Dakar in Senegal. Evelyne’s life mission is to contribute to the development of the African private sector, by reinforcing and growing small businesses. She is also passionate about gender issues in modern African societies.

Evelyne is a Fund Manager and the director of Women’s Investment Club (WIC).


Evelyn was honoured on the Black Women in Asset Management (BWAM) 40 under 40 list recognizing Black women who are shaping the future of asset management.

so you are very very busy.

Evelyne Dioh 1:54

Indeed. Just first of all, let me thank you for welcoming me in your podcast. I have been listening to a few episodes and they are just food for thought. Always. So thank you for what you're doing to amplify our work.

Servane Mouazan 2:11

But let's dive in. Let's take us out of that busy-ness and deep dive straight away. You say that WIC Capital’s values are Generosity, Rigour, Commitment and Innovation.

How does it translate in your day-to-day practice?

Evelyne Dioh 2:27

We put it as values because to do what we are doing on a day-to-day basis, and to face the kinds of challenges that we face. You have to be committed; you have to be committed to the cause, knowing why you are doing it. And what's the end game? So for me, personally, it's the development of the private sector. To get there we have to have a specific focus on gender lens investment, investing in women-led small and growing businesses to kind of accelerate that growth. So once you know that and once you are committed to that, then you express your courage, your rigour, your determination on the call and on the day-to-day and then generosity What I always tell my team is... like I have been investing in this space in Senegal for 10 years, almost 10 years. And when you receive a business plan, as an investor, your mechanism, your ways to just see all the gaps, but in the business and all those reasons for not to invest. But what I tell them is you have when you receive a business plan, you have to be generous with it, and see all the potential instead of just seeing the gaps.Of course there will be gaps but these gaps, we have to use them as ways to support the business. 10 plus investment we support as we can doing our due diligence phase and passive investments. So if you do not have that generosity like you will, you know you will say no to everything because that's the reality of our private sector. And particularly, the private sector is really nascent and small businesses are also suffering from the environment where you will see lots of gaps generally. So as an investor, you have to be, to have that generosity

Servane Mouazan 4:16

and wonderful to have this term included in a highly technical but also intuitive business. I wonder if I'm hearing well the generosity is sticking away from fear, but also moving you towards imagination, and well and more empathy and looking at potential with people.

Evelyne Dioh 4:38


Servane Mouazan 4:39

So tell me more about your landscape. I know every landscapem every regions have got their own set to you know, their own particularities and you can't just tailor impact investing on a one size fits all patron. Tell me more about your landscape.

Evelyne Dioh 4:56

Yeah, it's such a good question because our landscape, our environment has defined the way we have structured the funds and the way we are investing; and then as, at times, when I see the way we are structured now I see that how challenging it is for us to attract an international capital, which is not used to that, to our structure, the way they're structured, the small size fund 20 million using to describe it. We are raising a 20 million US fund which is very small, but it's all related to our landscape. When, as I told you earlier, our private sector is nascent. We have just too few large businesses and those businesses are actually small businesses in Europe. But for us, these are large businesses. And when you look at small and compact because small inconveniences is businesses with less than 3 million euros revenue per year. And when you look specifically at women led enterprises, you see that actually, like in a country like Senegal, so 31% of CEOs are female, which is higher than average as a global average. Then when you look closer, these are very, very small businesses with revenue mostly generally, revenue of less than 200,000 euros a year. So when you know that you see the potential that these businesses have, because the market generally is also growing; we have a rising middle class in Africa, a growing population rising middle-class young population, these are all opportunities when you look at that with positivity, right? So these small businesses are actually the future of the continent. They're actually contributing to growth. They're actually contributing to job creation to innovation. And looking when you put it in contrast with all this opportunity, our democracy, it's a huge opportunity. So we have to be intentional now to invest in them now. So how do we invest in those small growing businesses? So for us it was about bringing equity, for us equity allows us to be hands-on as investors to provide the kind of technical assistance that these businesses need, yet we have to take into account the fact that financial markets are just being built. So exits are actually rare. And most of all entrepreneurs they are not used to equity, they're not really willing to give up some equity. So we you have to incorporate that in the way you structure your family influence, which is what we do. So we kind of focus on self liquidating structures using revenue sharing, cash flow sharing. This is when you observe your landscape, you know your environment, okay? You provide a solution that's adapted to that. I want to come back a little bit to the size of society. Also, when you know that these businesses are pretty small. You do not face a 50 million fund to start addressing a 50 million or 100 million funds that will then provide larger tickets of 3 million, 5 million. So for us it was about that small fund we started with the first very small fund of five materials. Now we are going to the second font is 20 million, just to keep providing tickets that go up to 500,000 euros per company. And then after that, I think this is so fun. We will have like created a certain number of small and growing businesses in Senegal and Cote d'Ivoire, that can be then addressed by those larger funds of 50 and 100 million.

