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EFE UKALA, the institutional investor adviser on globally relevant matters

Efe Ukala is the founder of ImpactHER, an impact driven organisation that focuses on bridging the financing gap for women-owned small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in Africa. The organisation achieves its mission by helping African women business owners to access institutional capital for their business, scale their businesses while also helping them tackle business operational challenges, access new markets through the use of technology, and become investor-ready.

 ImpactHER has trained over 5000 African female entrepreneurs in 43 African countries, on a pro bono basis, on how to run successful businesses and become investor-ready. ImpactHER’s intervention has, launched hundreds of African female-led businesses online, helped African women supply their products to U.S. vendors, and given African female-led SMEs access to over $1billion in institutional capital.

 Ukala is also an experienced investment/private equity lawyer and has extensive experience in private and public investments arising out of frontier markets, inclusive of Kenya, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Zimbabwe and Rwanda.  She has advised on investment worth over $15 billion in the U.S. market and over $300 million directed into Sub Saharan Africa. Previously, she served as lead counsel and Chief Compliance Officer at a private equity firm focused on investing into Sub-Saharan Africa.  Currently, she serves as Vice President and Assistant General Counsel at JP Morgan where she advises institutional investors.  Additionally, Efe served as the 41st Vice President of the Association of Black Women Attorneys NYC.

 Efe received her A.B. from the University of Chicago where she was a Jeff Metcalf Fellow and her J.D. from Washington and Lee University School of Law. Efe is a member of the New York State and New Jersey State Bars. She was an elected member of Board of the University of Chicago Black Alumni Association.

 She is an advocate for financial inclusion for African women and the prosperity of Africa, having been featured in Forbes and spoken at Harvard Business School, the United Nations, Columbia Business School, Cornell University Business School on issues relating to Africa.

My story

 As the first child of 4 children and a product of the federal government secondary boarding school system in Nigeria, I learned from an early age the importance of leadership, independence, and hard work.  Attending a federal government secondary school in Nigeria allowed me to appreciate independence from an early age and at the same time made me aware of the huge income gap in Nigeria. From my observation, I had a choice to be average or to work hard to be above average and hope that with a little sprinkle of luck, I would be successful.  At about 14 years old, I choose the later. I remember from time to time, my Dad would say, “has hard work ever killed anyone?”  I grew up having this phrase as a backdrop each day. I was so inspired to be the best that I could be – throughout my schooling and during my career. With this attitude, no task was too mundane or too intimidating for me.

In fact, I remember as a younger lawyer in New York, I would walk into an office and would realize the office was a bit dusty. I would literally pick up the cleaning spray and a rag, wipe the office down and then attempt to start the day’s task which is usually comprised of a list that I had written the previous day.  My use of the word “attempt” is not accidental because once I took my sit to start working on the task list that I had made from the previous day; I would quickly realize that other work emergencies had emerged that I would have to help the C-suite resolve. I would then spend the whole day trying to resolve such issues and would only be able to get to my tasks of the day at about 5 – 6pm. I would often joke that this is when my work day actually started, from 8:30am to about 6pm was my “pre-work” hours – I was just warming up for the work day. I would then proceed to working through my task list from about 6pm to anytime between 1am and 3am. And yes, the next day, I’ll be in the office before 9am.  I remain grateful for that opportunity, it allowed me to prove myself, test my limits and while doing what I love to do – lawyering. I, however, do not think I would have been able to be successful at that job without the skills that my parents had instilled in me – humility, hard work, and leadership. 

How are you bridging the financial gap for women SMEs in Africa?

Through my non-profit, ImpactHER, African women SME owners are given access to finance that they need to grow their business. The women are trained on how to build the best businesses possible – for example, a Nigerian woman that attended our training testified to having her business turnover increase by 40% within a few months of working with us. The women that successfully build the recommended infrastructure are then further trained to be investor ready and then connected to investor or debt financing partners. We have observed that some women shy away from equity and would rather raise debt. In addition, we also convert non-technologically enabled SMEs to tech-enabled SMEs, thereby, giving female SME owners access to new markets by leveraging technology. ImpactHER also ensures that these women are not working in a vacuum through programs specifically designed to cure the problem.

How are you able to train over 5,000 African women entrepreneurs in 43 countries

 Networks and technology. Given my experience in structuring investment deals around Africa, in over 15 countries, I have been lucky enough to plant deep roots and develop relationships on the continent. As such, we are able to leverage our deep networks and align with people that are equally keen about the prosperity of Africa. We train women on a monthly basis and consistently seek ways to improve our training offerings. 

Over $1bn in institutional capital…how are you able to do this?

In the entrepreneurship and investment space, the importance of network cannot be overemphasized. We have been lucky to connect investors to our trainees that are among the best on the continent and have large assets under management.

Did you always want to be a Lawyer? Share on your passion for being an investment/private equity lawyer

 Observing my father and my innate desire to use my voice as a tool to champion causes for the well-being of others has always been my thing. As a young girl, I observed my Dad advocate for the human rights of a particular client, an individual who many would shy away from advocating for under the circumstances. This observation changed my outlook on life and thought me the importance of one’s voice. I am extremely grateful for that experience as it made choosing a career an easy one for me.

 After I started practicing Law in New York, I felt Africa was calling me [laughs]. I was deeply interested in how I could contribute to Africa’s success story. I quickly developed a keen interest in the investment space, particularly as it relates to Africa. I then became very intentional about seeking opportunities that would allow me to combine my legal skills with this interest. This later on translated into real opportunities and allowed me to structure deals across several African countries from Zimbabwe to Kenya and in both private companies and publicly listed companies. I have enjoyed every bit of it. 

 Advising on investment of over 15billion dollars in the US and over 300 million in Sub Saharan Africa

 It’s been an interesting experience as every deal presents an opportunity for you to hone your skills and think creatively. Also, the investment space also allows you to consistently improve your critical thinking skills given that no two deals are always exactly the same and you have the opportunity to work on deals simultaneously on a daily basis. 

Being Assistant General Counsel  and Vice President at JP Morgan

It’s been an amazing experience and a great opportunity to work with such a group of talented and diverse individuals.  The job presents an opportunity of constant learning and working on interesting deals. It presents the opportunity to work on the most complex and sophisticated deals. As such, it keeps me on my feet.

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