By McKenzie Jackson
SANTA CLARA — African Diaspora Network founder and Executive Director Almaz Negash has uplifted and championed investment in businesspersons, entrepreneurs and innovators of African descent in U.S. communities and across the African continent for 13 years.
Negash, a native of the East African country Eritrea, who resides in the Bay Area, is now set to do similar work for the administration of President Joe Biden. Negash was appointed to the President’s Advisory Council on African Diaspora Engagement in late September. Last month, Negash told California Black Media that the council can help Africans in the Diaspora be a bridge between the U.S. and the African countries they hail from.
“The African Diaspora Network has been bringing Africans and friends of Africa together to talk about things we can do on the continent,” Negash said. “Whether it’s through entrepreneurship, investment and other ways. If you really look at it, you can reverse it and do the same thing in the United States.”
The African Diaspora Network is based in Santa Clara. Most of the organization’s leaders are affiliated with the Bay Area’s tech and business communities, even though the impact of the work they do is felt far beyond that region.
Negash, who has a background in international business, hopes the committee can change policies that will allow Black entrepreneurs in the U.S. and in Africa to thrive.
“The same thing that African Americans face here is also faced by Black entrepreneurs on the continent,” she said. “I want to share knowledge and resources but also shed light on the challenge Blacks face like access to funding.”
Negash was one of 12 people selected for the inaugural advisory group for terms that run until 2025. The appointees represent the diversity of the African Diaspora from Black and African communities. Members have distinguished backgrounds from a variety of industries including academia, business, creative industries, faith-based activities, government, sports and social work.
Delaware’s Silvester Scott Beaman, the 139th elected and consecrated bishop of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, is the council’s chair. Another Californian, Ugandan-born Ham K. Serunjogi, the co-founder and CEO of Chipper Cash, a cross-border money transfer platform, is also a councilmember.
Along with Negash and Serunjogi, the other board members are: C.D. Glin, of Connecticut, who is the president of the PepsiCo Foundation; Osagie Imasogie of Pennsylvania, who is chairman of the investment bank Quoin Capitol and co-founder of the private equity firm PIPV Capital; Chinenye Joy Ogwumike of Texas, who is a two-time WNBA all star for the Los Angeles Sparks and a full-time, multi-platform ESPN host and NBA analyst.
Other board members include: Patrick Hubert Gaspard of New York, who is president and CEO of the Center for American Progress; Viola Davis of Rhode Island, who is an actress, artist, activist, producer, philanthropist and New York Times best-selling author; Mimi E. Alemayehou of Washington, D.C., who is the founder and managing partner of Semai Ventures; Kevin Young of Washington, D.C., who is the Andrew W. Mellon director of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture; Helene D. Gayle of Georgia, who is president of Atlanta’s Spelman College; and Rosalind Brewer of Georgia, who until August served as chief executive officer of Walgreens Boots Alliance.
The board will have in-person meetings three times a year and do other committee work in between. The council was established after the Biden administration made a commitment to enhance dialogue between the U.S. government and the African Diaspora during last year’s U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit held at the White House.
Vice President Kamala Harris told council members during their October swearing-in ceremony that their work is an extension of what the U.S. does to improve global partnerships.
“This is critical in reinforcing relationships and our democratic principles,” Harris said at the time. “I am also excited that the council will be a way to reintroduce the U.S. to the continent.”
Africa — a continent over 50 nations — has an abundance of natural resources such as arable land, renewable fresh water and mineral wealth. Forty-two percent of the planet’s 15-to-35-year-olds will live on the continent by 2030.
Negash said Africa will have a central role in the world’s future because of the youth and talent on the continent and in the diaspora.
“That is an incredible opportunity to bring the world together,” she said, noting the investments governments across the globe have made in African nations. “Resources have been going out of the continent. This is an opportunity to help the community thrive, so many leaders around the world or interested in the continent. The numbers are powerful.”
Negash’s African Diaspora Network has promoted business and economic development in Africa and throughout the diaspora since 2010. The nonprofit announced last month that it is partnering with Arizona State University to manage $80 million in funding from the Africa Bureau of the U.S. Agency of International Development’s to assemble a coalition committed to empowering Africa’s youth with tools, education and networking opportunities.
In October, the network held a graduation ceremony for its Accelerating Black Leadership and Entrepreneurship program, a six-week workshop focused on community building, mentorship and training for 11 Black entrepreneurs. Each participant received a $10,000 grant.
Additionally, by 2028, Negash noted, the network hopes to have raised $35 million in funding.
“The most important thing we do at ADN is bringing people together,” she said. “Supporting entrepreneurs in Africa and supporting entrepreneurs in the United States, and really showcasing the diaspora and the role we play in the U.S. and on the continent of Africa.”
McKenzie Jackson is a reporter for California Black Media.