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Turning Africa’s Biggest Challenges into Global Business Opportunities: Summer Fellow Rashveena Rajaram (MBA 2022)

By: Rashveena Rajaram 22 Jul 2021

The HBS Summer Fellows Program enables students to apply their classroom training as they explore career opportunities in roles or regions where compensation is generally lower than the traditional MBA level. This summer, we are connecting with some of our 59 Social Enterprise Summer Fellows, who are working around the world to develop skills and knowledge while having significant responsibility and high impact.

What are you working on this summer?

This summer, I am working with the investment team at a venture capital fund, Future Africa. More specifically, I am working on building the narrative for the LP fundraising process, supporting the creation of thematic funds that cover specific sectors or entrepreneur groups, and implementing operational solutions to deal flow generation and tracking, making it easier for third parties to access our pipeline and make investment decisions effectively. Africa has the youngest population in the world and talent and internet penetration is only increasing. However, it also faces some important challenges such as a lack of financing to startups and significant infrastructure gaps. As such, Future Africa is investing in early-stage companies focused on turning the continent's most difficult challenges into global business opportunities. But the fund is doing more than writing checks. The Future Africa team is leveraging its experience and network on the ground to provide capital, coaching, and community at the earliest stages to innovators who need it the most.

Why did you choose this internship for the summer?

After spending four years in banking-capital markets, I wanted to explore the investor perspective, especially in technology and at the early stage. My pre-HBS internship at a venture fund based in my home country, Mauritius, reiterated my interest in the industry and motivated me to look at Africa as a region still lagging in much-needed technology and infrastructure, but bustling with young innovators, talent, and drive. I connected with Iyinoluwa Aboyeji, co-founder of two notable companies out of Africa, Andela and Flutterwave, after a talk organized by the Africa Business Club at HBS. During our early conversations, Iyin mentioned he was working on a venture fund with a global team but operations mainly out of Nigeria. By the time I was applying for summer internships, reaching out to Iyin was a no-brainer. Future Africa is at the intersection of everything I want my career to include: investing, impact, innovation, and Africa. Additionally, the opportunity to work with a small team of highly talented entrepreneurs and investors gave me more incentive to pursue this role where I could learn and contribute a significant amount.

What are your goals for this summer?

This summer, I would like to achieve three primary goals: learn, contribute, and build a network. I want to take away some essential technical learnings about the fundraising process both upstream (LPs) and downstream (startups) from diligence to check writing. Secondly, I would like to contribute to the functioning and impact of the fund through the thematic funds and operations I support, which in turn contribute to easier and wider access to capital and community for innovators, especially in areas with much need for technology solutions such as healthcare and education. Finally, I want to build a strong network with the talented team members as well as fund partners and innovators involved in turning Future Africa’s vision into reality.

How has your MBA skillset prepared you to be successful in this role?

The HBS MBA has prepared me to work in a collaborative and entrepreneurial environment through courses on organizational management and strategy, especially at a small fund. Being part of a 15-person team means that I must demonstrate leadership and take ownership of projects on a regular basis, something that I found easier to do after putting myself in the shoes of managers, entrepreneurs, and investors in the many cases we covered at HBS.

How as the summer influenced your thinking on future involvement in social enterprise?

This internship was an opportunity to test out a concept that has come up often in the first year – can you mix financial returns and social impact? The answer I came across at Future Africa has been promising. Focusing on a region like Africa, which faces an urgent need for access to basic services and job creation with a rising young population, made impact more palpable at a for-profit organization. Our portfolio companies are proof that innovation can meet social impact and financial returns: from Smile Identity, helping the 500 million Africans without any formal identification access a proof of identity and therefore a range of basic services such as school enrolment, bank accounts, loans, to Andela, seeking to bridge the gap between talent and opportunity. This motivates me to dedicate my career to finding and supporting more of these life-changing solutions and innovators.

To learn more about Future Africa and how the team is turning Africa’s biggest challenges into global business opportunities, please check out our website and find us on Twitter @anafricanfuture.