On the surface, the Association of a New Generation of Leaders for Africa, or AngelAfrica, can’t hold a candle to the Corporate Council on Africa, Washington, D.C.’s longtime power broker of investment and commerce between the United States and Africa. Yet the future of Africa lies more in the hands of AngelAfrica than in the dealings of the CCA.
Created five years ago, AngelAfrica enhanced its standard speaker series and networking sessions with last year’s launch of an East African Investment Forum to provide a platform for those who had the talent and desire to promote entrepreneurship in East Africa. “AngelAfrica is a passion-driven initiative,” says Prosper Uwera, a Rwandese-born accountant with Acadia Realty Trust and a member of AngelAfrica’s executive committee. “Our goal is to create a large network of African professionals and people interested in African development, leverage that [network’s] talent to promote entrepreneurship and Africa as destination in terms of foreign direct investment, and pay attention to small to medium-size enterprises.”
The men and women, under 40 years old, who are signing on to this audacious agenda are first and second-generation Africans from every region of the continent, with a sprinkling from the U.S. and Caribbean Diaspora. Collectively, they represent just about every business and industry sector. “This is Africa’s time. The opportunity to make a difference there is quite seductive,” says Jerryanne Heath, founder and CEO of ConceptLink Consulting, an event management firm serving nonprofits and social enterprises, and a member of AngelAfrica’s executive committee. “My link to Africa? I am of African descent. Four years ago, I traveled to South Africa with Habitat for Humanity. It’s about the impact I can have by doing great work on the continent,” says Heath, whose parents are from Jamaica.
The contrast between AngelAfrica and the Corporate Council on Africa is stark. Established in 1993, the CCA works with governments, multilateral agencies and multinational corporations to improve Africa’s trade and investment climate and raise the continent’s profile in the U.S. business community. It is to the CCA’s three-day Seventh Biennial U.S.-Africa Business Summit in Washington that African heads of state and ministers flocked in September, not to AngelAfrica’s inaugural West Africa Investment Forum and Africa Social Enterprise Forum held the previous weekend in New York City.
At its packed two-day gathering, AngelAfrica showed off “entrepreneurs who have actually done great things,” says Uwera, such as Okey Okuzu, founder and CEO of Instrat Inc.; Dawn Hines, co-founder and partner of Aventura Investment Partners; Magatte Wade, founder and CEO of Adina World Beverages (for which she raised $20 million) and Tiossano Tribe Inc.; Nvalaye Kouroma, CEO, AfricXpress; Craig Newmark, founder of Craigslist; Eric Osiakwan, founder of Ghana Internet Service Provider Association; Kojo Parris, founder and CEO, Social Private Equity South Africa, and chairman of African Social Entrepreneurs Network; Nii Simmonds, co-founder, Afrobotics; Jacqueline Muna Musiitwa, founder, Transitional Trade; and Alicia Polak, founder and CEO, Khaya Cookies.
Whereas AngelAfrica is focused on grassroots development activism, the CCA regularly holds programs and seminars with African officials and private-sector leaders, U.S. administration officials, members of Congress, U.S. and African ambassadors and representatives of various multilateral agencies. It coordinates special private meetings for its member corporations with senior African and U.S. government leaders. According to its Web site, 34 African heads of state, including the leaders of South Africa, Nigeria, Algeria, Kenya and Angola met with CCA members during the past year.
“The models we have had for the past twenty to thirty years obviously have not worked,” Uwera says. “You want to be able to have somebody with great knowledge create a company, employ one, two or three people, have a market within or outside Africa, and have so-called interdependent businesses, with one producing raw materials to supply the other, and so forth and so on. That is one of the ways to get development to the grassroots in Africa.”
AngelAfrica is now looking to hire an executive director. “AngelAfrica has proven itself to be the leading organization in terms of providing a network and forum for people really committed to and invested in the positive impact of Africa,” Heath says. “This year was our first time hosting the Africa Social Enterprise Forum. The response was overwhelming and demonstrated there had been a void, that there had not been to date a platform for people to discuss, showcase, and learn about social innovation in Africa.”