Servane Mouazan 8:35

So adding to their landscape. I mean, you pointed at the cultural element, new language, every party has had to acquire. I read in your material that 43.9% of Senegalese women entrepreneurs who borrow money do so from relatives and only 3.5% of them use financial institutions to access credit so there must be some places where conversations need to happen. And these places need to be created as well. Right?

Evelyne Dioh 9:04

It has to be created. And the reason why only 3.5% of women-led businesses are funded by families or banks, is because at some point when you need a certain amount to scale up your activity and microfinance is not adapted anymore. Not only in terms of amounts, but also in terms of maturity of the loan and cost of the loan. But these businesses are still very informal and unstructured to be attractive for banks. So there needs to be some intentionality in addressing them, providing them with a certain size of tickets and with a certain level of technical assistance. So you have to put us restricted to a pre pre-investment and investment we have our own technical assistance facility. That's called the wIC academy, that serves a large number of devices. And then some of them are hydrates to our pipeline,

Servane Mouazan:

right. technical assistance, learning opportunities, convening opportunities, so tell me what are other points of tension is gender lens investing dealing with in your new setting?

Evelyne Dioh:

So as I spoke about the landscape, what how we structured our offer was totally in line with market enter need of this woman led businesses, but then we see that there is a gap between what is needed, what is done by intermediaries like we kept a lot of markets and availability of capital. Like at the international level, like everyone is speaking and talking about gender-lens investing, large institutions are talking about that about SMEs but then they are still providing influence and ticket sizes with conditions that cannot match the local needs. A simple example is when you talk to DFIs and they say okay, 20 million is actually very small. Even if they like what you're doing. Like our minimum ticket is 10 million or more No more than 20% of the fund. So it directly exposes but then I wonder. So if you invest that ticket size in that large fund, how are you able to reach those women led enterprises that are no markets?

Servane Mouazan:

Sounds like a monologue, not a dialogue, right?

Evelyne Dioh:

and these are the points I make very regularly on panels sometimes is of course even. But yeah, it's a lot how to solve it for me. It's a matter of intentionality, because I think that's really some sound who said like two years ago, three years ago, during the gender smart conference, that there is now enough money in the world to solve all the issues that the world is facing all the challenges, there's enough money but then what I add is that there's not enough intentionality to bring that capital to where it is needed. Mostly these are large institutions. It's the kinds of dfis foundations, they are large institutions. For them to be able to provide smaller tickets ... they see it as such a trouble so they say, they're not equipped for that yet.

Servane Mouazan:

There's an expression we use in coaching which is you're trying to find some milk in a hardware store? So Evelyn, you have huge knowledge of your, you know, the local landscape but also you have got a very interesting international background. You've worked for Alstom, Societe generale and Fonsys, what more have you learned from all your experience that helps you demystify impact investing and enabling it to take off?

