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COLUMNISTS

African Young Professionals Network, a promising initiative!
By Ato Bob

“We wish to ensure that young Africans do not feel disorientated in the century in which they live.”  - Abdoulaye Wade, 1926, African statesman, former Senegalese President.

Introduction

 

I recently attended the symposium ‘Africa on the Move’ organized by the African Young Professionals Network, a new vibrant and active group in The Netherlands.

I had been following this network and received their e-mails for some time already.

The symposium was an attractive mix of five different subjects, from Business Opportunities to Arts & Lifestyle, to Technology & Innovation, Literature and the Role of Young Professionals in the development of Africa. It was held on Saturday 23rd June at the Continuous Education Centre (CEC) at Amsterdam Zuidoost and attended by an enthusiastic group of between 80 to 100 young African Diasporas. While some were already working others were still studying, but there interest in Africa and their eagerness to network was striking.

 

What is AYP?

 

In 2009 the African Young Professional Network came into existence as an informal initiative in response to the unique need to bring together highly educated Africans who feel at home in the European as well as the African culture. A network that combines the worlds and cultures, appreciates them and makes them more visible was then missing. The idea of African Young Professional Network came into being in response to this need. The African Young Professional Network was officially launched in March 2010.

 

African Young Professional Network (AYP) is a network that unites young professionals of African descent in The Netherlands. AYP does this by organizing social and business activities. On one hand, AYP makes a connection among African Young Professionals, whereby young professionals originating from the entire African continent, and mainly living abroad, are brought in contact with one another.

 

On the other, AYP connects young professionals to companies, non-governmental organizations and governmental institutions in both public and private sectors in Europe (especially The Netherlands) and Africa. In so doing, the AYP expects to help young professionals of African descent to realize personal growth and development. The AYP is a non-political and non-religious body.

 

Principally, AYP is directed at studying and working young professionals (vocational education at MBO+, Bachelor/HBO and University levels) of African descent residing in the Netherlands between 20 - 35 years old. Professionals of African descent who are older than 35 are however welcome to participate in the activities of AYP and to inspire the young professionals. Those between 18 and 20 years old can join as aspirant member. AYP is also an option for people who are interested in the African continent and who would like to come into contact with people of African descent.

 

What has AYP done so far?

 

In October 2011 AYP organized a well attended conference for African Young Professionals, hosted by Heineken Internationals in Amsterdam, which included the famous Heineken Experience.

 

AYP took part in the Afrikadag 2011 in the Haagse Hogeschool organized by the Evert Vermeer Stichting, the development organization of the Labour Party (PvdA).

 

A highly conspicuous AYP Gala was held in the top class Hotel Krasnapolsky in Amsterdam in November 2011, an obvious boost to self esteem.

 

A Starter meeting with active and new members was held with Butterfly Works in Amsterdam.

 

AYP members got a direct feel of the Dutch parliament by visiting it in April 2012.

Engels Grand Café and Restaurant in Rotterdam was the scene for an Aperitif also in April 2012.

 

These activities show how AYP combines professional development with social networking.

AYP has currently over 500 members on their mailing list, on which I am proud to be there too, as an ‘old youth’ as a Cameroonian expression goes.

 

 

What happened at ‘Africa on the Move’?

 

Pauline Mbundu, Chairperson of AYP kicked off the event by introducing briefly the aims and objectives of their network and describing some of its previous activities.

 

She further explained that ‘Africa on the Move’ was organized to bring the underexposed contemporary Africa to the attention of the members of the network and others interested.

Business Opportunities was the first plenary part of the symposium, which started with Peter Coelewij presenting Intent, the Dutch non-profit organizations assisting migrants to set up a small or medium scale business in their home country. He stressed that the small and medium business sector (Dutch MKB) is the motor of the economy and rightly claimed that the Intent business start-up model was a running success. He was followed by Ben Zwinkels, Senior Investment Officer at FMO, who told his audience that Dutch companies were missing the boat in Africa by failing to invest, even though they did business there. He deplored the negative impression of Africa and charged that NGO’s were mostly responsible for Africa’s negative image as this kept their supporters interested in and contributing to their activities. According to Ben, Africa has great opportunities even despite the great risks. He mentioned that the Bank of Africa started as a joint venture in 1994 and now has branches in 16 countries, while there are also up to 40 stock exchanges in Africa.

 

Pieter Walhof of PharmAccess informed the participants about the Investment Fund for Health in Africa (IFHA), a 50 € mln investment scheme in healthcare, in particular in health insurance in Africa. He revealed that Africa has 40% of the disease burden against only 1% of the finance and that 70-80 % was out-of-pocket expenditure.

