“It doesn’t matter if the cat is black or white, so long as it catches mice.” Deng Xiaoping’s legendary quote proved to be at the heart of the African Diaspora Investment Symposium last month: bringing together people from diverse industries and backgrounds to achieve the central goal of developing Africa and maximizing her potential.
The African Diaspora Investment Symposium (ADIS) is the signature event from the African Diaspora Network (ADN), created with the intention of building a global community centered around investment, innovation, human capital development, and entrepreneurship for and within Africa. Almaz Negash, the founder and executive director of the African Diaspora Network and the event organizer explains it better when she says “The African Diaspora Network is trying to bring Africans and friends of Africa together to collaborate, create and imagine possibilities for the continent.”
Negash’s tremendous commitment to the continent is visible from the meticulous planning and success of the event. The caliber of invitees, speakers, panelists, innovators, entrepreneurs, investors and young change-makers present was nothing short of remarkable.
The reception on the first evening was the first clue into an event that was painstakingly put together to offer professional solutions to Africa’s needs. The ambiance was of a strong, yet corporate camaraderie. All these champions of and for Africa in one room, a continent that we continue to hold tremendous hope for, meeting and connecting with the single purpose of taking the Homeland further.
Over the course of the following two days, attendees heard impassioned speeches and discussions from a wealth of stakeholders in Africa’s future: locals resident on the continent and innovating for change, Africans in diaspora with interests ranging from passive to curious to active engagement, and investors who are spending time and resources in the various emerging spaces and industries.
The first note was the right note with the Honourable Joseph Mucheru, the Kenyan minister for ICT, Innovation and Youth Affairs, delivering an entertaining and insightful keynote speech. A clever mix of western education (a graduate degree from the UK and an executive program at Stanford University) and local knowledge (both in the private sector as a high ranking google official for nearly a decade to his more recent high-profile public sector position), the honorable minister spoke on Kenya’s key focal points in the coming years: food security, universal healthcare based on citizen digitization, affordable housing, and manufacturing.
The minister stated that as of May 2017, data replaced oil as the world’s most valuable resource. The power to harness Africa’s data, as well as protecting the continent’s intellectual capital, would be, he believed, one of the major drivers for success in the coming years.
A panel chat by two brothers meant to chart their journey from Eritrea to the US and the growth of their corresponding businesses became one of the highlights of the event as emotions of gratitude and mentorship bubbled to the surface, showing that we need humanity at the heart of all that we do if we are to succeed.
Nate Ghaim, CEO of a logistics company, became visibly overwhelmed with emotion when he narrated the story of his brother Josh Ghaim, former CTO for Johnson & Johnson Consumer, coming through for him financially when he thought he was out of business options and on the verge of closure.
Both brothers emphasized the need for mentorship as a means for economic growth as the rope for many young, talented Africans can be lengthened with constructive advice.
The difficult topic of diaspora remittances and sustainable development was discussed at length. More than $40 billion in remittances goes to sub-Sahara Africa, mostly to Nigeria, according to the event organizer, Almaz Negash. While this figure is debatable, the real question in the room was: is it sustainable? Could the diaspora funds be better managed in other ways that could become a source of investment instead of filling short-term needs and creating the dependency it does today?
Thelma Ekiyor, founder of an investment fund for women-run businesses, spoke at length on seeing Africa’s problems as opportunities, including women entrepreneurs in larger-scale funding and supporting the growth of women-led businesses.
Many attending the symposium in the hopes of finding the air thick with numbers, and much talk about venture capital vs private equity vehicles might have found themselves disappointed. This event accepted the role of funding for growth but focused more on mentorship as a vehicle for investment for a change.
From whether an idea is viable to the requirements from technology in proffering solutions for regional challenges, to opportunities for scale, one of the greatest ways the diaspora population can impact the engaged youth population in Africa is to mentor, advise and guide. Many of the attendees in the room have experienced – and have been responsible for – the facets that lead to successful businesses. As a result, they have a lot of insight they can impart on the younger, more ebullient African youth who are eager to learn and implement these strategies for success.
Innovation lies at the heart of growth, and the symposium was a great opportunity to meet solution-oriented Africans who are leveraging local knowledge, technology and business acumen to impact their immediate communities and beyond. Innovators who made great headway in fields such as health, education, financial inclusion, gender inclusion, energy, and waste management were honored with the 2020 Builders of Africa’s Future Awards. More than just recognition for their impact, the young innovators will have access to mentorship and training – a running theme in this year’s event.
It will take many more symposiums such as this to bring Africa to the forefront of economic development and financial freedom. With more talking, meeting and networking, coupled with education, training, investment with funds and resources, deliberate governance and empowering policies, we will see Africa focus on the essentials for growth and sustainability and emerge a global leader. Africa won’t get there in a day, but Almaz Negash and her brilliant forum are definitely taking us a step closer.
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