How to be a Catalyst Impact Investor in Africa with Pauline Koelbl

In this episode of Be & Think in the House of Trust, I am speaking with Pauline Koelbl.

Pauline is an Innovation Catalyst & Impact investor with a gender lens, with over 20 years of experience in international affairs, philanthropy innovation and entrepreneurship. She leads ShEquity, providing smart and sustainable investments for African female entrepreneurs and innovators. Together we explore what it takes to be a catalyst impact investor in Africa, the beliefs that are not useful and the efforts we need to put in, in order to grasp the reality on the ground and the huge potential ahead.

Highlights from this episode

(2:43) How to achieve a triple-bottom-line return

(8:37) Why you should understand the people around you

(10:15) Distinguish perceived risks vs actual risks

(15:42) How your biases are a limitation to achieving your objectives

(17:15) The definition of a catalyst investor

(19:12) Not just a leader, but a seeker too.

Useful links


Connect with Pauline Koelbl on Linkedin



Servane Mouazan 0:00

Welcome to the House of Trust. My name is Servane Mouazan from conscious innovation and in this show I invite people who ignite social and environmental impact through their investment of funds, resources, research networks and commitment to a better world. In this thinking environment, we look at the conditions that generate more trust, and more effective and time collaborations. We look at what makes it easier for investors to amplify their positive social impact and really change things for the better. And my guest today is Pauline Koelbl, an impact investor founder of shEquity, working with female founders throughout the entire African continent warning to one guy she's a Swiss and US citizen. Pauline has a background in international development, angel investing and entrepreneurship she's She has also led numerous innovation prizes, sitting in the house of trust and really curious to look at what it takes to be a catalyst in this ecosystem.

Pauline hello!

Pauline Koelbl 1:01

Hello Servane

Servane Mouazan 1:03

So you're a founder of shEequity, a VC firm that you've established in 2020 Can you tell us more about it just to get us started?

Pauline Koelbl 1:14

Sure. Yeah, SheEquity is a gender-lend fund that basically is backing African food founders who are creating innovative impactful and scalable businesses. And so she agreed to really vision is around closing the agenda funding in Africa, which ran now it's 42 billion gender funding gap. So we want to achieve this vision by providing what I call smart investment, which really is about building wealth for women. African women, and support them to deliver the triple bottom line for investors and in the whole community.

Servane Mouazan 1:54

Wow. So you decided to look at a whole continent in and have a varied focus, rather than just one country or one sector only. And that's massive. What's the advantage of doing that for you?

Pauline Koelbl 2:08

It's actually very intentional. So as I said, here, with backing to female founders, right. And I believe one of the few early stage funds that really focusing on any backing female founders, who are not just building any kind of businesses, but actually building impactful scalable innovative businesses. So when we will look at looking at the strategy on how to achieve designet Triple Bottom Line return because that's what we're seeking. And that's what I'm promising our investors. We wanted to make sure that we were not narrowing down the search. So it's easier if you're just looking for any business on an led by a woman on the continent or in one country. But if you actually want to find the best businesses you need to basically have a wide range of options to choose from. That's why we have a diverse you know, sector we're looking at also we're looking at Sub Saharan African continent, because we believe this is the best way to one back those women who are really working very hard, they're not asking for any handout or shortcut. They're just asking the equal access to capital. And there's enough of them if you look at the across the you know, Sub Saharan African market. Now we know that if you're looking at each one of the country most likely you might know find in many over time for the fun life perspective. So this is why also the powerful strategy we added an accelerator called she equity business accelerator. The fancy nickname is a Sheba, you know, the Queen of Sheba has and the reason we added is Sheba is a strategy to build a trusted pipeline in the poor of deals that good for the our investments is is is it because we also wanted to be able to not just wait for those best deals to be ready. We wanted to be a part of the catalyst I know you like the word

Servane Mouazan 4:14

you too

Pauline Koelbl 4:16

catalysts who are basically, you know, paving the road and supporting those women to become investment ready and to cry five. Sheba is not for someone who just have an idea who is exploring space steel for a woman who already has worked hard and start building businesses then he has started generating revenue but still needs a lot of support. When make an ecosystem support to become an investment ready to be appealing for the VC investors who are looking at really strong criteria to make an investment decision. So at the end, I shared with you a guess we're looking at the wide range of, you know, sector, different countries, but also consciously and intentionally we are you know, working with the founders in specific markets to grow that pipeline for us. I shared with the other investors who want to really invest in diverse team because at the end of the day person I believe like any investor who's who's not having the woman they you know, on xxxx business in their portfolio, it's a risk for them because they're missing out.

