JP Morgan VP Efe Ukala: “There is never a perfect time and there is never the perfect amount of resources; if you observe a problem, be the solution”

If I could inspire a movement, I would encourage people do something that proactively solves a problem, whatever it is. If you observe a problem, be the solution. Whenever I say this, I often have people say; oh we do not have the resources, the time or the funds to help move the needle. But […]

If I could inspire a movement, I would encourage people do something that proactively solves a problem, whatever it is. If you observe a problem, be the solution. Whenever I say this, I often have people say; oh we do not have the resources, the time or the funds to help move the needle. But really, in my view, there is never a perfect time and there is never the perfect amount of resources.

I had the pleasure to interview Efe Ukala. Efe is an experienced private equity lawyer and currently, serves as Vice President and Assistant General Counsel at JP Morgan where she advises institutional investors. She has extensive experience in private and public investments arising out of frontier markets. Previously, Efe served as a Vice President and Chief Compliance Officer at Kuramo Capital Management, an independent investment management firm focused on alternative assets in emerging and frontier markets, where she advised on numerous cross-border investments deals across Africa and managed the firm’s fund formation processes. At Kuramo, she participated in the firm’s Investment Committee meetings, advised on structuring cross-border private equity transactions, negotiated transactions, and drafted agreements. She managed the legal transaction processes from inception to close and worked on diverse deals ranging from consumer goods to financial services. In addition, Efe also advised the firm and its portfolio companies on compliance and Foreign Corrupt Practices Act matters. 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 and Vice President of the Association of Black Women Attorneys NYC.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

My career path resulted from a combination of my strong interest in law, specifically private equity law, and economic empowerment. With regards to my private equity legal background, after law school, 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, thereby allowing me to play critical roles in structuring different deals arising out of Africa, from Zimbabwe to Nigeria. My work in the investment space quickly led me to observe the pivotal role of economic empowerment in seeking equality.

I observed that being economic empowered is extremely essential as it is oftentimes challenging to seek equality when one is not economically empowered or has no access to those that are economically empowered that could help them achieve equality. This observation, in addition to my observation that female entrepreneurs lagged behind in accessing capital for their businesses was part of the thinking that led to the creation of ImpactHER.

What is it about the work you’re doing that’s disruptive?

ImpactHER focuses on helping women build scalable businesses, overcome operational challenges, and access institutional capital to help them build best-in-class businesses or attain their business goals. It is well documented that compared to their male counterparts, women lack access to capital. For example, in recent article by the International Finance Corporation (IFC), they observed that in 2017, while venture capital funding in Africa significantly increased, reaching an all time high of over $500 million, only female co-founders in Africa received about $30million (5.3%) whereas their male counterparts received $536million (94.7%). Numbers such as these are a disaster for the economy. Helping women access capital to build their businesses is important for two major reasons. First, SMEs are the foundations of most economies and you cannot alienate SMEs growth from economic growth. Particularly, in economies such as Africa, female SME owners are a major backbone of the economy. Only recently, a recent study by Roland Berger, observed that African women have the world’s highest total entrepreneurial activity rate and these female entrepreneurs contribute between $150 — $200 billion to the economy. Second, as per Goldman Sachs International, bridging the gender entreprenurship-financing gap could drive income per capital and could boast an economy’s GPD by about 12%. ImpactHER recognizes the trickle down effect that could arise from giving women access to finance and helping bridge the entrepreneurship-financing gap. As such, ImpactHER therefore gives women the tools to access capital.

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.

We all need a little help along the journey — who have been some of your mentors? Can you share how they made an impact?

I have had numerous informal mentors and peer mentors, from my parents to close friends — it takes a village. All these individuals played a unique role in shaping who I am today. For example, I got my first lessons on critical reasoning from my Dad who would always ask me critical questions on what you might consider the most mundane matter. In hindsight, those interrogatory sessions helped me build my critical thinking skills (in addition to law school, of course). I learned the art of multitasking from my mum and this skill has been critical in my professional life as it has allowed me not balance both my career and philanthropic work. My friends, who I would refer to as my peer mentors, have also played very critical roles in shaping me, helping me build my professional life, and helping ensure that ImpactHER becomes a reality. For example, I remember sitting on the couch of one of my close friend for hours trying the articulate the vision of ImpactHER while also being bombarded with questions, which were critical in refining the idea.

Can you share 3 of the best words of advice you’ve gotten along your journey? Please give a story or example for each.

  1. Perseverance. I believe that perseverance plays an important role in realizing a goal.
  2. Always stay prepared so you never miss opportunities when they present themselves.
  3. Always treat others with kindness, you just never know.

How are you going to shake things up next?

For ImpactHER, the focus remains on creating innovative ways to help change the status quo. We focus on impacting female-led businesses and we will continue to challenge ourselves on how to implement strategies to help women scale their business, tackle operational business issues, and gain access to capital.

Do you have a book/podcast/talk that’s had a deep impact on your thinking? Can you share a story with us?

During orientation week as a freshman at the University of Chicago, my first lecture was “The Life of the Mind,”a lecture that has had a profound effect on me. Prior to attending the UofC, I came from an educational background where I was thought to accept the status quo and apply the rules, my outlook quickly changed after the “Life of the Mind” lecture. The “Life of the Mind” lecture focused on the importance of diversity in ideas, engaging in healthy discussions about such ideas and constant rigorous reflection. The lessons from this singular lecture transcended into my intellectual life, leading me to constantly question the status quo especially when it marginalizes others while also engaging in healthy conversations with individuals about we can collectively build upon current societal frameworks. ImpactHER was formed as a result of this thinking. It was formed to help change the narrative — the narrative being that female entrepreneurs significantly lag behind in accessing capital to build their businesses.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

Thanks but I have never really considered myself as a person of great influence. If I could inspire a movement, I would encourage people do something that proactively solves a problem, whatever it is. If you observe a problem, be the solution. Whenever I say this, I often have people say; oh we do not have the resources, the time or the funds to help move the needle. But really, in my view, there is never a perfect time and there is never the perfect amount of resources. You see, ImpactHER was conceived to help solve a problem that many financial institutions such as the IFC, AfDB, to name a few had well documented. ImpactHER did not have the resources when it all started, it was merely bootstrapping, and notwithstanding, in less than one year, ImpactHER has impacted over 60 female-led businesses, connected most to investors, and given these businesses access to new markets. For example, through ImpactHER’s intervention, past trainees have been able to export their products African countries to retailers in the U.S.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

I never lose. I either win or learn — Nelson Mandela. Having migrated to the US as a teenager to start college, nothing fully prepared me for the challenges that lied ahead — from trying to secure a post-graduation job as an immigrant to figuring out my career path. It has indeed been a journey littered with numerous roadblocks. However, this quote constantly reminded me that each setback is a learning experience that prepares me for something even more amazing ahead. In those challenging time, I try to remind myself, I am privileged to experience such setbacks as such challenge is a learning experience presented to prepare me for something much greater ahead.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

Readers can follow ImpactHER on @impacther. Most importantly, female SME owners experiencing operational business issues should feel free to reach out to ImpactHER.

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!

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