Moving to what moves her

Sara Mezui Engo is the face behind the Government Institutions Pension Fund’s N$18.5 billion Alternative Investments Programme.

10 January 2020 | People

Justicia Shipena

Passionate about responsible investing, Sara Mezui Engo says she is blessed with an opportunity to steer capital to priority sectors that may unlock growth and create socio-economic benefits for the Government Institutions Pension Fund, its members and the Namibian economy as a whole.

Engo heads the Alternative Investments Unit at GIPF, with committed capital to the Alternative Investments Programme totalling N$18.5 billion, of which 38% is committed to Namibia.

Apart from her roles at GIPF, Mezui Engo serves as a board member of the Retirement Funds Institute of Namibia and as a commissioner of the Law Reform and Development Commission.

“These are platforms where I’m further able to champion Namibia’s socio-economic footprint,” she says.

In November 2014, she relocated to Windhoek from Dubai to take up her current role.

Engo said the move was a welcome one, as at the time she had travel from Dubai to Cape Town to attend her MBA modular classes at the Stellenbosch Business School.

She added that GIPF sought a portfolio manager for private equity, which discipline was at the time emerging in Namibia, proving to be a promising asset class.

“I clinched the job largely on the back of my experience in private markets investing, which I gained at the Mineworkers Investment Company, where I co-managed a diversified portfolio of 13 underlying companies,” she says.

Engo believes her experience at EMH Prescient Investment Management, RMB Asset Management and Liquid Africa further moulded her to be a well-rounded investment manager.

Her early role models are her parents, who instilled in her the belief that education is the only equaliser and that with Christ as your foundation one can craft an individual who is able to pursue; govern and be accountable.

Engo told Careers she was always a colourful character with varied interests. Her creative side wanted to pursue opportunities in the fashion and entertainment industries on the back of having been successfully cast in the music video for Seal and DJ Jakarta, as well as having participated in the Miss Namibia pageant.

“My family reminded me that I was lucky to have been awarded a bursary to study at either the University of Cape Town (UCT) or Stellenbosch University and that I should rather pursue being educated first, as I could always still venture into my other interests after obtaining a degree.”

This panned out to be true when she participated in Miss Stellenbosch University, winning a modelling contract with Topco Models in Cape Town. However after a few successful castings, she realised that focusing on a career in finance was more sustainable.

Her interest in finance started in high school, when she considered becoming a chartered accountant.

“One holiday in Pretoria, I came across an audit partner who advised me that my personality would be starved if I pursued auditing. In my third year at Stellenbosch University, my husband, who was my best friend at the time, encouraged me to change from a Bachelor of Accounting Sciences to Investment Management,” she explained.

Agribank, her sponsor at that time, was supportive of this change and converted her bursary into a scholarship, which allowed her to start a career at an investment boutique firm in Sandton, Johannesburg.

Speaking to Careers, Engo said the investment sector remains a male-dominated discipline when it comes to leadership positions. She feels that people don’t take the time to evaluate the drawbacks of a lack of diversity in executive management.

Matching the provisions of NEEEF, the Financial Sector Charter and GIPF’s peers in SADC, the GIPF is finalising a transformation plan through investment procurement that will look to drive gender transformation within the financial sector.

“Over the years, I have observed that leadership comes with making unpopular decisions. If you can’t make them, be prepared to smell the brewing stench of mediocrity,” she says.

As the portfolio manager for private equity at GIPF, overseeing 32 funds managed by global and local fund managers, she has learned that respect is about character and relationships, not decision-making.

“In so doing, one can remain respected even if you or your decisions are not liked, thereby transcending from effective to virtuous leadership,” she said.

Engo believes good stewardship leads to sustainability and ensures accountability.

Established in December 2014, the Alternative Investments Programme started investing in private equity funds outside of Namibia in 2015.

In 2016 the unit finalised the N$2 billion PE Portfolio, which led to GIPF complying with the then Reg 28(4) directive and the year after it had its first venture capital allocations to the US market.

“We also crafted affordable housing mandates for Namibia to the tune of N$650 million,” said Engo.

Two years ago the unit had its first unlisted real estate allocation to the European and RSA markets.

Last year saw the first allocation to infrastructure funds on the back of the developmental investment policy GIPF had concluded in 2017.

Furthermore during 2018 the GIPF approved the plan of increasing its domestic exposure to 45%, largely through mandates to be crafted from alternative investments.

Recently it finalised the development of a tool to measure and rank the environmental, social and governance (ESG) maturity of fund managers, portfolio companies and direct investments within the Alternative Investment Programme.

Describing finance as a dynamic field, Engo believes the saying ‘education is the only equaliser’ may not be relevant nowadays as not enough is being done to expose the youth to entrepreneurship and vocational training.

Her advice to young individuals is that whichever career path they choose, they should know their dreams are valid.

“Familiarise yourself with future trends and choose wisely based on a career for which there will be demand and an opportunity to be of impact. Most importantly, it’s never too late to change your initial course of action,” she advises.

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