 

The Role of Young Professionals in the Development of Africa was another appealing segment of the symposium in which Roots for Development, created by the NeviSo Foundation spearheaded by Richard Yeboah and Jan Heunen, put participants on the spot with their slogan “Be Your Difference”.

 

Two of the activities highlighted were ‘Support an Activist’ and ‘Pimp My village’. The first concerned a presentation by three young people of the University of Amsterdam who set up a crowdfunding scheme to support the University Education for a talented South African photographer Rudzani Matshili.

 

The second was ‘Pimp my Village’ presented by Georgina Kwakye, featuring a campaign by her Ghanasi Foundation. It offers donors the opportunity to directly support projects in Africa that are part of the Pimp My Village world. One can have a look at the 3D-world on www.pimpmyvillage.org and support a specific project, buy a hospital bed, or a school blackboard in the village. Pimp My Village is also actively featured on LinkedIn, Facebook and MyWorld.

 

In an animated discussion moderated by the self styled assertive young entrepreneur Richard Yeboah participants reacted on the presentations with a mix of appreciation, questions and ideas.

 

Arts & Lifestyle: Literature saw two well known Africa authors, Vamba Sheriff from Liberia and Alphonse Muambi from Congo relate what brought them to writing. In a subsequent conversation with their audience, moderated by researcher Nwamaka Okany it became evident how much African literature published in The Netherlands is appreciated.

Two other segments of the symposium I was not able to follow, as these were running simultaneously to others, were on Technology & Innovation and Arts & Lifestyle: Fashion. Some of the participants of these sessions told me that attending gave them food for thought and ideas to work on.

 

What about the perception of Africa?

 

At one of the sessions I asked who in the audience knew that the Global African Diaspora Summit took place in South Africa less than a month ago. Surprisingly or not there was no reaction. Does this mean that the young African Diasporas are not following events in Africa or perhaps just concerning their former home countries? What is their perception and actual knowledge of Africa? Most of them came to the Netherlands in their early teens, even before that, or were born here. Most of them I spoke to are very eager to renew their ties with Africa and many want to start up a business in one of its countries. The current positive outlook of some African countries, like Rwanda rising like a star and South Africa being part of the BRICS countries, has much to do with it, despite worrying situations elsewhere like in Mali.

 

The blog ‘The Economist’s Africa’ by Sean Jacobs on ‘Africa is a country’ http://africasacountry.com has been much quoted recently, but for those that haven’t seen it:

In May 2000 The Economist ran a cover story: “Africa. The Hopeless Continent.” People couldn’t stop talking about it for a long while afterward. It spawned countless op-eds about Afro-pessimism and -optimism. It even became the basis for “Contemporary African Politics” college courses for a while. Now last week, they ran this feature cover (above) - complete with silhouetted boy with kite running across the savannah - where the magaz-ne predicts a more hopeful scenario for the continent’s 54 states. The feature is completed by a glowing leader (“Angola and Equatorial Guinea are oil-sodden kleptocracies, Rwanda and Ethiopia are politically noxious, Congo looks barely governable and hideously corrupt, South Africa is tainted with corruption” but “Africa is at last getting a taste of peace and decent government”) and a 3-page article. The most remarkable thing about this cover feature is that it was a non-event. Problem is, the media environment has changed. And no one is waiting for The Economist’s verdict any more. Not much new here from the stuff you can read on blogs or the countless boosterist tweets you have to mine through everyday. People who measure Africa’s progress by how many dollar billionaires it has will be happy to hear that “the richest black person in the world” is not Oprah Winfrey and her $3 billion fortune –that only makes her “the wealthiest black person in America”- but Aliko Dangote, the Nigerian cement king.

 

N.B. December 3rd, 2011 cover story of The Economist was ‘The Hopeful Continent, Africa Rising’.

 

Conclusion

 

The African Young Professional Network is an amazingly vibrant and innovative initiative. It has a very strong appeal among young African Diasporas, who are attracted by the mix of increasing their knowledge of Africa and vocational issues as well as having the opportunity to network with their likes and peers. Online networks like Facebook and LinkedIn do not specifically target the Young African Professional community in The Netherlands. The extremely hardworking and very creative board of AYP and some individual members deserve to be commended for their success.

 

African Young Professional Network is a promise for both the African Diasporas and Africa!

 

“Genius is an African who dreams up snow.” Vladimir Nabokov, 1899 -1977 multilingual Russian novelist, poet and short story writer.

 

*Ato Bob is a former Dutch Diplomat who now consults with various NGO’s on African issues. He lives in Rotterdam and may be reached on atobobhensen@hotmail.com 























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