Bentonville, Arkansas, in the United States, is the most unusual place to build good reputation for Africa. It is not considered an important place for international relations, yet big and small businesses thrive there. It is the city of Walmart, the multinational retail corporation. But the reason Bentonville is not considered a place for international relations is this: Bentonville is miles away from Washington D.C, where the White House and Capitol Hill are at the centre of government activities.
At least, that is what is believed by many, especially by foreign government officials who want a feel of the United States and feedback from Washington D.C, about their governments. It is the reason all embassies are located there. It is where the envoys meet and greet.
But there’s an African envoy in the city of Bentonville who knows how Washington thinks. To her, Washington, the appellation for the U.S. seat of power has its eyes everywhere. Washington goes where it can find values; Washington does not wait for its visitors, it follows in their direction. Washington is collecting information everywhere to feed its curiosity. Washington cuts through mountains to create paths. This is exactly what Toyin Umesiri, a serial entrepreneur and founder of the U.S.-based Nazaru LLC, knows that makes her special envoy for Africa inclusion in U.S. economic policies. She does that through trade and investment meetings such as Trade with Africa Business Summit.
Born in Kaduna, Northern Nigeria by Southern parents, Umesiri experienced mixed culture in her native country before moving to Michigan in the U.S. in 2004, for academic pursuit. And armed with Bachelor of Science degree in Mathematics from a Nigerian university, it was not a challenge for Umesiri to settle for Master’s degree in Information System at Central Michigan University.
A Nigerian-American entrepreneur with rare talents, Umesiri is an unofficial Africa special envoy in Bentonville with irresistible charm. That charm comes from her gift and special ability to connect with people and businesses.
In the past 10 years, Umesiri took big steps working in corporate America before making the big leap into full time entrepreneurship to follow her passion for Africa development.
One of U.S. companies she worked for as a technology expert with talent for business management is Wal-Mart, a multinational retail corporation that operates a chain of hypermarkets, and ranking number one on the list of U.S. Global 500 Fortune Companies.
Umesiri knows the art of the deal and expression to such extent that Walmart tapped into her skills beyond IT and management. In a 2014 commercial that launched a pilot of the Grocery Pickup Service for Walmart at its headquarters in Bentonville, Arkansas, Umesiri starred to help connect Walmart with its customers, particularly the busy moms. The Grocery Pickup Service is an omni-channel solution linking digital to the physical stores.
Umesiri’s experience in corporate America is impressive: From developing technology solutions to providing global strategy for apparel merchandising, manufacturing, finance and controlling, logistics and supply chain for leading brands, she also led the team responsible for designing the global sourcing and supplier management solutions at Walmart.
But with her impressive resume, Umesiri says something in her kicked when she travelled home to bury her father in Nigeria a few years back. “I have been in the U.S. for over a decade. I was doing everything that I was supposed to do; go to school, grow your family, get the job, get the next advancement in career, I was basically living the American dream. But two and half years ago, my father passed and I had to make an emergency trip to Africa, Nigeria specifically. That one trip changed everything,” she said.
That change for Umesiri means one word: Africa. She’s fully facing Africa to make a difference with bold economic agenda for its transformation while providing social support for its downtrodden.
After speaking at the Silicon Valley’s annual Africa Diaspora Investment Symposium in 2017 and others before it, Umesiri knows how to bring everyone into the room. Her measured words work like great action thrillers.
As one of the entrepreneurs, technologists, educators, innovators, public and social leaders from across the globe invited to speak at the Africa Diaspora Investment Symposium in 2017, Umesiri discussed on the theme of importance of capturing actionable data for economic growth in Africa.
“By attending ADIS2017 I had the opportunity to connect with well accomplished Africans from around the world who share the same passion for Africa that I do. I believe Africa is rising because now more than ever Africans are leading the discussion on how to grow the economy of the different African countries. Through strategic partnerships Africans in Diaspora have a unique role to play in helping to increase trade and investment in the region. Africa Diaspora Network (ADN) has the potential to become the platform that can help drive sustainable economic growth on the continent,” she enthused.
Now, the bigger challenge of focusing all her energy at finding better place for Africa in Washington’s economic and social policies means Umesiri must be on her toes to bring more people to the table to discuss Africa opportunities and synergise with similar mind to move the needle for Africa’s growth and development.
In an interview with Andrew Berkowitz, founder of the Global Startup Movement, Umesiri shows concern for market access for African businesses and African exporters.
For instance, she’s relentlessly creating conversation here in the West about Africa and how to get people think about Africa. The amount of investment that is needed for Africa’s real progress she says will have to come from outside of Africa.
So after looking at the trade gap between the U.S. and Africa, and feeling frustrated about what she calls “U.S. two per cent business deal in Africa,” Umesiri believes key data provision will make investors and decision makers see the viability of investing in Africa and make U.S. businessmen think more about commodity trading with Africa the same way it does with Cambodia, Asia, Vietnam, Chile, China and others.
“I have had the opportunity to engage with key decision makers. I have found out that key decision makers don’t know what exist in Africa,” she said. “It is so simple, yet so profound to say they really don’t know what is available. I have been asked what does Africa wants to sell in a conversation and that tells me we need to have the database and build sustainable relationship.”
For Africa to drive up and become a big player, she narrated the story of Chile and Chicago relationship. Her reference is to a group of Chilean economists who studied at the University of Chicago in the 1950s. This group of students took the knowledge home and got free hand to implement new reform during Augusto Pinochet’s rule in Chile. Their ideas changed Chilean society forever and made it one of the richest countries in Latin America.