Servane Mouazan 5:29

Absolutely, absolutely. And I'm even I've heard as well that Sheba like a tween programme happening in in French and I mean for the francophones and for the Anglophone. female founders, so there's a lot of yes community here. It's interesting. And and I hear that there's a lot of rigour as well in your in your co opting of partners and investors and, and founders. So tell me Pauline, what's the unexpected learning from from that you've had from all your career experience so far?

Pauline Koelbl 6:04

Unexpected. Yes. It depends on how you define expected and unexpected. But over time for me what I have learned Yes.

You when you are younger, you go to school or whatever you and maybe your parents have a vision for you in my case was Mike Collins wasn't just my vision, because, as you mentioned, I was born and raised in Rwanda and growing up in Wanda. As a kid, it wasn't about your vision. It was about what your parents want you to do right?

And then there was central to the school that they think that will allow you to be able to deliver on the expectation and that that was fine for me and for anyone. I think growing up in Iran at that time, but down the road, you know, you got to score it in math theory and history you in geography you and everything that you're supposed to be needing to go out there and and do their job. In my case I went to law school so then in the law and everything, but no one really prepare you about how when you show up at the job. One you're expected to know what to do but what helps you navigate the complexity and deliver a better higher outcome than the average is how you utilise you tap into your emotional intelligence write, how you how you learn how to build the relationship, because then you learn about the importance of teamwork. In a school in general, there's a level of competition it's about getting the grades, getting the scholarship getting everything but uh, you realise the moment you get a job, you know, there's your contribution, but you win together, you know, you need to have be a team player otherwise, you know, but I get far so so so for me, those are the things I just learned on the job and I realised doesn't matter whether I was working for an NGO or working for the UN, running a private foundation, no running my own business investing. The team work comes back over and over. They then experience like in the case of myself, and many people like me who have lived all over 100 present, different culture, whatever you show up in a team and my career has been really internationally so you know, just looking at you know, getting back to your desk, doing your what you need to do, you need to understand the people around you.

Servane Mouazan 8:40

A lot of Interaction

not have

Pauline Koelbl 8:43

a lot of interaction but also I think there's almost like a burden put on you as an immigrant you coming into a room, you You were not born and raised there. So you need to do your job, but you need also to understand the people around you and you have to find a way so that they can understand you and welcome you and so the things you don't really learn them anywhere. And so as you move around over time you develop a sense of, you know, navigating, does complexity and making it to work because if you if you miss those, I think it's gonna be hard for you to perform at work.

Servane Mouazan 9:26

Yeah, so navigating complexity, understanding these new ecosystems you're coming in and also being understood by people in that ecosystem. So that really leads me to the next question here. We're in the house of trust. So I wonder, what is it what does it take to build trust and discernment among you know, the investors and that you're working with and to encourage them to to navigate complexity in that ecosystem, that is the woman-led venture ecosystem in a way that is not oversimplifying it

Pauline Koelbl:

so I don't think I want to say I want I'm gonna help them I think I need to understand what what are the limitations and to support them with knowledge where they can distinguish the perceived risk versus the actual risk?

Because in the space of investing, I think a lot of investors shy away from investing in markets that don't they don't understand.

And unfortunately, you know, I'm focusing on Africa. I was born and raised in Africa. I'm proud to Africa and among other things, and I think one of the challenges about the our beautiful continent is because people run they paint a picture about the whole continent like Africa is like this. I mean, this is a 5455 countries depending on which which number you choose to use politically.

So with each country, there's a different context from complexity, different cultural understanding different languages, right? So of course, if you sit in London and you're thinking, okay, when I go and invest in Africa, you might not really know where to begin because if you've never been there and understand the differences you might think Africa is the same, right? So it's good that you know, sharing information for people to understand.

