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Renew Capital's presence has expanded to 14 African countries. We aim to provide insight into Africa's startup scene, along with the opportunities and challenges it presents through a series of blogs from our in-country team. If you share our passion for developing entrepreneurship in Africa, we invite you to check out our open roles

My Journey to Renew Capital: Get to know Raisa Chowdhury 

By Raisa Chowdhury | Fri Jan 19 2024
International footprints and lessons in balance
Welcome to the latest feature in our 'Journey to Renew Capital' blog series. In this interview, we spoke with Raisa Chowdhury, Senior Project Consultant and M&E Lead, about her personal journey to Renew Capital. We explored her diverse international career in the development sector across countries such as the United States, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Cambodia, Mozambique, Ethiopia, and now Rwanda and uncovered the underlying passion that fuels her work in this domain.
Raisa, center-left, leading with passion and purpose.
Welcome Raisa, thank you for taking the time to sit down with us. You are originally from the U.S. and are now based in Kigali, Rwanda, where you are currently working on Renew Capital’s Accelerating Regional Business Growth (ARBG) project among others. Could you please share a bit about your background and how you landed in East Africa?
Before joining Renew Capital, I focused on other areas of global development—mostly going back and forth between digital development and peace/rights/civil society/democracy-focused work. In both areas, there was also a lot of talk about the economy—both building on the economic foundations in place within a given context, as well as enabling economic growth. While I found the other work morally and intellectually interesting, I wanted to learn more about this recurring theme of how to “build an economy.” 
Coming out of graduate school in 2022 I knew that I wanted to do work that produced a tangible impact. I was looking for something that felt different from the U.S.-based development consulting work I was doing at the time. Though I didn’t set out to work in Africa, I was curious when I found Renew Capital through a job alert. As I learned more about the firm, I felt aligned with Renew Capital’s values and the work felt exactly like what I was looking for. I had been to East Africa and Southern Africa for shorter stints already and knew about the great energy in many of the ARBG countries. This made me excited to learn from and contribute in a small way to the buzzing ecosystems in these places. 
You mention that your career has spanned several development sectors. Can you elaborate on what drives and inspires you to pursue this path?
It’s amazing to witness and experience the dynamic energy in emerging markets across different sectors from business, government, arts… you name it. In the development sector particularly, you get to meet all these incredible people who are working tirelessly to make their countries better, and in just a few years positive changes are visible. That inspires me to play a small enabling role in those changes.
I’ve also tried to take advantage of my time in the region to be as curious and connected not only because it’s fun but also to better understand the histories and cultures of the countries we work in and be better at my job as a result. One of Renew Capital’s guiding statements is that we seek to change the way the world engages Africa and I joke to my friends that I’m doing that one Instagram story at a time. In all seriousness, though, living here and being fully present gives me a chance to fall in love with the places we work in, gain valuable insights and come to the office with a level of personal investment in the outcome that I hope makes a difference to the quality of my work.
In your work on various projects in the East Africa region, what are some unique opportunities that you've come across and what excites you about your work?
I’m new to the investment and business support space so it’s been fun to learn more about how things work here. Though there’s been a learning curve, I love getting to be a part of a team that’s working hard to move the needle on business success in the region by testing out different approaches to best support companies in their growth journey. 
For example, in the first year and a half of the ARBG program, we’ve developed trade training, connected companies to valuable market intel and retail expertise, gotten products moving across borders and expanded the reach of the Renew Capital’s offerings for SMEs by beginning to build an online training platform. 
I'm also enjoying the opportunity to develop internal systems for our ARBG program, taking on increased responsibility for shaping and managing its progress. This also means more accountability — if something goes wrong, it's on me, which is both scary and gratifying.
What excites me the most is that if we get things right we will have helped catalyze business growth and hopefully helped expand the pool of people that benefit from the economic shifts in the region. The boom is coming and I hope that firms like Renew Capital can help bring that reality a little faster and shape that future to be a little more equitable and just.
Can you share with us a defining moment in your career? What lesson did you learn from this experience?
When I was taking pre-med courses (classes necessary to apply for medical school: biology, chemistry, physics, math, psychology, humanities) in university, I did abominably poorly in Organic Chemistry 1 and 2. I was devastated, as I had always been the kind of gung-ho student who had never gotten less than an A academically, except once in a middle school art class. 
I’m so grateful now for that failure because it helped me walk away from a path I wasn’t truly passionate about or particularly well suited for, and instead pursue a career that has been more amazing than what I could have imagined for myself at that point. That experience was super formative and forced me to learn to pause and reflect on whether things are progressing in alignment with the bigger picture, and being okay to change course even when it’s hard. To this day, I try to apply that lesson not just to my career, but also more broadly in my life.
Also on the theme of reflection and pausing, a slightly different lesson I’ve gotten throughout my life comes down to balance. In one previous role, I had an older colleague who would go around at the end of the work day and tell everyone to go home because “we’re not saving lives.” What she meant was that whatever we were working overtime on could likely wait until the morning to be completed without major consequences. This particular colleague was one of the members of a tight-knit team of sharp Bangladeshi women I had the privilege of getting to join for a short period at USAID Bangladesh. I try to remind myself of this lesson when things get overwhelmingly busy. 
Renew Capital is an Africa-focused impact investment firm that backs innovative companies with high-growth potential. Renew Capital manages investments made on behalf of the Renew Capital Angels, a global network of angel investors, foundations and family offices who seek financial returns and sustainable social impact. For the latest on investing in Africa, subscribe and follow us at our social links below.

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