Minnesota’s East African community is growing every year, leading to new businesses. But these businesses don’t always receive the support they need to succeed.
Amani Radman, CEO of the new Minneapolis-based East African Business Association, was attending conferences and training sessions for her job as a logistics broker last summer when she had an idea. She wanted to provide similar educational experiences and services to business owners in East Africa to drive growth and success in her own community.
But Amani couldn’t do it alone. So, through a friend, she connected with Paul Jaeb, a local entrepreneur who has worked exclusively with East African business owners for four years. Jaeb has spent the last few years as a business consultant serving East African business owners. He has helped educate clients on business regulations, compliance issues and real estate investments.
“I just feel like it’s an obligation for me to my community to, you know, bring this to the forefront and I didn’t know where to start,” Amani said.
The association, which was officially launched at a gala on April 29, will provide industry-specific training in healthcare, transportation, technology and retail. Amani said these are the most represented industries in the East African community.
Its first training session will be a major trucking industry event in July, according to its website. Amani said trucking and healthcare are the largest industries represented in the East African community, so many of the association’s training sessions would be related to those two industries.
Amani and Jaeb decided that a trade association was better suited to the needs of the community than a chamber of commerce.
“Our goal is 100% economic. Chambers tend to get involved in a lot of political discussions. They might get involved in politics, and that’s not our mission,” Jaeb said.
In addition to industry-specific training, the association also plans to regularly offer free legal clinics to its members and networking events.
Amani said the association hopes to survey the East African business community to have more concrete figures on how many people own a business and in which sectors.
And she wants to spread positive messages about the East African community in light of the investigating allegations of federal food fraud focused on Feeding Our Future. Dozens of people from the East African community have been charged in this case; Authorities say the suspects stole at least $250 million from the government and spent it on cars, real estate and luxury goods instead of using it to feed disadvantaged children as planned.
“There’s a much bigger community outside of these people who are doing amazing things who aren’t involved in this,” Amani said.
Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey and U.S. Rep. Dean Phillips attended the April gala to support East African business owners. Speakers included business owners from East Africa, such as Hudda Ibrahim of Diverse Voices Press in St. Cloud.
“It’s an organization that will help and support entrepreneurs like me,” Hudda said of the East African Business Association.
Hudda said it was important for immigrant businesses to help each other and the new association would make that process easier.
“Our East African community – our immigrant community – is struggling not only to start their businesses, but also to maintain them,” Hudda said.
Those interested in joining the association can apply via their website; Memberships are offered at a flat rate of $1,500 for one year.
Amani said membership fees apply “across the board” because most members, whether an established business or a newcomer, would use the association’s similar services.
Jaeb added that membership fees could support the addition of new services for members of the East African community who are beginning to venture into non-traditional industries.
At the April 29 gala, Frey called Jaeb “the most connected person in the Twin Cities.”
“My role in all of this is to try to be that bridge between these two communities,” Jaeb said.
Jaeb said one of his biggest goals is to connect association members with people outside the East African community for their banking and other needs.
He said he has been part of the Twin Cities business scene for 30 years and now wants to focus on showcasing a growing community of entrepreneurs.
East Africans tend to stay in the same sectors and invest their money differently or simply save everything, according to Amani. Learning how to diversify your assets and invest like other American business owners is a skill she wants her members to learn.
“You can’t tell them, ‘Come invest in Apple or come invest here.’ They don’t understand this concept, so they have a lot of money in the bank,” Amani said. “Paul introduces them to deals and opportunities that they’ve never really seen before. »
Amani and Jaeb said they hoped the association would help the East African community be seen in a more positive light.
“It’s not just about an association to help them grow, but about rebuilding the community,” Amani said.