Toyin Umesiri has been out of Africa for well over a decade; but Africa has not been out of her. Her sojourn in the United States of America has seen her married, start a family and work in two Fortune 500 companies.
In her own words, Umesiri took big steps working in corporate America in that time frame before making the big leap into full time entrepreneurship to follow her passion for Africa’s development. Born in the restless city of Kaduna, Nigeria to southern parents, Umesiri experienced a mixed culture in her native country before moving to Michigan in the U.S in 2004 in pursuit of a Masters degree, armed with a Bachelor of Science degree in Mathematics from a Nigerian university. Ever the serial entrepreneur, it was not a surprise that she has transitioned from Walmart, where she was an employee, to full time entrepreneurship with Nazaru, her startup which is set to change the conversation about trading with her native continent.
A platform that allows Africa’s exporters to showcase what they want to sell on the global market, and convener of the Trade with Africa Business Summit, Umesiri’s Nazaru is ambitious and articulate, not to mention audacious about its dreams for the future of Africa’s trade relations with the rest of the world, particularly the United States.
In a bid to promote Africa entrepreneurs, she is set to host the inaugural Trade with Africa Business Summit 2018 in Bentonville, Arkansas. Billed for May 10 and 11, the summit she said is designed to promote Africans and their brands globally and network them with top world entrepreneurs.
Passionate about empowering women, Umesiri in 2016 was featured in a book titled Leading Women and also listed as a leading and inspirational woman in technology on the platform.
As she strives to promote the trade gap she believes has kept Africa in poverty and underdevelopment, Toyin chats with WW about this commitment and passion which has completely taken her over.
Why are you hosting the Trade with Africa Business Summit in a city most Nigerians have never even heard of?
After completing extensive research on the potential to increase U.S. global trade with African countries, my conclusion is that the current numbers are too low. Africa has a quarter of the number of countries in the world yet the United States does only 2% of its trade with sub-Saharan Africa. Opportunities exist for commerce to increase and what I found is that there is lack of information about the business community in Africa.
The focus has always been on the negatives coming out of the continent. The goal of the Trade with Africa Business Summit is to facilitate conversations in the business community by bringing the various stakeholders together to highlight success stories and discuss ways to remove barriers to trade.
Over the past 20 years Africa’s policy leaders strengthened political relationships in Washington, D.C. which led to an overall increase in U.S. foreign Aid but however failed to build similar links with “corporate America”. Africa’s business leaders need to take the lead to establish the level of strategic business partnerships with the U.S. business community outside of Washington to truly capture significant trade opportunities.
The Trade with Africa Business Summit is the first of its kind developed to fast track the economic potential of the region by connecting businesses to opportunities that abound outside of Washington. Corporate America is centered on trade and commerce while Washington remains the political epicenter of America.
Why focus on Africa and not Nigeria?
As I reviewed data on the continent I found that different regions and countries have varying maturity and sophistication levels in global trade. While Nigeria is focused heavily on oil there are other African countries more advanced in other sectors like apparel manufacturing coming out of east Africa. I have a pan African approach to my work and my clients are interested in commercial opportunity across Africa and not only in Nigeria.
What makes you think anyone wants to buy from Africa?
For me the conversation is why not Africa? African countries are already exporting extractive resources to the rest of the world but there is little benefit to the region if it continues to fail to add value to these commodities. For example West Africa produces a significant volume of the cashew in the world but they are exported raw to Southeast Asia before importing into the U.S. If cashews should be processed locally in Africa and imported directly to U.S, both regions would benefit.
The purpose of the Trade with Africa Business Summit 2018 is to share these types of stories and show what success looks like at various levels. The economic growth potential for Africa is huge and it is positioned as the region for the next massive growth spurt. We want business leaders to inform themselves about the commercial challenges and opportunities. U.S. and African business communities now have a platform to come together to build strategic partnerships to increase trade for mutual benefits. With manufacturing steadily shifting from China to Africa, policy leaders must also commit to remove barriers to trade and create economic growth for both regions.
Africa offers new markets for U.S. made products. Similarly, U.S. serves as an untapped market for authentic African products (raw and manufactured). Trade with Africa Business Summit 2018 is the platform created to fast-track these discussions and allows us to learn from global leaders with active projects on the continent.
What prepared you to take on this huge endeavor?
This work is built on passion and faith. The incredible experiences and skills as well as networks I acquired working in corporate America especially at Walmart also equipped me to handle such a complex project while influencing stakeholders and executives around the world.
What has the response been?
I am incredibly humbled by the support I have received from leaders around the world. Africa’s ambitions and aspirations are now center stage and the region will win if we persevere.