Africa’s middle classes are the financial backbone of the continent with many creating the small and medium enterprises that drives job creation and economic development.
Yet many are only one emergency away from poverty and the idea of building wealth seems like an unattainable dream.
However, one woman says she has made it her life’s mission to empower Africa’s squeezed middle class.
Subomi Plumptre is a former brand consultant turned financial prosperity advocate from Nigeria. She is the co-founder of Volition Cap, an investment cooperative that aims to help Africans build wealth and financial stability.
Established in 2018, Volition Cap has initiated a $30 million fund dedicated to financing film, real estate, and agriculture projects in Africa. The fund employs a conventional cooperative investment approach with a specific focus on empowering the middle classes.
By facilitating individuals with limited financial resources to come together and form groups, the cooperative enables them to pool their investments and undertake more substantial collective ventures. Plumptre says the mission is to help the “honest and hardworking create purposeful wealth.”
Women creating more businesses
The middle class in Africa has experienced significant growth, reaching 34% over the last thirty years, according to figures from the The African Development Bank Group. This is in contrast to Europe and America where there has been a decline in middle-class populations, averaging 60% and 50%, respectively, figures from the International Labour Office shows.
“When people talk about Africa, they talk in terms of aid and in terms of helping the poor. But the middle class are the ones that create the most small and medium scale enterprises. So my focus on the middle class is actually very deliberate, because I realize that the middle class is the economic destiny of Africa,” Plumptre told CNN.
Women are also a big focus of her work because she believes it is a key to uplifting and creating wealth in Africa.
“About half of our clients are women and according to the World Bank, Africa is the only region of the world where more women than men choose to become entrepreneurs. So, again, if we’re going to really uplift Africa in terms of the economy and in terms of small and medium scale businesses, women actually create more businesses in Africa than men so it is crucial to support them,” Plumptre said.
Turning tragedy into triumph
Her pivot into building a career in finance was born out of personal tragedy.
Plumptre spent 20 years climbing the corporate career ladder but midway through it, she was struck by a sobering truth.
“About maybe ten years into my career, I realized that I would be poor if I ever stopped working, Like most corporate people, I was honest, hardworking, just loyal to my job,” Plumptre told CNN.
“I was completely illiterate when it came to investments, so I didn’t have any investment knowledge and I didn’t have any investments of my own,” she added.
She also faced a watershed moment with the loss of both her parents within six months of each other.
“For those who know Nigeria … you pay out of pocket because we don’t have a really structured social welfare system. if you ever have to do any complicated surgery or any kind of complicated health emergency, if you don’t have the funds to fly abroad, you literally die. That was what happened to my parents.”
This tragedy made Subomi realize that she, like many middle class individuals, lacked a safety net when faced with critical emergencies.
This realization prompted her to take action and find a way to empower ordinary people like herself with the knowledge and tools to build wealth and financial security.
“I realized that there were a lot of people like me, and I decided I was going to do something about it … I knocked on doors, met private bankers and asked what is the pathway for creating wealth as a normal middle class person and nobody could answer my question,” Plumptre said.
Escaping the poverty trap
Determined to bridge this gap, she took matters into her own hands and created an online investment course – one of the first of its kind in Nigeria, according to Plumptre. The course was a repository of knowledge where she poured out everything she had learned about investing and wealth-building.
The investment course was made accessible to 10,000 people, with half of them accessing it for free, Plumptre said. By empowering people with the right information, she aimed to break the cycle of financial vulnerability and provide a way for individuals, especially women, to escape the poverty trap.
As Subomi’s vision grew, so did her impact.
“For me, it was just my way of democratizing investment knowledge. I wanted people to have this information and I realized that it wasn’t just enough to give people information. I also had to help them invest. And that’s how I started, first of all, an investment club, and then I became a SEC licensed fund manager.”
The investment club was a collective effort that allowed members to pool their resources and make more significant investments. Volition marked a significant milestone in her journey, allowing her to manage approximately $30 million in assets through her cooperative model, Plumptre said.
As the cost of living rises, particularly with Nigeria’s recent petrol subsiddy removal, Volition Cap has also shifted its focus from individuals to small businesses.
Small business owners within the cooperative are also offered loans as membership ensures that individuals have been vetted and recommended by other members and reduces the risk of bad loans.
“If the businesses go under, then it affects the people who depend on the businesses for their livelihoods, the employees, the suppliers, the contractors. It has such a multiplier effect. So when there’s a recession, as fund managers, we need to turn our attention to funding businesses, and that’s what we’re doing now.”