Celebrating the Life and Times of Nigeria’s Impact Investment Hero, Innocent Chukwuma

Innocent Chukwuma unexpectedly passed away on the evening of Saturday, 3rd April 2021 of Acute Myeloid Leukaemia (AML). This came as a great shock to us all as we were gearing up for Innocent’s next endeavours. We lost him at the time he was starting a post-retirement life ready to scale greater heights. We may not be able to explain the abruptness of the situation, but we can attest to his great accomplishments.

Innocent Chukwuma was a father, a mentor, a brother, a friend, a pioneer, a giver and he believed in all of the possibilities of making Nigeria a superpower through the lens of Impact Investing.

Innocent served diligently and resourcefully as the vice-chair of the Impact Investors’ Foundation (IIF) and a core member and leader in the establishment of the Nigeria National Advisory Board for impact investment (NAB). He played this role with great strength and innovation. He selflessly trained, impacted and supported each member of the IIF team whilst providing acute advisory on the development of Impact Investing in Nigeria through the IIF and the NAB.

As a firm human rights and good governance advocate, Innocent believed in bringing justice and help to the people. He aided in the development of international collaborations and support towards Nigeria. He was the chief pioneer in building strong non-profit and non-governmental organisations in Nigeria such as the CLEEN Foundation, Altus Global Alliance and so many others in order to promote public safety, security and accessible justice in the West African region. He was the recent past director for Ford Foundation, West Africa office.

Innocent was the recipient of numerous honours, including the Reebok International Human Rights Award. He served as visiting lecturer at Harvard Kennedy School of Government, where he designed and taught a course on the management of non-profits in the Global South. He holds a master’s degree in criminal justice from the University of Leicester and a bachelor’s degree in religion from the University of Nigeria.

Innocent was the recipient of numerous honours, including the Reebok International Human Rights Award. He served as visiting lecturer at Harvard Kennedy School of Government where he designed and taught a course on the management of non-profits in the Global South. He holds a master’s degree in criminal justice from the University of Leicester and a bachelor’s degree in religion from the University of Nigeria.

With his wealth of experience and knowledge, Innocent Chukwuma was invited to be a visiting fellow at the University of Oxford’s Blavatnik School of Government to complete his autobiography where he shares his journey of humble beginnings to a life of purpose and fulfilment.

We relish this moment by taking time to honour and celebrate the life of Nigeria’s Impact Investment Hero. We choose to continue to live out his legacy by duplicating every footprint and milestone he achieved for West Africa.

May we ask that you also join us in the same endeavour by supporting the work being carried out in the Impact Investment space.

Afolabi Oladele, FNAE
Chairman, Impact Investors’ Foundation of Nigeria

16 comment

  1. Maria Glover says:

    Dear Innocent,

    From the first day, I met you to the last, you were a complete gentleman!
    You had a dream of making the world a better place, and you did everything possible to do through your various works and projects.

    In 2017, you saw the opportunity of mainstreaming impact investments as a more sustainable way of addressing
    our social and environmental issues in Nigeria. Hence, you worked tirelessly to get stakeholders together and formed
    the Impact Investors Alliance of Nigeria (IIAN) now Impact Investors’ Foundation (IIF). IIF was registered as a non-profit organisation
    in 2019 and with your support, we have been able to contribute significantly towards the growth of the impact investment market in Nigeria.

    In the last year, you championed the establishment of the Nigeria National Advisory Board for Impact Investment under the aegis of the
    Global Steering Group for Impact Investment (GSG), the highest national body responsible for building the impact investment infrastructure and grow the market. We looked forward to you being a part of the process but…

    The whole impact investment community celebrates and honour you, Innocent C. Chukwuma, Vice-Chair.

    Thank you so much for allowing us to know you and share this dream with you! We will keep your legacy flying!

