“Lift As We Climb” – America’s First African Immigrant Leadership Conference Makes National and Global Waves


By: Lolla Nur, freelance journalist

“Leadership is the ability to develop a goal, while creating a condition for [leaders] succeed, ”said Dr Fatima Lawson with passion at the first National Conference on African Immigrant Leadership.

Organized in the Twin Cities in December 2020 by Economic development solutions in Africa (AEDS) – a non-profit small business development organization – the conference brought together 65 local, national and international speakers and moderators. Almost all were first or second generation Africans.

Featured on a Zoom panel with a group of pioneering African women leaders, whose backgrounds span philanthropy, community organizing, marketing and business management, Dr Lawson chose to speak to the differences between leadership and management. . This is an area with which she has extensive experience, as financial secretary of the Minnesota Institute for Nigerian Development (MIND) and director of Saint-Paul public schools.

Management is the ability to get things done on a day-to-day basis, she said, while leaders “Should have the capacity to Make things happen, not just for you, but for the organization.

DEA organized the convocation in partnership with Claim our space, Cullasaja Synergy Consulting, LLC, Infiniti Pictures, Pan African TV, and Ramsey County Workforce Solutions.

Caption: AEDS CEO and founder Gene Gelgelu and master of ceremonies Korma Aguh-Stuckmayer are pictured being filmed during their presentations for the conference. Image credit: Claim our space.

The panels focused on wealth creation in immigrant communities, economic inclusion, entrepreneurship, human and civil rights, maintenance of identity in the diaspora, health, civic engagement and building coalitions. It is one of the first of its kind on a regional and probably national scale.

Keynote speakers were Her Excellency the Ambassador, Dr Arikana Chihombori Quao (former African Union representative in the United States), Gary Cunningham (former President and CEO of the Metropolitan Economic Development Association) and Alfa Demmellash ( CEO and co-founder of Capital of the rising tide).

For us by us, united in the diaspora

A sub-theme of the conference was “ascending as we ascend”: a sentiment repeated throughout every conversation. Speakers expressed the need for more Africans in leadership positions at all levels, while creating more institutions led and led for, by and with Africans.

Indeed, this idea was brought up with enthusiasm by the opening speaker herself, HE Ambassador Dr. Arikana Chihombori Quao. Dr Quao is a Zimbabwean physician, diplomat, lecturer and Pan-African activist.

Caption: Keynote address by Her Excellency Ambassador Dr. Arikana Chihombori Quao at NAILC 2020

“The problem is that we [Africans] should be at the wheel of the development agenda, ”she said in her opening speech. “Unfortunately, the children of Africa are the only missing ingredient – if Africa is to build [the] the sustainable Africa we want.

“[We are] not united in the diaspora, ”she continued. “This is why this moment calls for unity and collaborations. It is important that Africans understand what is at stake.

Africans in Minnesota

Gene Gelgelu, CEO and Founder of AEDS, explained that the National Conference on African Immigrant Leadership arose out of a need for diverse Africans to “come together to have a larger and stronger collective voice that can shape and inform the public ”. The recent Bush Foundation Fellow cited the need for Africans to create opportunities within business and philanthropic America.

“Africans in Minnesota are among the fastest growing segments of the population, but we are under-represented in the key systems and decision-making processes that determine our access to opportunities and our quality of life,” he said. -he declares.

A fact generally unknown outside of Minnesota is that the state has some of the country’s largest African populations, from Nigerians and Liberians, to Somalis, Ethiopians, Eritreans and Kenyans. This often means that African business clients, regardless of their country of origin, have unique entrepreneurial and business development needs – an important gap that AEDS strives to fill.

Caption: Speakers discussing the panel: “Global Africa: Preserving African Identity Across the Diaspora”. Image credit: AEDS Facebook page

As a community development finance institution (CDFI), AEDS responds to the specific cultural needs of African businesses by offering services such as business training, technical assistance, access to capital and artistic and cultural programming (via the annual newsletter Little Africa Festival).

Additionally, AEDS services are available in seven African languages ​​spoken in Minnesota – and its goal is to increase the capacity to serve West African communities, Gelgelu said.

“In order to build strong economies and tackle economic inequalities in African immigrant communities,” Gelgelu added, “we need to build a strong national coalition of African immigrants”.

African economy

According to research produced by the economist Dr Bruce Corrie, in December 2020 Africans in Minnesota have purchasing power of $ 2.8 billion. This number is almost double the number a report he published in 2015 had quoted.

The same report, released by Concordia University, also said that charitable donations from African immigrants in Minnesota are estimated at $ 14 million per year, and that the state’s market for African services and products is $ 281 million. Five years later, those numbers have increased.

Caption: Dr. Bruce Corrie discusses the economics of African immigrants to Minnesota at NAILC 2020.

Produced in partnership with AEDS, Dr Corrie’s report was the most comprehensive of its kind in Minnesota when it was published, polling “over 500 consumers and over 100 businesses across the diversity of African immigrants,” according to Dr. Corrie. website.

Empower African women to lead

During the panel titled ‘Empowering African Women to Lead’, investment lawyer Efe Ukala said African immigrant women have unique barriers in the corporate world, which means they need to do more. ‘efforts to succeed.

Ukala, the founder of ImpactHER, added that the only solution is to build your table and sculpt your space (she clarified that she was not talking about, or for, her current employer during the panel).

Caption: Alfa Demmellash keynote speaker at NAILC 2020

“As [African] women, we have to create these opportunities for ourselves. Sitting and waiting for someone to come knock on your door with a bowl of milk and honey? She joked rhetorically and with a smile. “You are going to wait a very long time, I will tell you. Sometimes you have to create this seat for yourself.

Many panelists discussed the unique disparities that African immigrants face in fields ranging from healthcare to business, media to politics. During the conference, Gelgelu announced his intention to host the second NAIL conference in 2021, which AEDS plans to host in person, he said.

Nelima Sitati Munene, Tolulope Ola, Rosemary Ugboajah, Tashitaa Tufaa, Abdirahman Kahin, Nasibu Sareva, Hanna Getachew-Kreusser, Teshite Wako, Dr. Richard Oni, Mark Ritchie, Jaylani Rose Hussein, Dr. Brewer, Bo Thao-Urabe, various decision makers locals, young activists, funders and many more.

Disclaimer: The author of this article has been employed by African Economic Development Solutions in the past. She was moderator of the 2020 National African Immigrant Leadership Conference referenced in this article.


Comments are closed.