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INTERVIEWS

Impact Investing In Africa, Verdant Capital @AFSIC

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Investing in Africa, one of Europe’s leading Africa investment events will host its annual conference in London on October 7, 8 and 9th at the Park Plaza Westminster Hotel. Over 1500 of the most senior and influential people within the African investment world are expected to attend including 350+ investors.

Investors include Development Finance Institutions (DFI’s), Sovereign Wealth Funds, Pension Funds, Private and Listed Equity funds, Private and Listed Credit Funds, Trade Funds, Infrastructure Funds, Impact Funds, Venture Capital Funds, Family Offices, Foundations and Fund of Funds.

The conference will see 350+ speakers providing perspectives on the current investment climate and industry sector highlights discussing opportunities that are arising across Africa. They will assess the latest economic trends and fundraising environment and through lively panel discussions, interactive panels, exceptional networking sessions and punchy project pitching the event will deep dive into investment strategies and opportunities across many industry sectors.

One of our 2023 sponsors was Verdant Capital who has supported AFSIC over the past 10 years. We sat down with Verdant Capital and asked them about the trends they are seeing in impact investing in Africa, the current investment landscape in Africa as well as the importance of balancing social and environmental impacts and collaborative partnerships to drive sustainable investment in Africa.

What are the trends Verdant Capital is seeing in impact investing in Africa?

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We are an impact investor, but we are looking to achieve a “commercial return” at an acceptable risk, while ensuring a strong developmental impact. I do believe the market understanding of “impact investor” is becoming more nuanced, with an understanding of the objectives of investors such as Verdant Capital who have a clear developmental mission but do not intend to sacrifice returns or take excess risks versus those of quite different impact investors with a less balanced approach, e.g. certain investor backed by a single endowment or a single foundation.

How does Verdant Capital see the current investment landscape in Africa, and what opportunities do you find most compelling?

We believe that financial inclusion is the most attractive opportunity for impact in Africa, given both the ability to help people improve their lives, and the significant technological change that has enabled financial services at the bottom of the pyramid to be profitable.

Can you provide examples of successful impact investments you’ve made in Africa and the positive outcomes they have generated?

We invested in USD 7 million of junior debt of Watu Uganda, which strengthened the balance sheet and crowded in more senior debt. Since our investment, Watu Uganda has expanded its loan book by 35,000 clients, thereby providing 35,000 young people the opportunity to earn a livelihood by driving a boda boda (motorbike taxi).

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How do you balance financial returns with social or environmental impact when evaluating potential investment opportunities in Africa?

We do not see a trade between impact and returns in the financial inclusion space. We invest in the best operators who have highly profitable business models addressing an underserved marketplace. We have the highest standards of environmental and social due diligence.

What are some common misconceptions about impact investing in Africa, and how do you address them in your work?

We are addressing underserved opportunities and making money for the end clients, our investees, and our investors. With each year of successful outcomes, we address any misconceptions about our strategy.

Can you discuss the importance of collaboration and partnerships in driving meaningful impact through investments in Africa?

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We partner with our investors, which is where it all starts. We partner with our investee companies, who in many ways are doing the hardest work, providing loans to and collecting from the end client, in such a way as to enable the end client to improve his or her life.

What motivated Verdant Capital to become a sponsor of this particular investment event focused on Africa?

We have supported AFSIC for nearly 10 years. We believe it is an excellent meeting place for companies and investors from across the African continent.

As a sponsor for AFSIC 2024, what specific value do you hope to derive from your participation in this investment event?

At AFSIC we are keen to meet new investors for our Fund, and new prospective investees. It also provides an opportunity to share our perspective on developing a sustainable and profitable financial inclusion ecosystem in Africa.

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Considering the evolving global economic landscape, how does your organisation plan to adapt its investment strategy in Africa in the coming years?

 

Two years ago, we changed our strategy to be 100% floating rate in expectation of the sharpest rate rises in the global economy in the post-Breton Woods era. This prediction materialised, and while we believe higher interest rates globally are bad for Africa, we have the compensation for our investors of “money in the bank” in terms of higher yields.

The higher rate world has negative impacts on Africa, including a lag effect, and we are focused on maintaining strict underwriting standards for new investments in general, as well as a strong focus on macro-economic risk. Three-quarters of our portfolio today benefits from guarantees from outside Africa or natural hedges from outside Africa.

Over the past decade, AFSIC has driven investment into the continent and worked with a variety of high-level investors to raise project profiles providing an excellent forum for real deals to be done by the most senior of executives from Africa and the rest of the world.

