Viola Llewellyn intends driving Africa’s private sector growth with a secondary market for debt and a retail option or Africans to grow wealth independent and individually.
If early indications are anything to go by, she seems well on the way to creating history.
“Ovamba’s technology gives accredited and institutional investors from around the world access to Africa’s best debt-based investments. We established the company to support African economies by improving access to credit for the small and medium enterprise (SME) market.
“Today, it ranks as the first credit platform of its kind in Francophone Africa, and is also one of the first market investment platforms to offer investment opportunities to individuals and institutions in Sub-Saharan Africa. We are proud of our investment and the way it is progressing.”
Viola and her business partner Marvin Cole created the investment vehicle to address the issue of Africa’s small and medium-sized businesses experiencing limited or no access to credit, which severely limited their ability to grow.
As global chief operations officer, Viola oversees the company’s strategic implementation, global operations, communications, and business development. Prior to Ovamba, she was instrumental in building a $50 million fund for a Washington DC based insurance investment firm where she led investor communications, and asset management divisions. She has worked with companies such as Unisys Corporation, IBM, KPMG Consulting, BearingPoint and Rothschild’s.
In 2014, she was appointed as an honorary member of the board of trustees for the ‘International Women’s Think Tank’, where she guides on STEM issues, gender diversity, and globalisation. She is also on the advisory boards of the ‘Cameroonian American Chamber of Commerce’ (CAMAM) in Maryland, US as well as Africa’s tech hub and incubator ‘ActivSpaces’.
“Born in London to Cameroonian parents, I was an unpredictable child by African standards – very outgoing, chatty and challenging. In terms of how my young days helped my success – there is one incident from my youth that I believe is at the root of everything,” says Viola, speaking on her early years and how it may have led to her eventual success.
“Once at the age of four, I took part in my first Physical Education ‘PE’ class, and not au fait with the competitive nature of sports, took my time and quickly became relegated to the ‘losers’ team. I remember being outraged. “The entire day I could feel the ire in me and the words in my head ‘You are not a winner’. I could feel the difference between the losers and the winners; the winners were always admired and they had status.
“I have never forgotten that moment in my childhood. Indeed, the very next time I took part in PE, I ran like the wind and was bumped up to the ‘winning group’, where I worked to remain for the rest of my youth.”
Viola also attributes her dad for her future triumphs, stating how his being a constant figure in her life pushed her to be competitive whilst boosting her self-esteem. “My dad would always tell me that I am most fortunate to be black and female because I will always have to try three times harder than other people, which means my lowest benchmark is probably someone else’s high point; he used to say ‘you can never lose because you are calibrated at a higher range’. For me today, success is about calibrating your level of winning Viola Llewellyn PROFILE – VIOLA LLEWELLYN according to you and what you think will make you better than your competition.”
This higher–range calibration seems to have stood her in good stead when faced with challenges in her life and also in running her business, where by her own admittance, there have been no dearth of ‘difficult, almost insurmountable’ moments.
“The first challenge when we established Ovamba was cultural – how to tailor our business concept to the realities of the African market. From training staff on how to challenge and be open with management, to training banks to provide ‘Trust and Escrow’ services, which don’t actually exist in Francophone Africa, there were challenges galore.
“We also faced a lot of misunderstanding about our FinTech solution for funding SMEs because the concept of FinTech and alternative finance solutions is still so new in many parts of Africa.
“Today, two years later, our challenges are both different and the same. We now have the interesting problem of trying to scale and create a product without the benefit of a competitor to compare and benchmark against, and we have the challenge of finding enough sources of capital to service deal flow.
“However culturally, we now have to help investors understand the incredible potential within Africa, and with that work through cultural barriers that exist around different ideas of risk.”
The challenges, however, are also the reasons for what motivates Viola now. “Knowing that we are creating something of excellence and charting new territory and creating a standard and eco-system where the second player enters a playing field created by the market leader – us.”
As first published by Intercontinental Finance and Law Magazine