Business owners, scholars and ambassadors gathered at the African Business Roundtable at Temple University last week to discuss bridging the gap between Philadelphia and the African diaspora. 

This event, which took place on June 10, is part of the programming leading up to ODUNDE, the largest African American street festival in the United States, which was held in South Philadelphia on June 12.

Gaston Mbonglou, CEO of UASG Advisors, gave a presentation on a new initiative by the African Cultural Alliance of North America (ACANA), a non-profit organization based in Philadelphia that serves African and Caribbean immigrant communities. The initiative, dubbed “Africa Town,” plans to build a center in Southwest Philadelphia, which has become home to a community of immigrants from West Africa.

Africa Town aims to create jobs in Southwest Philadelphia, increase business ownership among residents of the community and eliminate poverty. The center will be built on Chester Avenue as a business, investment and tourist destination point for the global African diaspora. 

One of the major initiatives of this project is the creation of the African and Caribbean Innovation and Technology Center. Some of the services provided through the center will be support for existing businesses and startups such as business readiness services, operations support, and coaching and advisory services.

ACANA received a $3 million grant in 2021 to fund the construction of the center, which will begin this year.

A round table discussion with Ambassador George S.W. Patten Sr. of the Republic of Liberia and Ambassador Toure' Ibrahima of Ivory Coast was also held during the event. Ibrahima said Ivory Coast is looking for the African American diaspora to invest in agro-processing, such as cocoa and cashew nuts, adding that fintech is a fast-growing sector in the nation. 

Sandi Williams, CEO of A Wealth of Women International who was also a panelist at the event, spoke about her experience with business development in Ghana and the importance of interacting with people from the country you are doing business with.

“You cannot do business with Africa unless you step on African soil,” Williams said. “You need to show up to go up.”

Whether pursuing a business venture in African countries or in Philadelphia, to bridge the gap between the African diaspora, entrepreneurs and business owners alike will benefit from working with local organizations and getting boots on the ground in local communities.