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INTERVIEWS

Miracle Izuchukwu: An Encounter With America’s Youngest Licensed Black Female Commercial Pilot 

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Miracle
  • Started As Airport Customer Service Representative Before Becoming Flight Attendant*  

She is full of infectious smiles, with no dull moments. She is beautiful, intelligent, and smart. Welcome to the world of Miracle Izuchukwu, a 24-year-old Nigerian-born naturalised citizen who made history as the youngest licensed black female commercial pilot in the United States of America. Though she grew up in New York, she broke the gas ceilings recently when she became the youngest woman of colour to be a commercial pilot in the United States of America. She spoke to the NAIJA STANDARD team

What inspired you to be an aviator? 

I started working as an airport customer service representative before becoming a flight attendant. I met a pilot who instilled in me the passion to become a pilot.

What background got you to where you are today to become a pilot? 

It started with telling my parents that I wanted to be a pilot. At first, my parents didn’t support my dream. They didn’t see it as a possibility. My dad told me that if a black woman were flying a plane, he would get off the plane. My mom was totally against it. My mom is a nurse and wanted me to follow in her footsteps. My mom felt that to survive in the United States, I needed to be a nurse to put food on the table. Being a nurse was not my passion.

 

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“Flying is freedom. It’s a lifetime opportunity. I finally found a career that I love. Growing up, I had no idea what I wanted to do. I would watch a lot of TED Talks, thinking about a career I would love. Becoming a pilot is a fulfillment; I can do this job all day. I want young girls to see me in my pilot uniform and tell them they can also become pilots. Preparing the next generation of black girls that want to become a pilot is my top priority”-IZUCHUKWU

 

I’m the oldest of five children. In the African culture, the oldest sibling is responsible for caring for their siblings. My parents said that there was no way I could leave my siblings behind. My mom tried to stop me at all costs, but seeing my persistence, she eventually caved in.

When I left for Ohio, I wondered if I had made the right decision. When I left home, I decided there was no going back. I had to prove to my parents that I would be successful. Not only did I need their support, but I also needed them financially. I had to find a way to support myself to enroll in the pilot program. I found a way by taking out student loans. I succeeded, and my parents are very proud of me.

What is one thing you would like to change in the aviation field? 

I want a change in the pilot’s uniforms. Women have to wear pants and a tie. I would like to see women wear skirts and heels and have more options for wearing a uniform.

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Only 7% of pilots across the nation are female. What does it feel like to be a young female in this industry that is dominated by white men?  

It feels great. I’m very thankful for the aviators who came before me to have the opportunity to pursue my dreams.

How many flight hours do you have and need to become a commercial pilot? 

I need 1,500 flight hours to work for an airline.

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INTERVIEWS

There’s No Perfect Election Anywhere, Says Hon. Ebikake

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Hon. Marie Ebikake

Hon. Mrs. Marie Ebikake is a chieftain of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and the House of Representative Member Representing Nembe-Brass Federal Constituency at the National Assembly. In this virtual interview with ROLAND OGBONNAYA, she assessed the recent governorship election in Bayelsa State and why her party won.

 

What’s your take on the last concluded Gubernatorial Election in Bayelsa State?

I think the significant thing to note is the reward of success for the hard work and fidelity to strategic ground plans of the party, and the all-inclusive campaigns that were hinged on self-evident achievements of the Douye Diri government.

You represent the people of Nembe-Brass Federal Constituency and that happens to be the area the All Progressive Congress (APC) won in the gubernatorial election, what went wrong speaking from the perspective of a People Democratic Party (PDP) chieftain?

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The falseness of those figures attributed to the APC candidate becomes apparent once; you take into consideration the number of registered voters and the number of accredited voters in those particular wards that produced the alleged votes. For instance, in the February Federal Constituency election, comprising Brass and Nembe local governments, I won with a margin of about 6,000 votes, and the total number of votes cast in both local governments did not exceed 18,000. So, from just wards.3 (Ewoama), 4 Okpoama), and part of (Diema) ward 5 how could the APC candidate have possibly garnered 18,000 plus votes?

 

What’s the assessment of the Governor and what is your advice for him moving forward to conclude his last term in office?

Governor Douye Diri has his work cut out for him and has not lagged in the pursuit of that vision. Hence, his victory can be attributed to this singular commitment to the mission of achieving a safer and better Bayelsa State.

 

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How will you describe the performance of INEC and Security agencies at the gubernatorial election?

Given the vagaries of the human condition itself, society may never conduct the perfect election. And against the intimidations, inducements, violence and threats of violence from political actors, the electoral umpires and the security agents will have to be superhuman to get it all right. Albeit, their conduct in this election, especially, in Bayelsa State, deserves a pat on the shoulders.

