Accra, Ghana, January 22, 2020//-More than 8,500 miles lie between Silicon Valley and Eritrea, but day after day Almaz Negash – founder of African Diaspora Network–finds ways to reconcile her Eritrean background with her American life, effortlessly connecting the two worlds in ways that many might find daunting.
Negash from 2010-18, led Step Up Silicon Valley, a social innovation network focused on increasing economic self-sufficiency in Santa Clara County through convening, advocating for policy changes, and incubating innovative solutions, is the latest in a series of positions she has held in the last three decades.
In fact, under her leadership, Step Up Silicon Valley incubated the Social Impact Financing model also known as Social Impact Bond that resulted in a $6 million funding to reduce Chronic Homelessness and $24 million to reduce Chronic Mental Health in Silicon Valley in the United States.
Those who have worked with Negash are inspired by her dedication to support individuals and organizations committed to improving the quality of life in their local communities.
“Almaz has an energy that’s infectious and insight that’s unique. She sees difficult situations and brings to the issue an attitude that helps solve the problem”, says John Swan – Principal, Green Global Village, and Executive in Residence at San Jose State University. “She’s a catalyst.”
Her Devotion to Africa Remains Rock-Solid
Although Negash has spent much of her adult life in the United States and dedicates her energy and time networking and building relationships in Silicon Valley, her devotion to Africa remains rock-solid. “I am a member of a community here in the United States, but I am a committed African,” she says.
Negash’s commitment to Africa led to her founding the African Diaspora Network (ADN) in 2010. The mission of ADN is to inform and engage Africans in the Diaspora in order to facilitate direct collaboration with social entrepreneurs, innovators, and business leaders to invest and improve the lives of everyone on the continent.
To that end, in 1998, she facilitated a joint venture partnership between the Eritrean Ministry of Fishery and Sea Water Farms of Arizona to develop water-based sea agriculture and shrimp farming.
When asked what motivated her to set up the African Diaspora Network, Negash said: “In 2010, I noticed that the social entrepreneurship conversation was consistently about Africa, yet absent were the voices, ideas, and financial backing of Africans, both on the continent and in the Diaspora.”
As members of the African Diaspora, she reached out to her wonderful friend, Dr. Musimbi Kanyoro, former CEO of Global Fund for Women to see if her idea to create African Diaspora Network made sense.
Negash continued: “Dr. Kanyoro, given her expertise and first-hand knowledge about the tremendous potential of the global African Diaspora community to harness their resources and talents to shape the direction of the African continent, agreed.”
Considering the wealth of African Diaspora leaders in Silicon Valley and across the United States making huge contributions in their homes and communities, recognition of African Diaspora excellence was long overdue.
There was a dire need for an organization that would both honor the individual achievements of Africans in the Diaspora and on the continent and provides a platform for these visionaries to put their minds together, collaborate, and spearhead the transformation that the African continent truly needs.
This was the driving force behind the creation of the African Diaspora Network (ADN), with Almaz as the Founder and Executive Director, Dan Hartz as a founding board member, and Dr. Musimbi Kanyoro serving as the founding Board Chair.
Today, the non-profit organization connects, empowers, and supports leaders, entrepreneurs, and innovators from Africa, the African Diaspora, and friends of Africa who are committed to Africa’s development and prosperity and the communities where they live.
Striving to Bring Together Africans On the Continent
Negash told African Eye Report in a rare interview: “We strive to bring together Africans on the continent, in the Diaspora, and friends of Africa to actualize their full potential, activate their entrepreneurial spirit, and strategically mobilize financial and intellectual resources to ensure a brighter future for the African continent”.
As an African Diaspora-led organization, she believes that the Diaspora remains intimately connected to the African continent and has a vested interest in solving the social, environmental, and economic issues that impact their families, villages, cities, and countries.
The African Diaspora collectively sends over US$40 billion in remittance money annually. Of the unused remittance money, an estimated US$5-10 billion are available for savings and investments.
ADN strives to be the platform that can strategically advise these funds to drive impact on the African continent, by Africans, according to her.
“I believe in an intra-African voice for collaboration, including voices of Africans abroad. There are over 30 million Africans in the Diaspora, presenting countless opportunities for collaboration and community building beyond one’s own country. Developing a continental approach to building and strengthening Diaspora relationships and partnerships is essential for moving Africa forward.”