Yes, we are proud to say we are Africans, but hey, if you're coming on to the continent, you need to understand it to market or work with the partners such as ourselves, who understand the markets, and that becomes the launching pad. So you don't need to worry about where to go, how to go, how to navigate, how to read between the lines, because you're working with a trusted partner. So for me, that's the route I feel like I can play it's being that trusted partner that allows the use event if you want to come to Africa and not to second guess where to begin because I can actually work with you and advance and also support you your investment objectives. If you choose to invest through, you know, our investment vehicle. So that's number one mistake and I think it's around also helping people realise their own unconscious bias. Because I think I think sometimes people have biases but they don't really understand they don't realise they have them and they only conscious bias these two what also they call affinity bias, which means you see when you probably be comfortable investing in another woman or someone who looks like he will speak speaks like you who you you can crack jokes together. Whatever anything is that they speak you can be able to relate.

Like every single potential you can imagine, is in Africa, right? So sometimes people make a mistake. I don't know where that it's just a conscious and unconscious in this day. And they, when they start talking about Africa, they say Africa is is the poor continent.

And for me that reflects that the immediate reflex is to say no Africa is actually the richest continent that but for whatever reason, has many poor people. There's a difference.

That Africa is very rich that somehow has poor people.

So people realising that yes, Africa is a lot of potential a lot of opportunities. If you go to invest, you go to Africa, you actually tapping into a lot of opportunities that you might not find here in Europe or North America or Asia. And then when it comes to women, where it's also a lot of bias, but also misunderstanding the fact is, and this is backed by data and research, women deliver higher returns so you you give $1 to it, you know, a man entrepreneur and give $1 to a woman entrepreneur, a woman would bring you up to 2.5x Comparing the two what the man is going to bring to this is a research right? So sometimes people just don't know because on one hand sometimes people think African woman's only sale you know, bananas, tomatoes, they might not have met a woman who's bidding a FinTech company or healthcare company or mobility company that are creating job bringing like a multiple turn to investors. So there's a lot of information sharing paths also of you know, inviting those investors to really be honest with themselves and assess their own biases and how those biases are in mutation to achieving their own objectives.

Servane Mouazan:

Wow. So I'm hearing you have this another homework to do for the whole for the old guard. Do you really put your foot in this market and to do a good and thorough job?

I just sorry, go ahead.

Pauline Koelbl:

No, no, I just want to say that I think it's all become start with intention, if we intentionally they want to do it. There's enough information that many of us who are ready to actually share and the one other thing that just wanted to mention is also we live in the world the way they are the cuboid that is being used over and over is impact, right?

I think as many people might not put impact as a part of the investment This is they care about the business, the back will still be around, you know, years from now.

So when when you look at the trickle down economics, the impact that women have on the community, the statistics show that women reinvest in 99 to 5% of the revenues in a sector that would benefit everyone comparing it to certify you know, 35% by by men again, all those facts should be incentive for people to be curious enough to see what is it that they don't know that they should try to understand it better before they decide on the next investment decision.

Servane Mouazan:

Well, so I'm hearing you and there's there. There's something coming up here around the definition of catalyst then that is just shaping itself like a catalyst is a two ways way of being. There's something around the necessity to be able to navigate complexity, be open to partnerships, but also working on our own biases. Get closer be curious, do your homework.

Catalyst doesn't happen without these things. I wonder, I wonder. So you and SheEquity, are catalysts for inclusive and sustainable growth in Africa and you appear to me as you know, part of that cohort of strong catalysts to when I see people like you, Suzanne Biegel, Vicki Saunders, etc. They use that word catalyst in their in, you know, everywhere they go.

Job Description.

It's not just a job title. it's a vocation and a condition, a strong value. And I wonder, what more would you like to put in that, you know, job description if someone really wants to be a catalyst for good in in Africa and not, you know, having this terminology as a sort of woo woo thing, but a really serious thing, what more would be needed for someone who wants to be catalyst there?


Pauline Koelbl:

I always say it starts with being a visionary leader. So you have to have a vision for yourself for the cause. And then you have to be a leader not a manager because sometimes people confuse managers and leaders and I think the difference for me is the leaders.

You know, kind of inspire other people to follow and take action because they are convinced that's the right word, the right way. But also you have to be like really a seeker you know, someone who's seeking and he was willing to take a risk and I had to wait for him always to be gone. So you can come in and again, that's where the visionary leadership comes in. And you have to have a demonstrated ability to influence and mobilise others for greater impact is something beyond yourself. So again, you know, goes back to again, vision and everything.