You’ve been representing your people for about five months now, please kindly tell us the challenges and the victories so far.

The representative responsibility is an enormous challenge that is perpetual, and as insatiable as human wants. Hence every victory lasts only for a moment and is quickly subsumed under new challenges. On the legislative side, I can assure you that we are coming to terms with the fundamentals of law-making which means, we hope to meaningfully and positively affect the social and economic narrative of my constituents and, by implication, Bayelsans as a whole.

The APC and its gubernatorial candidate are set for the court

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If a candidate is dissatisfied with an electoral verdict, I believe going to court, rather than the street, is a constitutional and far more civilised option.

Bayelsa is a PDP state and you were with the Governor all through the campaign, so how will you be supporting the Governor to fulfill his promise to the electorate in his second term as a lawmaker?

The governor is the chief executive officer of the state, and his positive vision sets the pace for the upgrade of Bayelsa State. It’s my obligation, as a legislator, to make laws that would complement that vision, and be in alignment with the aspirations of my people.

What is your advice for the opposition in Bayelsa and what should the people expect from the Diri second-term PDP-led Govt in the state?

There’s too much angst in the opposition. The palpable animosity is unwarranted and should be toned down. I am an advocate of politics without bitterness and find dialogue with the people more effective than intimidation and violence which create a sense of insecurity, resentment, and fear, not love and patriotism.

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The last four years witnessed the groundbreaking up-scaling of the state through daring infrastructural projects littering the state, and it’s logical to expect continuity and a finish to this beautiful narrative.

You are the voice of Nembe-Brass in the National Assembly and you represent the people of Nembe-Brass, Kindly tell us why this area of Bayelsa State is known for violence.

When political players display disdain for the ballot, the alternative is any other way except the poll. But I think the era of trusting in intimidation and electoral violence to win, will soon be over.

What do you think is the solution to the violence in Nembe?

Am sure with further improvements in the electronic voting process, the role of violence will gradually diminish, and eventually, become obsolete.

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Prosperity Cup Project: Ono Akpe Says Support Has Been Tremendous

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The Prosperity Cup project’s director general, Mr. Ono Akpe, discusses the benefits and the reasons why the state’s residents want additional programmes like this in this interview with ROLAND OGBONNAYA.

In a build-up to this interview you said so much about the number of teams and one of the high points of this year’s edition is the encouraging news on support?

In the past, we have had wonderful support from SWAN who are members of our LOC. You can’t believe the knowledge they have of the game and the enthusiasm. We have had wonderful and exciting media support from AIT, Arisetv, Channels TV, Brilla FM and others.
This year we are in touch with Sports giants, Super Sports (DSTV), the international media group. They are going to cover the final stages of our tournament this year because they have agreed to be our media partner. Talks are in advanced stages and in the next few days we are going to conclude on that. We are very desirous that our boys have good careers abroad and locally. We are equally in touch with the NFF and the Sports Ministry to ensure that we are properly guided and given the necessary support. We have also contacted the coaches in Abuja and the main body of the Nigerian Referees.
They will come and monitor the matches and possibly select players for the various national teams. One thing we must note is that there won’t be any player who has featured in any club side allowed to play here. These are raw talents ready to be brushed for excellence.

How did you conceive the idea of this big grassroots tournament?

The Bayelsa State Governors Cup also known as Prosperity Cup is a tournament held in support of the Governor, Senator Douye Diri’s efforts to positively engage youths through sports, develop football talents at the community level, stimulate youth empowerment and enhance overall grassroots development thus engendering inter-communal interaction, peace and unity in the state and beyond. Initially known as The Restoration Cup,  it commenced in 2015 during the tenure of former Governor Seriake Dickson with 110 community teams from clubs, religious bodies and tertiary institutions.

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This is the sixth year but the 5th edition of the prosperity cup, which is equally the Bayelsa Governors football tournament. We started planning in 2014 but commenced fully in 2015 with the kick off at the newly built Nembe City College of San Stadiumin Nembe which our opening match was used to declare that stadium open. This was because the Ultra Modern Samson Siasia Stadium was being remodeled.

It was a tournament conceived to positively engage the youths of Bayelsa to become more productive, harness the existing talent which abounds in the state and to equally connect the people, and the communities with the Government in Bayelsa. That was the basic idea we had when we started in 2014.
We used that period to plan and look at the whole idea before the first edition held in 2015 with the finals in Bayelsa. It was an outstanding success with about 115 teams participating.

