VestedWorld is excited to welcome the newest member of our investment team, Lavanya Anand. Lavanya will soon be moving to Nairobi to set up our local office along with continuing to source and diligence startups for our growing portfolio. Lavanya sat down with VestedWorld Partner, Jeff Stine, to share her background and what’s in store for her new role.
Jeff: Tell us about your journey to get here.
Lavanya: I have always been interested in international development and much of that stems from growing up in a household that valued global exposure. I was born in India, moved to Belgium for a few years, and then moved to California at the age of 6. My family has always loved to travel internationally, including frequent trips back to India to visit family and friends. This love of travel and exploring new places has given me what I would call a global mindset, and a desire to work professionally outside of the United States. While I’m still new to East Africa, I spent six weeks in Tanzania after graduating from UCLA, and it really opened my eyes to this new, exciting market. I spent most of my time there teaching English and HIV education and living with a rural family outside Arusha. It was a life-changing experience and has played a significant role in my desire to return to East Africa.
My career to date has really been focused on building the right toolkit to eventually have an impact in the investing space. This included working in public accounting and corporate finance for five years before attending business school at Chicago Booth. While there, I pursued educational and experiential opportunities in emerging market impact investing, which was the perfect blend of international development and finance, and luckily was introduced to VestedWorld. Six months of interning led to a full-time offer, and here I am.
Jeff: What diversity of thought or new perspective do you bring to VestedWorld and the investment community?
Lavanya: I am an Indian-American millennial woman in a field that is largely made up of older white men. I think there’s a lot I bring to the table. First of all, having experienced urban and rural India, I can apply learnings from another emerging market to the countries we invest in: Ghana, Nigeria, and Kenya. Second, many of the startups we invest in have female founders, and I would think it’s refreshing to meet with investment teams who have some gender balance, especially in a relationship-driven business. And third, the macroeconomic trends we’re observing in Africa include the rise of consumer spending, especially by young millennial women. I can definitely relate to that perspective and bring relevant insights for potential investments.
Jeff: So you’re moving to Nairobi in December, what are you most looking forward to?
Lavanya: Seven years after my experience in Tanzania, I’m heading back to East Africa and couldn’t be more excited. Working in Chicago, it can be easy to get sucked into the day to day of the job and lose sight of the larger impact our work is having in the countries in which we invest. I’m hoping by living in Nairobi and being closer to these communities, the development and impact will be more tangible, and I will gain a deeper understanding of these markets. I look forward to becoming conversational in Swahili and immersing myself in the culture and customs. Separately, I’ve been dancing my whole life and am looking forward to taking Afro and dancehall classes at local studios as well as enjoying the vibrant arts and music scene.
Jeff: How was your recent trip to Kenya and Rwanda and what did you learn?
Lavanya: The recent trip was great; it was my first time in both Kenya and Rwanda. Kigali was beautiful with its rolling hills and Nairobi was bustling (as expected). The most pleasant surprise was how welcoming and helpful everyone I met was. The trip served as a due diligence trip, as well as an opportunity to familiarize myself with Nairobi in advance of the move. Conducting due diligence on the ground was a great way to truly understand the business model and operations of the company we were evaluating and build rapport with its founders. We spoke with their entire team as well as some of their customers and partners. Separately, we met with several other entrepreneurs and investors, where I noticed the diverse spectrum of impact and business approaches to solving similar problems. I’m really looking forward to being surrounded by a community of ambitious, diverse individuals that I can continue to learn and be inspired from.
Jeff: What’s been surprising or challenging about your experience thus far?
Lavanya: The learning curve has been very steep since I started working at VestedWorld. Not only am I learning about new geographic markets and industry sectors, but also flexing what feels like every skill imaginable, ranging from negotiation and persuasion to financial modeling and critical thinking. Although I constantly feel challenged, that is exactly what I need coming out of business school. When I think back to where I started at the beginning of my internship, it’s like night and day. I’ve learned an incredible amount already and am looking forward to more challenges to come.
Jeff: What are some investment themes you’re particularly excited about?
Lavanya: I’ve recently become very interested in healthcare, especially as it relates to women, as well as in locally-sourced consumer food and beverages. With regards to healthcare, quality and access have historically been major issues. We’ve been seeing several startups that are using technology to improve the healthcare system, from basic EMS and chronic care, to sexual and reproductive health. As awareness and health education has increased, personal health has become more of a priority. With regards to food and beverages, there is so much arable land in Sub-Saharan Africa which represents a huge opportunity to grow raw materials for consumer goods, ranging from coconuts to avocados. Beyond exporting these products to developed countries, there’s also a growing market for local consumption, driven by increases in discretionary income and urbanization.
Jeff: What are you currently reading that might be interesting to others?
Lavanya: I just finished reading the Blue Sweater by Jacqueline Novogratz, the founder of the impact investing fund Acumen. Acumen and its community-based chapters were the reason I initially learned and became interested in this field. I thought it was only fitting to read about Novogratz’ journey working in Africa as I embark on mine. I also recently started reading Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman. During business school, I became fascinated with consumer behavior and the psychology behind it. This book touches on the psychology of judgement and decision-making, which is critical to keep in mind as I evaluate investment opportunities.
If you have any comments, questions, or recommendations, I would love to hear them. You can reach me anytime at firstname.lastname@example.org.