Africa’s biggest economy boasts billion-dollar businesses, and thankfully, entrepreneurs who are doing everything in their power to ensure the money also goes to social impact, despite the gargantuan odds stacked against them.
Therefore, it is heartening and laudable to see entrepreneurs such as Ndidi Nwuneli. She is not just a restless trailblazer in Nigeria’s business world, but also a passionate advocate of sustainable development. A woman of diverse interests, she has a stellar track-record.
To promote entrepreneurship and leadership development, Nwuneli served as the Executive Director of the FATE Foundation, following a career as management consultant with McKinsey & Company, working in their Chicago, New York and Johannesburg offices. She established LEAP Africa, a pioneering and leading non-profit leadership -focused organization in 2002, and NIA, a non-profit organization for female university students in 2003.
Nwuneli is the co-founder at Sahel Capital, a private equity and advisory firm focusing on the West African agribusiness sector. Nwuneli is also Co-Founder of AACE Food Processing & Distribution, an indigenous, agro-processing company, and serves on numerous international and local boards. Through her work on the respective platforms, Nwuneli has driven cross-sectoral development in Nigeria.
“The vision for LEAP Africa was based on the conviction that Africa desperately needed a new generation of visionary, ethical, creative and disciplined servant leaders and that a small group of people who shared the same vision could work together to change their communities, countries and indeed the continent,” says Nwuneli.
LEAP Africa has worked across 26 states in Nigeria, leadership training and entrepreneurship coaching at the core of its mission.
“The vision for LEAP Africa was based on the conviction that Africa desperately needed a new generation of visionary, ethical, creative and disciplined servant leaders and that a small group of people who shared the same vision could work together to change their communities, countries and indeed the Africa. Our youth beneficiaries have launched over 1,000 change projects to improve the lives of others in their communities”, says Nwuneli.
With a vision just as vivid for Nigeria’s agribusiness landscape, she co-founded AACE Foods, an agro-processing company and SME focused on sourcing from farmers, processing and producing for the local market.
Nwuneli holds an MBA from Harvard Business School and a BSc with Honours from The Wharton School, The University of Pennsylvania, in the United States.
Driven by a strong desire to impact societies, Nwuneli is writing a book on ‘scaling social innovation in Africa’ to be published by the end of the year. She is working on this project as a non-resident fellow at Harvard Kennedy School.
“I was propelled by the little initiatives that are just a drop in the ocean. The needs are much greater. How can we scale impact and reach millions, who else has scaled and how do we change our ecosystem to enable this?” she asks.
Nwuneli’s AACE Foods addresses high levels of malnutrition in Nigeria and the dearth of locally manufactured food products by processing and packaging nutritious food sourced from smallholder farmers within the country. The company also provides support to farmers, empowering them with training, access to microfinance and storage technology.
“My core passion is sustainable development and impact and this cuts across sectors. Agriculture currently, because not only does it create the vast majority of jobs on the African continent, it is also linked to nutrition. I am optimistic and impatient about progress. Technology allows us to leapfrog and we can do that in health, education, agriculture and energy. Those are the four sectors I’m focusing on because I think they are the most important. I believe agriculture is neglected, however. The average African still feels that imported food is better quality and we face that a lot with fast-moving consumer goods.”
Challenges in Nigeria’s agricultural sector include fragmented supply chains and a lack of capacity due to the poor education of farmers and lack of an extension system. In spite of the hurdles, Nwuneli finds her entrepreneurial journey rewarding.
“I feel extremely blessed to have been given the unique opportunity to birth companies that will outlive me and my greatest achievement has been training and grooming exceptional young people through LEAP, Sahel or AACE. Watching them grow and blossom in their careers has been extremely rewarding.”
Nwuneli would like to see a West Africa where agribusiness is a viable and profitable industry, where farmers are respected and where all countries are net exporters of food and more importantly, where nutritious food is affordable and accessible for all, all year round.