  2. Maryam Uwais says:

    Innocent was a fine gentleman, kind, thoughtful and selfless. Although I have known (and admired) both Josephine and himself over the years, in the past year, we worked particularly closely on the impact investment task force, shaping the narrative for a concerted effort in the social space, within Nigeria. Little did I know that when he visited my office just this February to brief me about the end of his tenure at Ford Foundation and what he intended to focus on for the future, it would be the last time I would see him! To say he would be missed is an understatement. Such a colossal loss. A void that would be hard to fill. For me, his departure from this earthy realm leaves me with a deep heaviness…but if I can feel this way, what of Josephine and his 3 daughters, about whom he spoke of so proudly? My heart goes out to his dear wife and soulmate, Josephine, his children, and all of those whose lives were impacted positively by this gentle but very focused Nigerian. Adieu, Innocent. God be with you, and with your family. Eternal rest, perfect peace and God’s favour be upon you, amen.

  3. Thelma osadebay says:

    I still can’t believe that literally 3 months ago you took a chance on me. Your humility and patience has really taught me the fundamentals of being an ambassador of Christ and all things compassionate.

    If there is ever a day I feel weak, tired or fed up of Nigeria, I will remember a hero like you that fought to reform our country.

    The legacy lives on an so honoured to be a stakeholder of it.

    Rest beautifully Mr. Innocent. Will miss you dearly

  4. Temitope Oladele says:

    It came as a shock hearing about the death of Mr. Innocent Chukwuma, a renowned social activist, father, and mentor.

    The world has lost a true leader, his thoughtful, knowledge-driven, and relentless pursuit of justice and the common good will be an enduring legacy.

    With deepest condolences to his family, loved ones, and impact investing community.

  5. HABIBA ALI says:

    I had just met you at the first meeting of the board a week or two ago? I have known about your wife and her work with project alert for a long time now and did not even know then our paths will cross. the more I hear about you the more I realise the icon we lost. May you rest in Power and may your legacy live on.

  6. Sahara Foundation says:

    TRIBUTE TO A MAN OF GREAT HONOUR AND DEEP CONVICTION

    News of Innocent Chukwuma’s exit was received with profound sadness to us as to many others across the globe.

    Sahara Foundation recently entered into a partnership with the Ford Foundation with Innocent as its Lead in the West African office on our inaugural Sahara Impact Fund (SIF). With the Ford Foundation leading on the Governance component coupled with Innocent’s personal commitment to governance and youth development, we had no doubt that this partnership would provide a unique holistic experience to Fellows with his characteristic support and conviction in the impact the Fund was set up to attain.

    We recall clearly our last virtual meeting in late January 2021 where he reaffirmed his commitment and stated how much he looked forward to engaging with the programme Fellows despite his departure from the Ford Foundation.
    We certainly did not know it was to be his last with us.

    Just a few weeks ago, we were looking at having him speak to the SIF fellows as such this news has come as a rude shock.
    Today we honor Innocent by remembering what a remarkable leader he was who had in a short period played a unique and special role in all of our lives.

    Our consolation is that Innocent lived well – from his struggle for democracy on June 12, 1993 to founding CLEEN Foundation in 1998 and moving on to lead Ford Foundation’s West Africa Office in 2013 – Innocent’s journey has been one of a consistent belief in Nigeria’s democracy and finding lasting solutions to our recurring problems.

    Innocent will certainly be missed especially his exemplified life, show of love, humor and an irrepressible belief and faith in seeing the best in everything.

    Life is truly fleeting, hence the need to live fully and totally.

    We ask that God comforts his wife, Josephine, their 3 children and his entire family.

    The world has truly lost a rare gem.

    Rest in Power, Innocent!

  7. Mary Okey-Okoro says:

    Tribute to an Excellent Gentleman – Innocent Chukwuma

    The news of Innocent Chukwuma’s passing came as a great shock. Just 3 weeks ago I was reminencing with my former colleagues at Fidelity Bank Ikeja branch about his business with the bank dating back as far as June 2002…when I opened his CLEEN Foundation account with the bank.

    Oga Innocent, as we fondly refered to him , was an excellent gentleman. He treated people with genuine respect. He gave every person a fair chance to succeed. He had deep love and passion for the betterment of mankind and Nigerians in particular. He gave his life and talent to making Nigeria a better place. He had unwavering faith in Nigeria…which I must confess I have never seen in any other person.

