THE BLOG

Why African Diasporans Should Be Engaged in Africa's Prosperity

05/27/2015 01:11 pm ET | Updated May 27, 2016

I had the privilege of attending the Legatum Institute's 2015 Africa Prosperity Summit, held from May 20-21, in Tanzania.

The summit comes at a time of great momentum in Africa. The continent boasts one of the world's fastest growing economic regions, and six of the 10 fastest growing markets in the world are in Sub-Saharan Africa.

With enormous progress taking root across the continent, Africans in the diaspora are uniquely positioned to contribute to boosting the economic growth and prosperity in Africa. Worldwide, there are nearly 170 million Africans in the diaspora. Of that number, some 40 million reside in North America and almost 4 million in Europe. Yet, the African Diaspora is not a monolithic group -- some were born and reared in their adopted country; many arrived at a young age; while others, like me, arrived to attend college abroad.

African diasporans bring a distinct perspective to the discourse on Africa because they've experienced both worlds -- Africa and their adopted country -- and can serve as a bridge in promoting Africa's economic growth and prosperity by fostering greater connections between continents.

So, what can Africans in the diaspora do to promote prosperity on the continent? I would like to offer 5 ways:

Diasporans can help dispel myths and stereotypes about Africa to change the storyline about doing business and investment on the continent.

All diasporans can serve as "brand ambassadors" to bring a new vision and inspiring ideas for Africa. It's hard to believe that in this day and age many still hold very negative perceptions about Africa. Far too often, investors do not hear about the progress taking place on the continent. We need to move beyond the narrative of the three D's about Africa -- death, despair and disease.

Diasporans can become the face of a "new Africa" -- educated, optimistic and actively working to transform and shape Africa's future. They can help to stimulate the economy by instilling confidence in potential investors and entrepreneurs.

Diasporans can help shape international trade policy.

Since many in the African Diaspora still maintain strong connections to the continent, diasporans can help shape trade and investment policy priorities in their adopted country by offering informative analysis of on-the-ground realities in African nations and sharing underreported success stories of progress taking place as well as the challenges.

For example, in the United States, the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act, the U.S.-Africa trade law, is up for renewal. It's up to the U.S. Congress to vote on its renewal. Diasporans can play a pivotal role in ensuring that the trade law benefits African entrepreneurs and business leaders to promote shared prosperity. Diasporans understand the African context. So, they can also inform legislators about how to create a good environment conducive for trade and private sector development to thrive.

President Obama's Advisory Council on Doing Business in Africa has a council with several members of the African Diaspora to help shape U.S.-Africa trade relations.

Develop African leadership and entrepreneurship to help spur the local economy.
Diasporans can assist in developing strong African leadership and entrepreneurship by sharing their knowledge, skills and expertise about running a business with African professionals on the continent. Diasporans can nurture professional growth in young professionals and narrow the existing "skills gap" by exposing them to new careers and fields of study, expanding their horizons to wider opportunities in their profession.

Diasporas can spark innovation and technological know-how in their home countries.
Historically, The Africa-America Institute, the organization that I lead, brought talented Africans to the U.S. to earn higher education degrees. Our alumni returned home where they applied their world-class education to their country's development and have made remarkable achievements.

Today, Africans in the diaspora are continuing this "brain gain" trend. Skilled professionals are recognizing the tremendous opportunities that exist in Africa and are returning home in greater numbers, bringing new technologies, knowledge and ideas to drive innovation in their home countries. Through the introduction of new technologies into the market, the diaspora can encourage innovation in leveraging their business skills and financial resources to address local problems in their home country.

Diaspora can lead in launching businesses and investing in Africa's emerging markets.
Explore opportunities to invest in and launch successful African-led businesses and enterprises in Africa to create well-needed jobs and spur economic growth. The continent offers some of the highest return on direct foreign investment in the world. Increased investments are needed to expand local capacity and bolster economic growth. With experience working in business in industrialized countries,

Diasporans understand the local economy and culture, and are willing to take on greater risks on the business and investment opportunities that others may opt to pass on.

Diasporans can join in launching home-grown thriving African businesses like:
Ecobank, a pan-African banking conglomerate with operations in 30 African countries;
Celtel, one of Africa's most successful telecoms founded by Mo Ibrahim;
The Dangote Group, established by Nigerian business mogul, Alhaji Aliko Dangote, is West Africa's largest industrial conglomerate, with manufacturing interests in sugar, flour and cement;
Iroko TV, called the 'Netflix of Africa', is a Nigerian-based company that streams African movies online. Today, it is the world's largest digital distributor of African movies.
SoleRebels, founded by Ethiopian-born Bethlehem Tilahun, is an eco-friendly shoes and sandals company that has blossomed into a multimillion-dollar enterprise. The SoleRebels footwear is sold in over 30 countries around the world.