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Out of Africa, connecting diaspora communities

Susan Amat is on her way back from Africa, where she participated in the Global Forum on Innovation and Technology Entrepreneurship Forum in South Africa, where she spoke and conducted workshops for 50 global startups (pictured below), and a gathering for LIONS@FRICA in Namibia.  Venture Hive  is a partner of LIONS@FRICA, a public-private partnership of The U.S. Department of State, Microsoft, DEMO, USAID, African Development Bank, Startup Weekend, and others launched  to enhance and deepen the startup and innovation ecosystems of targeted fast-growing African economies.  Susan wrote this post for LIONS@FRICA. 


By Susan Amat, Venture Hive

For several years one of my favorite annual activities has been hosting Global Entrepreneurship Week. The entrepreneurial journey, at its core, is the same everywhere in the world. Something magical happens every year during that week in mid-November, where the diaspora conversations are center stage and we learn about challenges and opportunities unique to different parts of the world.

For over a decade I have taught at the University of Miami, where my students hail from scores of countries. The students from Africa are unique in their commitment to return to their homes as soon as their degrees are conferred. Additionally, they have higher interest levels in being entrepreneurs than any other diaspora group. Many have shared local challenges that they want to tackle, such as high youth unemployment rates and scaling solutions they see in other regions to their local markets. As we help them develop their businesses, their goals always include making their communities better, either directly or through long-term philanthropic plans.

Africa is getting a lot of attention for its sustained growth rates and the market opportunities. Sub-Saharan Africa is expected to grow at a rate of 5.5% in 2013. Consumer spending is projected to rise to 1.4 trillion by 2020 in Sub-Saharan Africa alone. An Ernst & Young study from 2012 cited that the number of foreign direct investments (FDI) in Africa grew at compounded rate of almost 20% since 2007, with 27% FDI growth between 2010 and 2011. Funding from within Africa has expanded by 42% since 2007, with the highest levels of investments coming from Kenya (78%), Nigeria (73%), and South Africa (65%). Africa has experienced the fastest growth rates of Internet usage. Finally, one pan-African initiative is garnering a lot of excitement. The Tripartite Trade Agreement (TTA), which involves 26 countries down Africa’s eastern coastline (COMESA, EAC and SADC), creating region with a combined GDP of nearly $1 Trillion and 600 million people.

The launch of LIONS@FRICA in May 2012 shifted the conversation from celebrating growth and the continent’s potential, to the impact of engaging the African diaspora to support and multiply efforts on the ground in tangible ways. Every news post and announcement has been a beacon of hope for their countrymen, for the millions of young people who will be exposed to seeing entrepreneurship as an option for their careers; that they can make their own jobs rather than compete for the few jobs available; that they will have role models to help build their confidence and the right support in place to realize their dreams.

As I write this, I am in South Africa meeting with incubator and accelerator managers and dozens of entrepreneurs from across the continent. Again, startup needs are consistent: mentoring, funding, and connections. As each ecosystem builds its capacity, accessing quality guidance and smart capital often seem like insurmountable barriers. The involvement of the diaspora will be critical to create the environment that energizes young people, technologists, and the business community to build the foundation for their future.

In joining LIONS@FRICA, we are committing to bringing our program and infrastructure to Africa through partnerships. We will be announcing pilots in two regions this summer, with hopes to connect more entrepreneurs throughout the continent to the tools they need and to each other! The opportunities are endless, and so seem the hurdles, but the solutions to the most daunting tasks may be dormant in the mind of a child until that spirit is untethered and his ideas unleashed.

I consider the LIONS@FRICA partnership as a multi-layered gift: a gift of new resources to entrepreneurs across Africa; a gift from our partners who have invited us to join them on this incredible journey; and a gift to the African diaspora, including my students, who will now be able to support their communities from afar with their experience, capital, and love.

Venture Hive is pleased to be a LIONS@FRICA Partner!

Dr. Susan Amat is the founder of Venture Hive and the co-founder of The Launch Pad. In 2012. She was named a Champion of Change at the White House for her work mentoring entrepreneurs. Follow her on Twitter @susanamat.

Finalists from among the top 50 global startups participating in the forum.