January 2016 marked a historic moment within Africa’s dynamic story of growth. From January 29–30, leaders and entrepreneurs from across the globe arrived in Santa Clara, California[MS1] , for the first-ever Silicon Valley convening, which brought together members of the Diaspora and friends of Africa to reimagine possibilities, co-create solutions, and explore investment opportunities on the continent. This was the first African Diaspora Investment Symposium, a humble convening of 230 participants from Africa (30 percent), Europe (10 percent), Canada (2 percent), and the United States (58 percent), that has grown into African Diaspora Network’s flagship annual conference.
This milestone was just the beginning. With seed funding from the U.S. State Department and USAID’s International diaspora Engagement Alliance (IdEA), we leveraged this inaugural event to host another six African Diaspora Investment Symposiums. In 2022, we are delighted to launch our seventh annual signature conference as a hybrid of virtual forums from January to May 2022, leading up to the return of our in-person conference in June of next year.
As the founder and executive director of African Diaspora Network, I am proud of the African Diaspora Investment Symposium’s role as an intentional space for bringing together individuals of diverse backgrounds and a wide array of expertise, but with a common thread—Africa has a place in our hearts, in cradle, childhood, or career. The inaugural symposium welcomed all, whether they were a member of the Diaspora, African, or a friend of Africa.
Key to the African Diaspora Investment Symposium’s success is our culture of belonging. In the last decade, diversity and inclusion efforts have abounded in Silicon Valley and nationwide. But we design our event to go beyond diversity and inclusion, and we celebrate with intention. ADIS2016 concluded with a standing ovation by participants, affirming that it is not only possible, but powerful, to bring together individuals of diverse backgrounds in support of a common cause. We were just beginning to realize and prove our mission: bringing together Africans, Diasporans, and friends of Africa under one umbrella, as a large extended family, for the future of the African continent.
Community and Convening as the Cornerstone of ADN
Convenings, community, and belonging are the heart of the symposium, the very cornerstone of ADN. Beginning as a small convening of interested individuals in 2010, we have grown into a network of 8,250 strong over the past 11 years. This remarkable trajectory of growth began with ADIS as the catalyst for our partnerships, programs, and initiatives. These include the Impact and Innovation Forums, Builders of Africa’s Future, and Accelerating Black Leadership and Entrepreneurship, as well as our two new initiatives, Start Your Social Enterprise and the ADN Telehealth Pilot. These programs were made possible through collaborations with committed and visionary community stakeholders who believe in our mission and vision.
During the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, ADN gathered community members virtually to celebrate its 10-year anniversary in August of 2020. I paused to reflect on the past 10 years to honor our organizational strengths and identify new opportunities for growth. The articles of incorporation say that ADN began in Silicon Valley in 2010, but the truth is that it began in Eritrea many years ago. There, I learned the importance of hard work and entrepreneurship from my mother, and the foundational values of love, respect, and humility from my father.
Equipped with the core values I learned from my parents, I moved to the U.S. and met a wonderful family[MS5] . What I learned as a result of my relationship with the Emersons as a white American family made a huge impact and rounded out my worldview. You don’t have to be the same color or class to work together for a common goal. With the trifecta of influences from my husband, children, and friends, and with the help of some incredible innovators and passionate advocates for Africa, the African Diaspora Network was conceived.
Dr. Musimbi Kanyoro, former President and CEO of Global Fund for Women, and Dan Hartz were among the early pioneers. They knew it was a gamble, but they also believed that if we worked hard, respectfully built connections, and humbly worked with people regardless of their backgrounds, we could develop an informed and engaged community that cares and acts for the good of Africa and the communities we live in.
To all our network members, whether you have been with us from the beginning or joined us somewhere along the way, we are grateful that you are here and hope that you will continue to journey with us.