The Gender Agenda and the Missing Middle: Improving Economic Outcomes for Women in sub-Saharan Africa



What problem is AIF trying to solve?

At least 40% of SMEs in sub-Saharan Africa are women owned, but only 20% of these have access to institutional finance, leaving a funding gap of about $42 billion in often overlooked sectors and industries where women are economically active. 

Through its pioneering $100 million fund, Alitheia IDF (AIF) provides catalytic capital to high growth SMEs by proactively investing in a diversified portfolio of women-owned, women-led or women-serving companies in order to generate superior financial and social returns.

Theory of Value Creation

By providing capital to women-led businesses and gender diverse teams, AIF impacts on the inclusion of more women as economic participants, reducing gender disparity and contributing to economic and social development

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Introduction to AIF

AIF is committed to the economic advancement of women, and to demonstrating the viability of gender lens investing as an investment strategy that yields superior financial and social returns. With a focus on Western and Southern Africa, AIF targets expansion-ready SMEs active in its priority sectors – Agribusiness and Essential goods/services – and equips them with the catalytic capital, strategy and business support needed to scale.

The Fund provides capital and value add to gender diverse teams and businesses where women are the majority owners or leaders; play a significant part of the value or supply chain; or are the primary consumers or beneficiaries of an essential good or service. 

This investment will support 13 high growth SMEs, creating quality employment of up to 23,000 direct and indirect jobs,  enable access to essential services for 5 million women and girls; and touch up to 15 million lives while increasing incomes and enhancing the roles women as owners, employees, value chain players or consumers in emerging African economies. 

What the invested says

“With women controlling over US$20trn in worldwide spending, Alitheia IDF’s Gender Smart Fund will facilitate our collective abilities to better meet women’s needs, wants, tastes and preferences, and enable Africa to leverage the full complement of its assets to boost its GDP and reach its full potential. AIF proactively seeks to finance and support women-led and women-impact businesses. characterized by the dividends of gender diversity: enhanced corporate governance, smarter decision making and leading-edge innovation, which result in superior business performance.”

- Tokunboh Ishmael, Managing Partner at Alitheia IDF

“Africa cannot afford for the majority of its citizens, being women, not being fully leveraged to unlock the economic potential that it possesses as a continent. Inter-regional trade, another key amplifier, is a focus area the Fund uses to drive the economic potential that this will bring to the future prosperity of our continent.”

- Polo Leteka-Radebe, Managing Partner at Alitheia IDF

Why AIF qualifies as a 2X Challenge investment

In addition to AIF being a pioneer gender lens investor in sub-Saharan Africa, the Fund demonstrates gender smartness within its own leadership; within its portfolio; and seeks to develop stronger gender performance in the wider ecosystem. 

Operationalized by a proprietary gender lens investing toolkit, AIF takes a holistic and fully integrated approach, embedding gender dimensions and outcomes at every stage of the investment process from eligibility to exit. 

At pre-investment, eligibility is determined by all four direct criteria of the 2X Challenge, and additionally includes the consideration of women’s participation in supply and/or value chains. Based on the assessment of its gender performance, the SME is placed on a spectrum ranging from Gender Negative to Gender Strategic, and a gender value creation plan is implemented to track and improve outcomes for women, and the gender smartness of the SME as a whole throughout the investment period.

Beyond its direct investment activity, AIF demonstrates commitment to improving economic outcomes for women by running Nzinga and Think Scale, bootcamps which focus on developing the capacity and skills of gender diverse businesses and preparing them for institutional capital and expansion for scale. 

By the end of the investment period, at least half of its portfolio will be women-owned businesses, and the other half would have grown on other gender dimensions, improving outcomes for women wherever they may be economically active, from the smallholder to the shareholder. 

What FinDev Canada says

“We are thrilled to be working with Alitheia IDF to advance women’s economic empowerment and help bridge the gender finance gap in sub-Saharan Africa through their innovative and tailored approach to gender-lens investing.”said Paulo Martelli, VP and Chief Investment Officer at FinDev Canada.


AIF’s impact efforts are geared towards increasing accessibility to affordability for, or inclusion of an underserved market or group. 

By providing capital to women-led businesses and gender diverse teams, AIF impacts on the inclusion of women as economic participants, reducing gender disparity and contributing to economic and social development. Specifically, AIF’s investments aim to increase income/wealth in the hands of women; increase proportion and participation of women in the supply chain; increase the number of women and girls with access to essential services and goods. 

In addition to gender-specific outcomes, the investments also drive additional capital for investment, job creation, tax generation, and export promotion, ultimately leading to growth and development in the economy and increased economic independence of women. 

At the end of the Fund life, AIF would have invested in 13 SMEs; created 23,000 jobs; enabled access to essential services for 5 million women and girls; and touched 15 million lives. 

Frank Tobé