[/caption]By building consistent, long-term Diaspora engagement and harnessing the knowledge and capital of Africans living abroad we believe we can reverse the tides of migration outwards and shape an African continent where our communities, businesses and families can flourish.
When asked about the collaboration between the Network and African Union, Negash said: “This is an area where we need to make an effort to build strong relationship.
The good news is that we have ample opportunity to work together on how to strategically engage the African Diaspora to contribute to the economic and business development of Africa”.
Furthermore, she would like to spend more time working on how to scale remittances in order to invest in startups in Africa.
The Legacy She Wants to Leave Behind
“I always say that I am a ‘steward’ and that the African Diaspora Network belongs to all of us. Since our founding in 2010, I have worked diligently and gradually building a network of Africans in the Diaspora which permits us to harness the global intellectual capacity of Africans in order to promote social and economic development across the continent and the communities in which we live”.
The ADN has witnessed a remarkable trajectory of growth since its inception with initiatives such as the African Diaspora Investment Symposium and Builders of Africa’s Future, and the Impact and Innovation programs.
It is her hope that ADN will remain as a network of choice for the African Diaspora and friends of Africa in the United States and around the world.
In addition, Negash is contributing to two different books on Africans in the Diaspora. These and the ADN work will keep her busy for a couple of years.
In addition, she has written practical articles on the Role of African Diaspora in ensuring renaissance of the continent, and mobilizing and organizing Africans in the Diaspora for Economic Development.
In 2017, at the invitation of the UN Economic Commission, she served as a member of the High-Level Panel on Immigration and Migration (HLPM), chaired by the former Liberian President H.E Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.
In Negash’s capacity as a member of the HLPM, she contributed to the dialogue on the need for intra-African mobility by lifting visa barriers and intra-Africa Migration.
In 2018, she received an invitation to become an Executive in Residence at the Lucas School of Business at San Jose State. Shortly after immigrating to the United States in 1987, Negash dedicated herself to serious studies.
First, she earned a BA from the University of San Francisco and then followed up with an MBA from Golden Gate University. The MBA spurred her career in ways unimaginable.
She initiated a joint venture partnership between the government of Eritrea and Seawater Farms of Arizona to form a multi-million seawater-base farming project.
In her capacity as director of the Global Leadership and Ethics at the Markkula Center for Ethics at Santa Clara University (SCU), Negash worked with global leadership organizations to harness the moral voice of world leaders and the power of media to advance workable solutions to worldwide problems.
Additionally, while heading the Silicon Valley Center for International Trade Development, Negash organized and led successful trade missions to Japan, Europe, and Latin America.
As a seasoned business executive experienced in managing international trade negotiations and execution, she believes in the power of social enterprise to provide disadvantaged people with the skills and resources to move from poverty to contributing members of the community.
Negash is contributing author of the book titled: “Awakening Social Responsibility,” published in 2007 and has written numerous articles on global trade, social and educational issues.
Within the last three decades, Negash has made enormous contributions both to her adopted country and to the continent of her childhood memories.
Almaz Negash addressing participants at a conference[/caption]
Her rise in Silicon Valley is a statement to her agility. It appears her Eritrean upbringing and years of living and working in the United States seamlessly complement each other in a place that is vibrant, innovative, and embraces diversity.
Advice to The Young Africans
In her words: “Learn as much as you can. I believe in education, and I would like to see African youth, especially those back in the continent, get access to quality education where they can attain skill that will afford them a sustainable livelihood.
Africa is home to more than 60% of youth under the age of 25. Africa needs its youth, and equipping them with resources is critical, and it is only right that we invest in them”.
What She Stands For
In the spirit of Dr. Martin Luther King Birthday, Negash begins with this quote:
“An individual has not started living until he can rise above the narrow confines of his individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity.” Martin Luther King, Jr.
She stands for the right of people to live in dignity. Negash stands for economic rights, human rights, and women’s rights.
“Many times at the beginning of my career I was the only black or only woman in a room. This can work for you or against you,” Negash reflects. “But I am also one of the luckiest women to have married, my husband Regga Tekeste who is always there for me and for our two adult children.
Article originally published for African Eye Report by Masahudu Ankiilu Kunateh