60% of Mara phones’ 400-450 employees are women: This is why our quality is better than anyone else’s – Ashsish Thakkar; We are looking at the value chain of businesses and asking how do we support women across the value chain…from the factory floor all the way to the boardroom? – Tokunboh Ishmael
Challenged a few years ago at an investment forum about the number of women-owned businesses she invested in, Tokunboh Ishmael, co-founder of Aliethiea IDF, faced the realization that after 15 years of private equity investing in businesses in Europe, Asia and North America, the answer was: none.
It was a turning point for the former investment banker, although her partner and co-founder, South African Polo Leteka, had been doing exactly that for years.
“We realised that we were meeting many women entrepreneurs who were running formidable businesses…Africa is full of lots of female micro entrepreneurs, but they were not receiving any finance,” Ishmael told a packed plenary session at the Africa Investment forum which closed Wednesday 13 November, in the South African capital Johannesburg.
Ishmael was speaking as part of a panel session dubbed “Promises made, Promises kept,” which included Ashish Thakkar, CEO and founder of Mara phones, and Masai Ujiri, President of the Toronto Raptors. Ishmael and Thakkar were on stage to share their testimonies. Ujiri, made a second appearance at the Africa Investment Forum to show off the National Basketball Association (NBA) championship trophy which he had promised to secure during the 2018 Forum, while urging investors to look at sports.
Aliethiea IDF – a private equity fund focusing on women, was able to raise tens of millions of dollars in boardrooms conducted during the 2018 Africa Investment Forum
“We had about 10 percent of funds raised. This week we are closing on over 70% of funds raised to reach our target of a $100 million,” Ishmael declared to thunderous applause. The Bank provided anchoring seed fund of $12.5 million to the fund.
The panelists agreed that increasing up support for women across the different economic sectors in which they participate is crucial.
“We are seeking out those women to build scalable businesses…from the factory floor all the way to the boardroom” Ishmael said.
Thakkar, who also sought out investors at the 2018 Forum, said he made a promise to build two Mara phone factories in Africa.
Thakkar’s Mara phones – quality, mobile phones “made in Africa, by Africans,” opened its first factory in October 2019 in Rwanda and a second later in the same month in Durban, South Africa, in keeping with his promise. 60% of his 400-450 employees are women – the highest gender ratio in the world, of any mobile phone manufacturer.
The interest the phones have received is directly tied to their quality, which Thakkar believes is connected to the input of women.
“This is why our quality is better than anybody else’s. We have state-of the art facilities…it’s not just assembly, this is making the motherboards, putting over 1,000 pieces together,” he said.
Responding to a question about how to get more women involved and whether women stood to benefit, Ujiri answered that putting women in leadership roles only made sense.
When he took over the Toronto Raptors in 2013, there were no women at all, except for one secretary.
“And it really offended me…Women run our homes, they are incredible but when it comes to the workplace, we don’t want to give them that power to show their abilities, Ujiri said.