Empowering Entrepreneurs In The African Diaspora

Empowering Entrepreneurs In The African Diaspora

Empowering entrepreneurs in the African diaspora is how Richard Homawoo makes a living.

Many African who have been successful living and working in the U.S. want to help improve lives for Africans back home, Homawoo says. Some have a dream to start a business in Africa using the confidence and entrepreneurial spirit they honed in the U.S.

Homawoo lives in Laurel, Maryland. Helping Africans achieve their dreams is a full time job.

A motivational speaker, consultant and coach, the former citizen of Togo founded U.S.-based Entenaf, an organization that has evolved into something of a community, empowering and connecting entrepreneurs and talent in the African diaspora with Africa.

Homawoo is paid to speak at universities, colleges and schools where he fosters U.S.-African entrepreneurship. He also makes connections by leading youth choirs in Silver Springs, Maryland.

Homawoo, 46, uses all his talents — and there are many — to help promote business in Africa: he’s a singer and composer, a researcher, writer and poet.

Born in Ghana and raised in French-speaking Togo, Homawoo studied and taught English in Togo before moving to the U.S. in 1997. He studied for a master’s degree in organizational management and entrepreneurship at SIT Graduate Institute in Vermont.

Now he publishes articles on his website that have inspired other Africans in the diaspora to start businesses in Africa.

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After reading one of Homawoo’s articles on revamping agribusiness in Africa, Virginia resident Light Koulefianou, formerly of Togo, pooled her money with three other Togolese American women to buy 54 acres in Togo.

They plan to start a commercial agriculture business on the property, located an hour from the capital in a fertile region.

In Togo, many people are poor, Koulefianou said. “We’re going to do something to help job creation and give them self sufficiency.”

Koulefianou, who moved to the U.S. in 2002, traveled to Togo with her partners to buy the land. They’re still deciding what to grow there. It could be pine trees. It could be yams.

“We decided, as women, to do it,” Koulefianou said. “I went on the land. I saw it myself. We are very proud. We intend to do something for our country. It’s going to be a great achievement for us to be useful.”

Homawoo didn’t just inspire the land purchase. He helped the women make decisions all along the way.

“He’s full of ideas — how to do it, where to go,” Koulefianou said.

Koulefianou says she intends to have her daughters — born in the U.S.A. — help with the African business. “They’re going to be involved,” she said. “They can help with the computer.”

Motivating people to discover their strength and turn it into commercially viable  enterprises — that’s what Homawoo sees as his life’s work. It’s his job, not just in the U.S., but in Africa. But it doesn’t always go smoothly.

The Togolese are not generally entrepreneurial, Homawoo said. “French-speaking Africa is not as entrepreneurial as English-speaking Africa. In Africa, you help and they want to get rid of you. They don’t want salvation. There is cultural, psychological work we need to do and I’m focusing on the youth because they’re more malleable.”

Charlene Goa came to the U.S. from Ivory Coast in 2004 and met Homawoo through the church. She is about to launch a blog for relationships and breakups.

“I needed guidance,” she said. “We talked every day. He didn’t judge. He had great experience, stories to tell. It was a learning process more than anything else.”

Joachim Mekoum, 45, of Indiana and Togo, is a biomedical engineer and part owner of a brewing company in China. Through Homawoo’s coaching, he realized he could bring his brewing company to Africa.

Mekoum’s company customizes brewing systems and trains people to brew beer. He also works at a hospital in Munster, Ind., where he programs, maintains and helps repair medical equipment.

After being coached by Homawoo, Mekoum also bought land in Togo with plans to grow ingredients for beer and build a facility to train people in beer making.

“(Homawoo) promotes any business that is good for Africa,” Mekoum said. “He also teaches how to recognize resources in Africa and use them. There are a lot of Africans outside the country who don’t realize what they can do in Africa.”

With Homawoo’s guidance, Mekoum got ideas for at least three African businesses: beer making, medical equipment sales (“African hospitals need a lot of equipment. I could easily send used equipment to Africa or even sell it,” he said,) and organic herbs.

“Because I go to China a lot, I meet people who depend on herbs,” Mekoum said. “Africa is rich in herbs and people who haven’t taken it to the next level.” He said plans to build a research center for herbs.

Mable Agboban is from Togo and has a shop in London for interior design and furniture. She felt like she was working hard but was stressed and not getting anywhere, so she called Homawoo.

With his help, she said, she got the feedback she needed. Now she’s setting up African art in London. A lot of African artists don’t have money to promote themselves, she said.

“I’m very proud of being African,” Agboban said. “I’m dying to get into the African market. I’m looking for a Realtor and architect in Africa. I really like Dakkar.”