Evelyne Dioh:

when I look at my past experience, I think everything kind of led me to where I am now. I have always been interested in impact without knowing exactly how to do impact when I was younger, I was looking at NGO space, DFI space, I also worked for nonprofits as a student. And I think this way I first realised that it was not necessarily the most impactful and then being able to work in private sector institutions like Society general, a large banking group in France. And looking at all like, the job I was doing there. I was exposed to like all the business sides of that bank, it's a generalist, you have everything, consumer finance, project finance, trade finance. And I think this is where I first realised that finance could actually be impactful. Because as an investor, when you are providing thhe capital, you're able to provide it the strings attached and those strings should be impact. Okay, and providing that capital but this is how you cannot do this activity, or upgrading a character but this is how I want you to impact I want you to create X amount of jobs and this is what we do now on a day-to -ay basis. Okay, when you invest, you have all these actual plans and some of those actions have impacts. So this is really at Society Generale, that I decided that I wanted to stay in finance and use it as impact and then I moved to Senegal working for a sovereign funds. So being at the forefront of the development of the private sector locally, but in relation with public sector as well. And seeing all the challenges that we had in terms of attracting capital also, to the continent and in our countries.

Servane Mouazan:

Is it part of the common ongoing discussions that sometimes people say well, you know, when you invest in an organisation and you create jobs, it's not the same impact than when you're creating jobs for a certain category of people, you know, there's a definition of impact that people never seem to agree on. What do you think?

Evelyne Dioh:

I think what stays with me always from those discussions is that whenever we present our funds, for example, people directly see the impact. But then it's challenging once they see the impact, they say it is challenging. For them to see the potential profitability and return that we can generate. So there's still this dichotomy between return and impact, which I think we should move past as tough. When we structure it when we invest in a company of course we want them to be impactful. So if you want them to be impactful in the long run in a sustainable way, they have to be profitable. Businesses have to be led by entrepreneurs who are able to execute projects that can provide return to us the investor and so that we also can provide returns to our own investors. That's a game I would love for people to just see beyond when you see gender of course there's impact but there is also returns. IN the end there is no sufficient data that shows that but still in the minds of investors. Gender is about impact and not enough about returns. And it's only linked to the fact that everything has to be built and the private sector is nascent, so a small Initiative, a small business can significantly go Convert significant return and at the same time impact so so so many, so many people and so many communities and I want to give one example of one of our portfolio companies. We invested in mid-2021 in a local bakery. So you will say okay, why your bakery, it's not sexy for fundraising in a bakery. But we saw the scalability of the business because her model was to scale to a franchising model first, and then Africa. And what we likes also about that bakery chain is a level of innovation. She was specialised in using local cereals and local foods for her pastries. So she started working in the region, not in the capital. Senegal is really central, centralised, like France, like everything is based in Dakar.. So she didn't start in Dakar. She started in another region, and so on seemed like she was already having she was working with local Groups of female farmers providing, like producing and consuming the cereals and the fruits. And then in her own production process, she's working with women as well training them as bakers, etc. And once you product, she actually has a boutique. And she had this network of women that she trained as auto-entrepreneurs, who will then sell the finished goods and she will encourage them to sell it with other products so that like they were like self-sufficient as auto-ntrepreneurs and she was training them on how to manage stock how to manage income, etc, etc. So with only investments, she was able to now instal a boutique in Dakar. Like the chain has the same mechanism in Dakar. And we are so excited about this day because like within 20 months, she was able to actually multiply her revenue by eight. Wow. Like within 20 months plus investment, we when we invested she had her when you have less than 100,000 euros per year and multiply that by eight. She created like 100 jobs between those women who are auto-entrepreneurs and then had direct employees. And that's not even counting the impact on the value chain. And we are just at the beginning of our journey because as I said, the goal is really to keep developing within Senegakand we see a potential to go into neighbouring countries like Mali, Guinea, etc. So these are the characters that we like to invest in. Women lens

Servane Mouazan:

This is huge. So you're telling me a story of her. She's not just one point in the supply chain. She builds the whole supply chain infrastructure, she creates an impact in everything she touches on you all handing holding hands and seeing returns quite fast,seeing results and returns quite fast.. This is wonderful.