    He gave me my first break in Banking and supported me all through my career. He came to my rescue a couple of times that I got entangled with the Nigerian Police. He gave me life sustaining advice at every critical junction of my life.

    He was a true friend, a wonderful husband and father and an excellent gentleman.

    He will be greatly missed.

    Rest in peace Oga Innocent.
    Mary Okey-Okoro

  8. Ndidi Okonkwo Nwuneli says:

    Tribute to my dear brother and champion – Innocent Chukwuma

    I first heard about Innocent Chukwuma in 1999 during my summer internship with the Ford Foundation Office of West Africa. Dr. Akwasi Aidoo and Dr. Adhiambo Odaga spoke so highly of this fantastic social change agent and activist. When I eventually met him a few weeks before the summer ended, I was in awe as he recounted his struggles for democracy during the military regime and his passion for police reform. In 2002, I established LEAP Africa, and we became co-labourers in the Nigerian development landscape. We connected at Ford events and other civil society gatherings. With each encounter, I was struck by Innocent’s humility, brilliance, and passion for social change. I also met his amazing wife – Josephine Effa-Chukwuma, the founder of Project Alert and a globally recognized social entrepreneur. I was genuinely inspired by their partnership in life and parenting, friendship, and commitment to transforming Nigeria through their individual and collective efforts.

    In 2008/2009, as the Ford Foundation was preparing for this 50th Anniversary in Nigeria, I profiled some of its leading grantees. I was delighted to reconnect with Innocent and interview him about the impact of the CLEEN Foundation. Learning more about his journey and work was fascinating. Our mutual respect began to grow, and we started dragging each other into different initiatives. I invited Innocent to participate in Ola Ndi Igbo in 2013, where he played a very prominent role in leading discussions about economic development and security in the Southeast.
    When Innocent eventually took over the leadership of Ford Foundation as the Representative for the Office of West Africa, he provided tremendous support to LEAP Africa, Sahel Capital and the African Philanthropy Forum. He even hosted local philanthropists in the Ford Office when his dear friend, Chris Stone, visited the country. He supported the 2nd Ola Ndi Igbo gathering in 2015, which he credited with inspiring his creation of the Oluaka Institute. Innocent also formally hosted the launch of my book – “Social Innovation in Africa: a practical guide for scaling impact”, in the Ford Foundation auditorium in 2016.

    In the same year, Innocent and I were in Kigali for the African Transformation Forum, organized by ACET. We spoke extensively about the impressive Kigali Genocide Memorial and the urgent need to create similar spaces in Nigeria during the conference. Innocent commissioned an initiative on Centers for Memory and Heritage and a book on the National War Museum in Umuahia.

    Building on his passion and vision, and in partnership with other Nigerians, we established the Center for Memories (CFM) in Enugu in December 2017, with our first exhibition focused on “Igbo Contributions to Nigeria and the World.” Innocent brought one of his amazing daughters to Enugu for the launch, and I marvelled at their strong bond. He was indeed a devoted and engaged father!

    In the days and weeks following the formal launch of CFM, we engaged in monthly calls on achieving the vision and objectives of the Centre. Innocent soon became my go-to person for any new idea on transforming Ala Igbo, Nigeria, and insights into the political climate and civil society’s role. He was a great thought leader and an outstanding champion! His response to any issue was always rooted in history, the global context, and a social justice perspective. We discussed a range of topics – from police and election reform to raising the next generation of civil society leaders to strategic philanthropy in Nigeria and impact investing! I reached out to Innocent during the COVID-19 lockdowns to plan for relief efforts in the Southeast and to sustain the momentum of the #EndSars Movement.

    Late last year, when Africans in the United States National Basketball Association (NBA) wanted to learn more about engaging in their home countries, I called on Innocent once again. I watched online as Innocent awed the celebrities with his brilliant insights!

