“I am now able to leverage my talent to help others” Tokunboh Ishmael CDir, Managing Director, Alitheia Capita

In a business landscape where the boundaries between profit and purpose often seem starkly drawn, there are individuals pioneering a different path. Tokunboh Ishmael CDir, the managing director of Alitheia Capital, is blending her expertise in investment with a commitment to making a positive social impact.

In the late 80s, the world was just getting to grips with the digital revolution. Working within tech at an oil company, I proposed the radical idea of providing computers for everyone. Yet, it was rejected due to financial concerns. That pivotal moment ignited a fire within me to understand finance better, leading me to pursue an MBA and a career in the City of London and then New York.

Navigating Wall Street in the late 80s as a young woman presented its own challenges. Frat-house mentalities and sports banter dominated the scene, where I often felt pressure to morph into something I wasn’t to fit in. Add being a black woman into the mix, and the challenges only multiplied. From assumptions I was an assistant, to awkward comments about my natural hair, the journey was anything but smooth. However, I refused to let these obstacles define me. Instead, I sought out mentors who looked like me, navigating the space with resilience and determination.

Despite the pressure to conform, I stayed true to myself, carving a niche where my tech knowledge intersected with finance. This combination of skills gave me the edge, and when a venture capital firm in Silicon Valley became my new challenge, my skills were not just valued but celebrated. It was a breath of fresh air, a place where I felt at home. Venture capital opened my eyes to the power and difference investors make to the livelihoods of those they choose to invest in.

When I got headhunted to join a private equity firm in Nigeria, I saw first-hand how wealth and poverty coexist side-by-side here. To reach my luxurious air-conditioned apartment, I had to step over poverty. At the time, people didn’t discuss ESG and impact in relation to business, but I couldn’t continue to work in the same way knowing there was such suffering on my doorstep. So, I took matters into my own hands and founded Alitheia Capital, driven by a mission to leverage finance for social change. Impact investing became our mantra, weaving profit, people, and the planet into the fabric of our endeavours. The journey hasn’t been easy, but it has been incredibly rewarding.

Between being born and dying we take up space and I want to do something good in that time. Having meaning and purpose within my work is important to me; I want to touch people’s lives and improve them. I feel a huge level of satisfaction that I am now able to leverage my talent to help others.

In 2015, the opportunity to engage with the IoD presented itself through Boardroom Africa. Despite my decades of experience sitting on boards, I realised there was still much to learn. The Chartered Director programme offered the structured language and frameworks I needed to communicate effectively in the boardroom. It equipped me with the tools to challenge the status quo and drive meaningful change.

Looking back, if I could offer a piece of advice to my younger self, it would be this: trust your instincts and embrace the journey. You may encounter potholes along the way, but each obstacle is an opportunity for growth. And remember, this journey is a team effort, there is no need to walk alone and no shame in asking for help.

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