Evelyne Dioh:

It's just growing their business and we are very excited. And then you know, of course growing fast it doesn't mean you do not have challenges because we are building the business. So we have to make sure that the governance is also properly in place you know that the costs are properly managed so that you know she's she's providing actual returns; that the jobs that are created are actually permanent jobs. This is all everything that investors can also provide beyond capital.

Servane Mouazan:

I can I can imagine in some other parts of the world where there is entire regions that have been deserted you know when people have moved to urban areas and countrysides is just desolate and there's no more jobs anymore. Nothing that's even a model like that could really sprout something fabulous. Indeed.

Evelyne Dioh:

Indeed. And you know, a lot of a lot of elements will talk about it often about that deal, is that she's actually providing quality and breads and pastries in those areas, which is actually a real gap. Like when you travel outside Dakar, it's so difficult to find good points. So, so providing a quality product nutrient for the treated product to the population at a small price that they can afford. This is also a big impact for us.

Servane Mouazan:

Wow. So what's the name of the business? We can't keep it secret.

Evelyne Dioh:

So she's called Mburu. Watch out. This is going to be a very, very big business in Senegal. Wonderful. She's a she's a great entrepreneur very open very like impact was in her core like she set up the business to impact.

Servane Mouazan:

This is great. What I'm hearing as well Evelyn is that what we might define our infrastructure in some parts of investment is not like this infrastructure. You really have the package of infrastructure that provides impact and return.

Evelyn Dioh

We do, we do,

Servane MOuazan

o the future. Imagine that is:

Evelyne Dioh:

First of all, I thought they have they understand that there is a need for local solution. And what I mean by local solutions is local fund managers, that are really know, are knowledgeable. About about the environment and landscape and not just knowledgeable in the book. Like in a book manner, like being really involved with the local entrepreneurs, understand their needs, being empathetic. There is really that needs first of all, and then second, I hope that they have understood that for this local solution to actually work. They need to be at the size of the of the local needs as well. So there is a need to support local fund managers that are focusing on small funds, smaller funds, smaller size funds, so that they can better cater to the needs of small and growing businesses in the region, and specifically women that but in general, small and growing businesses, because this is really the core of the African economy. And if we are willing and passionate about developing the continent, we have to accelerate the growth of those businesses. And once you understand that (local solution, small size), then you will have so much impact so it means these funds are doing smaller tickets, it means so the funders will then be able or decide to invest in those smaller funds or with smaller tickets like just live out the criteria having a 10 million minimum ticket or 5 million minimum tickets and be able to equip yourself with a team that will be able to do small tickets, but then scale by just replicating there is a potential for scale with replication not only doing large things, we are not there yet, so we have to acknowledge that and what could I add Yeah, I think I think that's

Servane Mouazan:

wonderful, So am hearing that it would have equipped themselves if they really listened carefully to the system that they want to explore. And that if they're a local, they can become more relevant as investors. Thank you so much. Thank you so much. Well, thank you Evelyne for participating in in this House of Trust episode, it was a pleasure, listening to your stories and your journey.

Thank you. So much for having me

We learned about that system-based approach and how to de-mystify impact investing when it's done in different parts of the world as well. The power of reframing that investing with a gender lens, the non-negotiable actually to realise an impact breakthrough.

So that's it for today, my friends, so listen to the previous and future episodes of Be and Think in the House of Trust it's available wherever you find your favourite podcasts. You can subscribe let us know what your favourite episodes have been and also which impact investor or social finance enabler you would love to see on the show.

For more insights, events and resources, you can head to my website, and you can get my regular Conscious Innovation updates. You can also find me online on LinkedIn etc. So leave me a note. I'd love to hear from you. Bye bye for now.



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