    My last formal encounter with Innocent was during Sahel Consulting’s International Women’s Day celebration on March 8th 2021. When my team members asked why we would invite a man to serve as our keynote speaker, I boldly and proudly informed them that Innocent was the most authentic male champion in Nigeria. We could learn so much from his life’s example – as a husband, father, and advocate for so many women. Once again, he blew us all away with his brilliance, wisdom and humility. Thankfully, we have this fantastic lecture recorded to inspire future generations.

    Africa has lost one of its brightest stars – a fantastic husband, father, brother, uncle, friend, thought-leader, visioner, change agent, and social entrepreneur! Innocent has left enormous shoes to fill in the African civil society, community development, impact investing and philanthropy landscapes! His life of service, passion, vision, generosity, humility, and brilliance will continue to challenge and inspire me!

    My only consolation is that we got to celebrate him during the lovely, joint 50th birthday party with Josephine, five years ago and his send-off Zoom session organized by the Ford Foundation earlier this year. During his lifetime, he heard us tell the world how he had changed our lives!

    I will continue to pray for Josephine, the three wonderful daughters and the entire family. We are here for you four amazing ladies, and we will try to continue to push forward many of the projects and plans that Innocent started! May His soul rest in perfect peace, Amen!

    Ndidi Okonkwo Nwuneli

  9. Christian Jahn says:

    Tribute to an extraordinary and true partner.

    The Inclusive Business Action Network, iBAN, worked together with Innocent over the last months to support the establishment of the Covid-19 Impact Consortium in Nigeria. Although it was a rather short collaboration it became clear from the beginning that Innocent is not only one of the key persons in the impact investment sector in Nigeria who provides thought leadership, he also shared gladly his experience and his comprehensive knowledge and kept a bird’s perspective at the same time. In short, a partner we always wish for.

    We will continue our support to the development of the impact investment sector and inclusive businesses in Nigeria. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family and friends.

    Dr Christian Jahn, iBAN

  10. Afolabi Oladele says:

    Innocent the moving spirit behind the Impact Investing drive in Nigeria

    We met five years ago at the event held at Wheatbaker Hotel where the seed of the Impact Investors Foundation was sown. With your depth of knowledge of the space but with no airs, you agreed to serve as vice chairman putting at our disposal your knowledge and relatioships in getting the IIF to where it has attained today. Truly sad that lives of such rare servant leaders as Innocent are cut short, but we will never forget your contributions. Your family has much to be proud of in the legacy you have left. May the good Lord comfirt Josephine, Amarachi and the rest of the family. Adieu

  11. Uwa Osa Oboh says:

    Innocent,

    You were an inspiration. A truly decent individual whose qualities I admired right from the first time we met.

    You were resourceful, humble and ever so helpful. Never once did I see you ruffled; and in view of the causes you supported, this is saying something.

    Your passing came as a shock that was initially very difficult to process. As I come to terms with it, my promise to you is to continue to push for those common causes we shared, with the ultimate goal of building the good society, we’ve all dreamt of.

    Sleep well my friend and brother, rejoicing in presence of the Lord.

    Uwa Osa-Oboh

  12. Krisztina Tora says:

    It has been a terrible shock hearing about the sudden death of Innocent.

    I have lost a friend and an inspiration.
    We have lost a peer and a colleague.
    The world has lost a true leader and a hero.

    He had already achieved so much in making the world a better place and was working on achieving so much more. The size of the loss is inconceivable.

    We and many others are thankful for his leadership in (amongst so many other achievements) driving the Nigeria ecosystem to get together forming the Impact Investors Foundation and then the upcoming National Advisory Board that will help drive more capital to solve the SDGs in the country. Without him, it wouldn’t have been possible.

    Innocent was making the impossible achievable. He was one of those extraordinary people who bring everyone together, forming consensus around hard issues, making it seem quite easy to accomplish big change. He was leading with intelligence, humour, humility and most of all with heart. He had a relentless drive to improve lives for people in his city, his country, his region and the world. He was curious about so many topics, truly and deeply committed to fixing broken systems. He was making systems work better for those who are marginalised or living in poverty, actually changing lives. No issue was too big or too scary for him to tackle.

    Our thoughts are with his family and loved ones. Our payers join theirs in this unfathomable moment of profound sadness.