It was such a huge success that the Police Command in Bayelsa state confirmed that the crime rate in the Metropolis had dropped to its lowest level all through the period the matches were played. This is due to the basic fact that the youths were positively engaged. It gave us a lot of encouragement when we saw that lots of communities were engaged in the tournament.

The second edition was held in 2016 and it was equally another exciting tournament that saw 150 teams participating in that tournament. The rise from 115 to 150, showed us that the people were passionate about football, and the desire to see them excel. We were also encouraged by the interest shown by all the nooks and crannies of Bayelsa.

The exciting thing about the tournament in Bayelsa is that we played across the entire state. In all the eight Local Government Areas, matches were played from the beginning of the tournament till we rounded off the qualifying stages. From the coastal town of Agge to Azzuzuama, Imiringi to Odi, to Nembe and Akasa before the final stages with the last 32 teams coming down to Yenagoa, the state capital, it was a festival of football all through.

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You have enumerated so much on the exciting part of the Prosperity Cup. How are you mobilizing the funds for the events considering the number of teams involved and the logistics?

Like I said earlier, the Bayelsa Governors Cup which was initially called the Restoration Cup got so big and so popular when we had 165 teams contesting for honors, and the Minister of Youth and Sports,  Mr.  Sunday Dare who was our Special Guest of Honour in that years’ finals in Yenagoa, called it the largest Grassroots Football tournament in the country. That excited us. And that equally motivated us to reach out to those who we need to support us.

The support has been tremendous from the Bayelsa State Government led by the sports-loving Governor Douye Diri who has done so much for youth development in the state.  The Governor ably supported by the hard-working Deputy Governor Senator Lawrence Ewrudjakjpo and his Commissioner of Sports, Olympian Daniel Igali have in a short time taken the sports sector to enviable heights. With a burning desire to transform the youths of the state and indeed the region a lot has been achieved in this sector.

Governor Douye Diri has taken the state from the middle position in Sports to the 2nd position in the last sports festival having come third in the last edition held in Edo state beating larger and other dominating teams like Lagos, Edo, and Kano States. He initiated and started the Unity Games in the state which is the first Local Government sports festival in the State. The state became the first and only state to win the AITEO cup for the male and female categories in 2021. Our Mirracle Governor also hosted and sponsored thNationalal Scrabble Championship and wrestling championship amongst others. He indeed has the touch of a winner.

We have had support from Linkage Insurance company, Sterling Bank and other organizations within the region. We have also got the support of Century Group the Oil Service company, Bayelsa Board of Internal Revenue, the Local Content Management Development Board; they have done well for us. They have supported us twice. But surely can do better

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Very sadly, we expect more from the Oil Industry. We have not gotten the support of the IOCs like Shell, AITEO, Agip and others exploiting crude and Gas from Bayelsa even as it is worthy to note that Oloibiri in Bayelsa which has a team is the first place where oil was drilled in Commercial quantity and sold in the international market by Shell. Unfortunately, despite our concerted efforts, they have not been able to do anything for us. The NNPC and the LNG have also not been able to do anything for us. We expect that more organizations and corporate entities will do more for us as their Corporate Social Responsibility. They should know that the youths are involved, and it unites the state more when they engage in meaningful activities to ensure the greater success of the tournament. That is the position for now.

The last edition in 2022 attracted many scouts from within, Europe, the Middle le East, Europe, and Australia. What was the magic?

The last edition attracted not only international football scouts but equally attracted a lot of local scouts as well. It was outstanding. We had scouts from France, the Aspire Academy, Mamelodi Sundowns of South Africa, the Scout from Australia who commented that they came to Nigeria to look for players because their league did not have Nigerians and they felt it was a challenge that any league without Nigerian players is not seen as been outstanding. They needed to get a lot of Nigerian players. They came in and picked several local players from the tournament. It was a good outing for us and for our young boys. Quite a good number of the players were selected and screened need but some had documentation problems. We had about 11 of them expected to travel to Europe to places like Serbia, Asia, and other European countries. More have been snapped up by the local teams in Nigeria including but not limited to Bayelsa United. In tournament is fast turning out to be the true feeder pool for Bayelsa teams. It is important to let you know that in the 2019 edition, the team was taken to Cape Verde where they played the African Youth Cup. They came third in that tournament. That team was kept together, they came back and won the Bayelsa league cup, the first time an outside team could do so. Outstanding talents that abound in Bayelsa have been exposed through this tournament. The youths are engaged, the coaches are engaged, scouts, the medical teams and this is creating a lot of excitement in Bayelsa. We hope to move with our scouts, and the teams in years to come. This tournament engages over 10,000 footballers, administrators, coaches, referees and other allied supporters for over 3 months the tournament runs. There are a lot of expectations for this year’s tournament.

