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By: Amanda Tanui (NIIF 2023-2024)

Kufurahia na maumivu: to painfully enjoy something in Swahili. It’s how I feel witnessing the Health Team’s charming storytelling in front of the Investment Committee (IC). It’s the first time I feel a sting of loss. “They are getting that investment,” I whisper to my teammate, who, like the rest of my classmates and the IC panel, is staring at the stage.

At that moment, I found myself reflecting on my entire journey with NIIF. How did I become so invested in winning the IC stage? It’s not as if NIIF is this hyper-competitive class of outwitting other teams- quite the opposite.

NIIF is an experiential class delving into the end-to-end impact investing process. It’s a journey of building relationships and discovering inspirational founders. Placed in teams across different industries, our task was to spot organizations ripe for catalyzing and rewarding those promising entrepreneurial visions coupled with undeniable impact.

Last semester, I had wondered if this was the right class for me. I had been vacillating between NYU Impact Investing Fund (NIIF) and Debt Finance. I had felt unprepared for the demands of the NIIF class because of my non-investing background - having only worked in Kenya as a Deals Consultant. Despite this, my appetite for impact investing was whet. I was curious to see a mission-strict philosophy of investing.

Uncovering in me the lurking feelings of self-doubt and imposter syndrome, I had to consult past NIIF students about their experiences. Thankfully, they and our lecturers assured us that our goals were achievable.

The NIIF class was immediately engrossing. The guest lecturers were particularly stirring for me. From startup founders to lawyers and more, they gave speeches that empowered us with helpful tips and invaluable industry insights. They not only taught me but also sparked a desire to do more and to return to inspire other students.

Companies and teams are about the people that run them. The founder of our venture, Leroy T. Nyangani, left an indelible impression. My team chose to work with Need Energy, a Zimbabwean virtual power plant, striving to eliminate power blackouts and advocating for clean cooking and renewable energy adoption. I could see that the founder, Leroy, cared about his vision- not only about eliminating power outages for small businesses and households but also about encouraging the uptake of solar PV systems in Sub-Saharan Africa and beyond. He was convinced that was that now is the opportune time to transition countries like Zimbabwe to clean energy, even while bridging electrification gaps and reaching the last mile. 

Similarly, other ventures like Stream Ocean, which focused on water conservation, stood out to me during sourcing. Their innovative solution, utilizing AI-modelled cameras to monitor underwater biodiversity, showcased simplicity’s effectiveness in tackling some emerging problems. Needless to say, it was always sad to say goodbye to all those we didn’t select- the courageous entrepreneurs striving to make a change.

For me, the agency and power in “my hands” would strike every so often with a light panic. Is this what a world-class education feels like? I felt the obligation to invest wisely and be good stewards of NIIF’s capital, and I knew my theoretical knowledge and consulting experience at PwC Kenya would be put to the test. No other class had challenged me like that. Our lecturers exuded deep expertise and years of experience while still managing to “come down to our level” and instill a sense of confidence in the class. (Shout out to Andrea Armeni, Chris Shemanski, Lynn O’Connell and every other student leader in our 2023-2024 cohort!). 

Spending time with all the incredible founders, entrepreneurs, mentors, and colleagues I met at NIIF transformed me by chipping away at my self-doubt and reminding me that mountains get moved through teamwork. The strength that comes from working with brilliant and equally passionate students is unshakeable. You get the sense that no matter the problems of this world, we have an army of people coming at them with vigor.

So, did my team win the investment? …

Maternova is the healthcare start up that beat ours to the IC approval. And for good reason. They told an incredible impact story, a venture aiming to reduce maternal and neonatal mortalities in West Africa and South America.

Nursing the disappointment of our defeat, I still feel lucky to have been part of something much greater than I could have imagined.

I am truly thankful to the NIIF community and all who helped us get to experience this. From our donors to alums, to partners, faculty, and friends- thank you. And I cannot wait to mentor the future NIIF cohorts.


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