    May his memory guide our work with even greater commitment to addressing the ills of our societies, inspiring us day after day.

    May his light always live in our hearts.

    On behalf of the entire GSG team, please present our condolences to his family.

    Krisztina Tora

  13. Sam Hart says:

    Perhaps the sheer size of the impact that Innocent had in various spheres of life became clearer unfortunately after his passing. The outpouring of emotions across sectors has been humbling and touching. People you wouldn’t think had anything to do with Innocent knew him and had such beautiful things to say about him. From the Civil Society space to the Development ecosystem, public sector accountability to systems strengthening, Impact Investment to Mentoring and Incubation, Innocent Chukwuma lived a seemingly multi-faceted life and loomed large in all the sectors he impacted. We at #MadeInAba will always have fond memories of Innocent. He supported us through and through. Funded a number of our initiatives and was always a dependable sounding board for our ceaseless ideas. I also had the privilege of working with him on the Impact Investment conversation in Nigeria. Innocent is a one-in-a-million kind of individual. They don’t mass-produce them like him. He was a rare gem and a selfless individual. He was a mentor, guide, conscience, avatar. he will definitely be sorely miss. Adieu Nwokeoma. Laa n’udo.

    Sam Hart
    for your people in your beloved Aba.

  14. Thelma Ekiyor says:

    The first comment I made when I heard Innocent had passed was “But I was on a call with him a few days ago”. Death does not give notice many times, but life does. We are to make the most of our lives and Innocent certainly did.

    I have learned that it is not how long you live but what you do while you are alive and the lives you impact, that counts.

    Innocent impacted individuals, institutions and his nation. There is no greater legacy.

    He was getting ready for his next act but God in His infinite wisdom knew better. Innocent has run the race. He has finished the course and his reward is waiting for him.

    I send sincere condolences to his wife, daughters and extended family. I pray God’s comfort at this time. He alone can fill the void.

    I look forward to continuing the work Innocent pioneered through IIF and the NAB.

    Rest in Peace Innocent.

  15. Lehlé Baldé says:

    Innocent Chukwuma was a leader, a very rare type of man. In my professional life, I have come across all types of people and he was indeed a rare gem. Innocent was not only full of knowledge but he had a way of making you feel that you can do anything plus more. His aura was light, approachable and he had the warmest smile.

    Innocent and the team at Ford foundation introduced me to the concept of impact investing and encouraged me to use my media platform and voice to shed light on impact investing as a bid to get HNI’s to see it as a viable investment bucket. Despite his very busy schedule, he graciously gave his time and resources advice, honest feedback. He was there when we asked and even we didn’t. He also chaired the impact investors foundation which I was a part of and was very passionate about moving the needle forward. I can wholeheartedly say that his pioneering approach to setting that foundation up. He also supported the media and believed in freedom of the press.

    The only plausible way to explain how such a great human being can be gone so soon is to find solace in the belief he has done so much good in this life that God wanted him back in heaven with him. As we come to terms with the reality of the absence of his physical presence, we take comfort in knowing his legacy lives on through his wife, children, friends, family, and colleagues, and all the people who he impacted.

    It is now up to all the people who he touched to carry on the work he started. Innocent often spoke about the need to document family business practices and next-generation wealth. He spoke fondly of some of the success stories out of Nigeria that needed to be documented. This is something I plan to carry on. Thank you sir for showing us the meaning of what true leadership is. The entire nation mourns your loss. Until we meet again.

    Rest In Perfect Peace.

  16. Henrietta Onwuegbuzie says:

    Shock and disbelief greeted the news of Innocent’s passing. How could such a healthy person go? How could such a good-hearted person go so suddenly? As the reality sank in, I thought this guy blazed a trail. He certainly fulfilled the mission God sent him to do. Indeed it is not how long you live, but how well you live. Innocent was a role model in so many ways that show it is worthwhile to be a person of integrity, to fight for justice and to bring succour to those in need… A complete gentleman to the end of his days!
    I pray for grace for his family. It will be hard for them to recover from the loss of this good man. May your soul rest in peace my brother. Thank you for being an inspiration.

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