In one breath, Umesiri asked Africa leaders to take back its brain (from brain drain theory) by involving the Diaspora in the social-economic development of the continent.
According to Umesiri, the problems requiring solutions in Africa requires big thinkers.
This May, Umesiri, who has her name listed as one of the 21 leading and inspirational women in technology by www.thesparkwomen.com, is bringing both men and women, white, black and brown together to discuss business opportunities in Africa.
Mr. Donnie Smith, a passionate advocate for economic development in Africa and former chief executive officer of Tyson Foods Inc, an American multinational corporation based in Springdale, said the conference will “create conversation about how we can help accelerate economic growth on the continent of Africa.”
Chike Nwoffiah, the President of Rhesus Media Group, who brings Africans to Silicon Valley for the splendiferous annual African Film Festivals says the Trade with Africa Business Summit is important because of the growing population of the continent and the effervescent energy that has impacted the upward swing in creativity and business ideas among Africans. “We will share and break open some of the narratives that have kept people from the opportunities in Africa. Africa is a continent that is now ready to play,” Nwoffiah said.
A lot of things will become talking points at this year’s Trade with Africa Business Summit from May 10-11 and it is evident in the parade of the speakers. Scott Ford, a member of the board of director of America’s wireless company, AT&T Inc, and co-founder of Westrock Coffee will give keynote speech. Chris Folayan, the owner of tech venture, Mall for Africa, Denise Thomas, director for Africa relations at World Trade Centre, Enrique Ostalé who oversees business for Walmart International, UK, Latin America and Africa, Kayode Laro, Consul General – Federal Republic of Nigeria (Atlanta Consulate), Dale Dawson, founder Bridge2Rwanda, Shakira Motan, Trade Commissioner, South African Consulate – Chicago, Finn Holm-Olsen, USAID East Africa Trade and Investment Hub, Sir Joe Madu, founder, U.S. Africa Chamber of Commerce, Sherman Banks, Honorary Consul, Republic of Ghana, Marsha Wulff, founding director LoftyInc Afropreneur Fund, Yannick Lefang, CEO Kasi Insights, Canada, Salim Amin Chairman Camerapix, Kenya, Dr. Uche Ewelukwa Ofodile, Professor of Law at University of Arkansas, Akin Sawyerr, managing director at Feleman Limited, Brittany Underwood, founder and CEO Akola Project, Iyin Abodeji, co-founder Flutterwave, Princess Deun Ogunlana, President/CEO of Innovative Global Consulting (IGC), Seye Bassir Investment director at IFU, Nigeria, Robin Smith, founder and CEO of NextPhase Foundation, Richard Chowning founder Africa Mentor, Dr. Niyi Osamiluyi, CEO Premier Medical Systems, Nigeria, Polydor Tangeli Sec. Executive, Groupe Mosala Congo, Amadou Hanne, founder Africans Building Africa, Willy Mulimbi, Oluyomi Ojo, CEO Printivo, Nigeria and Andrew Berkowitz, founder The Global Startup Movement are listed as panelists and speakers for the summit.
“We have created a unique opportunity for transparent and meaningful dialogue that will help African businesses establish new long term and sustainable business relationship with U.S. business community,” Umesiri said.
Really, Umesiri is just one of many considerable ambassadors in cities and states across the United States that Nigeria is not tapping for its benefits. These very skilled people in tech, business, medicine, art and other areas are goldmine of opportunity any country looking to get out of its dysfunction will harness.
It is breathtaking that Umesiri is breaking the mold and becoming a rallying unofficial ambassador for Africa growth opportunities in Uncle Sam country through entrepreneurial spirit.
Olukorede Yishau @ 40
They say life begins at 40. For my friend and brother, Olukorede Yishau, a multi-award winning journalist, and an assistant editor at The Nation newspaper, Life truly starts on April 22, when he releases to the market his first published novel to mark his 40th anniversary. I can tell that Yishau’s ambition to publish a book is life-long. The book, In the Name of our Father, is described by renowned novelist, Toni Kan, in three phrases; two men, one dictator, and a country in turmoil. “Into this mix is thrown a new novel that threatens to expose the rotten underbelly of ‘a man of God’ who has not only bewitched his flock, but has sunk his fangs into the head of state.
Olukorode weaves a mesmerising tale of duty, ambition, greed and hunger for power. It is the story of two men intent on preserving their lives but it is on a larger scale the story of a country fighting to throw off the shackles of a power mad dictator,” according to Toni Kan. In the Name of our father will be available from first week in April. This book that brings cudgel out is about dictatorship, threat to free speech and religious deceit. It was set under the last military regime in Nigeria, but its release is timely as free speech is being given a new name as hate speech in Nigeria and elsewhere by those who are to protect it.
Riddles and Joke
President Muhammadu Buhari likes comics. He often demonstrates it with his dry joke and political statements. But what he said in Benue State earlier in the week that he didn’t know that the Inspector General of Police, Ibrahim Idris, disobeyed his order to stay in Benue was not a dry humour. It was an affirmation of Mr. President’s incuriousness. How can a president be unaware his order is being disobeyed for more than two months? Let’s wait and see how President Buhari responds to this disobedience.
True to its words, the National Assembly is keeping the appropriation budget of Nigeria in its custody since last December. There is no better word to describe this shameful act under the All Progressives Congress (APC) controlled government other than embarrassing. So we are getting into the first quarter of the year with no budget. Is this change? The Senate spokesperson, Sa’abi Abdullahi, takes us for a fool every time he comes out to say “we are working very hard on it.” He should simply tell the truth and stop hiding. This government fools Nigerians about everything. Pathetic!