And I think you need to be someone who aspired to move others towards again a shared vision for the common good.

And lastly, I think you need to demonstrate a passion for positive positive change. I think that without passion or Tantek passion person, people will see that you're faking it right. So I think you can be a catalyst if you don't, if you don't have your vision, a clear vision. And the you are a team made someone who wants to collaborate with others because you catalyse people to come together. Because you convinced that you're alone. You're not going to go far.

You can go fast is within Africa, you can go faster, but you're not gonna go far. When when when you go along

Servane Mouazan:

, you know, there's distance well, some countries there's there's something around that. Now tell me, as we slowly come to an end of our show, and I got a little game for you. So imagine we're in 2033, a few years ahead of us. And I wonder, you know, you're reading the newspapers in whatever shape or form they appear in that time.

And you read the headlines and you read that same headline over and over again, and that brings you joy.

What might be this headline?

Pauline Koelbl:

Um, so maybe he I'm gonna disappoint you first because because, because I think for me, I will be because I'm thinking about this but I'm here now. I will first of all, acknowledge what's not being discussed.

Right? Like I will be smiling when I pick up a newspaper or go online. There's nothing about diversity and inclusion discussion. This is no longer a topic.

No one is talking about the need to close the gap. It's gone.

So then the headline will be, for example, a young woman from I don't know that is Sarah who has built a business that's becoming global you know, it's being utilised. I don't know any, somewhere in Madagascar, close to Indonesia, Canada, UK, you know, so, so so starting looking at how the solution we are utilising or you know, the innovation of a single coming from a lover and a being adopted across the board, which then for me, will make him happy because I will start seeing that now we have understood that innovation does not happen. From one one direction, right? Because we tend to think things have to come from the west and the south adopt right.

And in terms of, you know, either headlands or will be you know, looking for is how we be celebrating the fact that there's a universal health care.

The fact that no one is you know, food, there's abundance food, actually, people are eating by case here. You know, there's innovation around what we eat, how we you know, we sustain the planet.

We' will be celebrating the fact that you you know, the AI is so clean.

The climate is amazing, because we will have reverse. They were, you know, climate trends that we're seeing today.

We will I will be celebrating the fact that everything I'm going to be reading we have a key word like sustainability, like impact, not not just because those are buzzwords, but it would be a way of life. And again, I think it's 10 years from now maybe that's super dreaming.

When I looked at the how long it takes to get things done, but I'm also optimistic and I really believe in innovation, in the fact that younger people are not accepting the way things are. They're working very hard and then you have investors such as ourselves, share pity and others who are also putting money behind those innovations, do it visionary leaders and that down the road, you know, any few years those who are not taking the same direction, we realise they're missing out. And they will come running, asking for, you know, how did you do it or can we collaborate or maybe they might not even need the collaboration, they would know what to do because they would have read all the headlines and join the movement.

Servane Mouazan:

Oh, this is beautiful one. We people can't see Have you got such a beautiful smile, just describing that vision for 2033. And sustainability is a way of life and it's non-negotiable. And it just happened because people worked hard at it. And then made yourself and thank you so much. Thank you so much. What a pleasure to hear you just really describing it that that catalyst job and something you are putting in action in your everyday work at SheEquity and with your other connections and boards commitments. Thank you so much.

Here is something electrifying, to have the catalyst actually as one of your key values and behaviours. I think this is wonderful. So if you've listened to Pauline today I think there are a lot of things to revise how are you showing up? How do you make are you making connections, how you work on, how you work on your biases? I see. How are you a visionary seeker? How do you grasp risks? How do you have a purpose is much bigger, much bigger than yourself so much to think about. So that's it for today. Make sure you share this episode of Be and Think in the House of Trust podcast where your friends, your peers, your board members, your colleagues, who also love to invest in social change, look up Be and Think in the House of Trust on your favourite podcast platform where you will find the previous episodes packed with resources provocations and thoughts to burst your bubbles. So for more conscious innovation updates and my regular wayfinding challenges, visit my site and drop me a note till then be well, take care of each other. Goodbye.

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