This year, we want to consolidate the gains of the previous editions. We are excited by the interest shown by the communities. Last year, we had 210 teams. It was astronomical and you could imagine what it takes to manage that number of teams in a tournament. This year we had 214 teams which confirmed it as not only the largest Grassroots Football Tournament in the Country but indeed in Africa.

We plan to hold a refresher course for the Referees and Match Commissioners in Bayelsa by FIFA-accredited officials. This will improve their knowledge of the rules of the game and strengthen their skills for optimum performance in this beautiful game of football. More so that a FIFA-accredited official is coming to undertake that programme. We have equally proposed a mini-coaching course for our coaches to update them on the laws and rules of the game. We believe in a well-informed society, free and fair officiating, and transparent conduct of all involved. This will improve the skill, management and handling of players and respect for the officiating officials.

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Again, we intend to have our international scouts coming in again. We have been flooded with calls from various countries in Europe, Asia, the Middle East, and Oceania. At the end of the day, we equally expect that apart from the scouts that come, a select team picked by the scouts will go on a playing tour. We are also in talks with academies in Europe, Asia, and the Eastern bloc. It is important to note that the second batch of scouts came for the last edition. The scouts from KAZ academy in Europe wanted to pick a lot from the tournament so they could be drilled and moved to teams that needed their service. They wanted players within the range of 15-17 years. In that academy, they go through football and school at the same time. We want more academies to come and take our boys to go through good schools and to foreign clubs thereafter. We want them to have an education and a career in football so they can have something to fall back on when their playing days are over.

This year, and very importantly, we want to introduce the female tournament segment. Eight teams will feature in the final stages in Yenagoa. You know that Bayelsa Queens is another high-flying team on the continent. They won the female league as well. The team is Champions of Female Soccer FA Cup and the league. With that, we expect to get new players who will be snapped by the local and foreign scouts and equally put in schools where they will combine football with education.

We want to be gender friendly and give the ladies the chance to also exhibit their talents. One of the highlights of this year is that we are going to have the female segment. It may be small, but it will be at the final stages and possibly four or 8 teams if we get the much-needed funds.

Of course, we have a schedule where and when the foreign scouts will pick the players and equally form solid teams from the entire number registered. We are going to assist the players to excel.

One good and interesting thing is that the players are very young. In some cases, we saw boys as young as 13, 14, and 15 from the nooks and crannies of Bayelsa playing. The two boys that are on their way to Serbia, when I interviewed them, were from the farthest part of Southern Ijaw. These are communities, and to access them will take you close to three or four hours by boat. Luckily the State Government has continued the massive senatorial road with multiple bridges to Southern Ijaw.

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These are the talents that abound despite the challenges of navigating to and from their places through rivers and the Atlantic Ocean. We were able to bring them to Yenagoa and they have not regretted it. It is exciting because the tournament is for boys and girls between the ages of 14 to 21. Since it is a community-based tournament too, we allow about five over-age players to be part of it. Though that is not the focus, the focus is on the young and exciting talents from Azzuama, to Sagbama, Nembe, and Brass Yenagoa.

I must acknowledge the support of the former governor of Bayelsa Senator Henry Seriake Dickson who initiated the tournament and supported it for three editions before he completed his second term in office and equally took the players to the African Youth Championship in Cape Verde. I must equally salute the incumbent sports-loving Miracle Governor of the state Senator Douye Diri who has given us the backing, financially and morally to ensure that this tournament has grown and is sustained. With his ever-hard-working Deputy Governor Senator Lawrence Ewhrudjakpo and the Olympic Champion, Hon Daniel Igali, they have overseen every activity of this tournament and made sure that things run smoothly. We must thank him for his support which has made the tournament a resounding success.

Indeed we must say that the Prosperity Cup has turned Bayelsa State into a mecca of football for our youths not only in the Nigeria Delta region but across Nigeria as a whole.

The 2018/2019 edition with 190 teams attended by the Minister of Sports Hon Sunday Dare who described it as “the largest Grassroots football Tournament in the Country”. A selected team from this edition came 3rd in the African Youth Cup in Cape Verde and also won the 2019 Bayelsa League Cup.
The 2022 edition with a total of 210 community-based teams attracted International Scouts from France, South Africa, Australia, and Russia and about 250 teams are expected to participate in this year’s edition. Indeed, the tournament has achieved a lot as several players from this competition now play in clubs across Nigeria and abroad.

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