Forging Connections Among Members of the African Diaspora

Some of the doors opened for her were ones she pushed open herself, a skill she learned from her mother. Ms. Negash’s family in Eritrea had a comfortable life largely because of the business savvy of her mother, Teblez.

“My mother did not like to be told what she could and couldn’t do,” Ms. Negash said.

In the early 1970s, Teblez went to court to fight the leaders of the family’s ancestral village of Tselot for the right to own land. She won, becoming the first landowning woman in her village, and she began investing in real estate. “I spent a lot of time with my mother,” said Ms. Negash, “seeing how she did things, and I followed her example.”

Ms. Negash created a life and a career for herself in the Bay Area, marrying an Eritrean man she met in San Francisco and getting her masters in business administration while working and raising two children. The couple is still married (and no dowry was ever paid).

Her first job was an entry level position at an investment bank, but she soon shifted to focus on international business, eventually becoming director of international trade at the Bay Area World Trade Center and after that, director of the Silicon Valley Center for International Trade Development in San Jose. (Both are now closed.)

In 2004, she became the director of global leadership at the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics at Santa Clara University, and in 2008 she led the expansion to Silicon Valley of the Women’s Initiative for Self-Employment (now closed). By then, though, Ms. Negash’s interests were shifting to social entrepreneurship: the creation of for-profit businesses aimed at building social value, often by addressing societal needs. She was particularly struck by the ways social entrepreneurship could benefit Africans and African countries.

“I would be at these meetings where everyone was talking about starting businesses that would help Africa, but there were no other Africans at the meetings,” she said. “The voices, ideas and financial backing of Africans were absent.”

The African Diaspora Network, which she founded in 2010, aims to change that, through its African Diaspora Investment Symposium, an annual conference that brings together government, nongovernmental organizations, corporations and foundations to discuss issues related to Africa and the diaspora. It also provides a platform for investment in African-led ventures.

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