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The East African community in Minnesota is growing by the year, and with that comes new businesses. But those businesses might not always get the support they need to be successful.
Amani Radman, the CEO of the new Minneapolis-based East African Business Association, was attending conferences and training sessions for her work as a logistics broker last summer when she had an idea. She wanted to offer similar experiences and educational services to East African business owners in order to spur growth and success in her own community.
But Amani couldn’t do it alone. So through a friend she connected with Paul Jaeb, a local entrepreneur who has been working exclusively with East African business owners for the last four years. Jaeb has spent the last few years as a business consultant for East Africans business owners. He’s helped educate clients on business regulations, compliance issues and real estate investment.
“I just feel like it’s an obligation for me to my community to, you know, put this forward and I didn’t know where to start,” Amani said.
The association, which formally launched with an April 29 gala, will provide industry-specific training in healthcare, transportation, technology, and retail. Amani said those are the most common industries represented in the East African community.
Its first training session will be a major trucking event in July, according to its website. Amani said trucking and healthcare are the biggest industries represented in the East African community, so many of the association’s training sessions would be tied to the two industries.
Amani and Jaeb decided that a business association was a better fit for the community’s needs than a chamber of commerce.
“Our focus is 100% economic. Chambers tend to get involved in a lot of policy discussions. They might get involved in politics, and that’s not our mission,” Jaeb said.
Other than industry-specific training, the association also plans to regularly offer free legal clinics to their members and networking events.
Amani said the association hopes to survey the East African business community to have more concrete numbers on how many people own businesses, and in what industries.
And she wants to spread positive messages about the East African community in light of the sprawling investigation into alleged federal food-aid fraud centered around Feeding Our Future. Dozens of people from the East African community have been charged in the case; authorities allege suspects stole at least $250 million from the government and spent it on cars, real estate, and luxury goods instead of using it to feed underprivileged children as it was intended.
“There’s a much bigger community outside of those people that are doing amazing things that are not involved in this,” Amani said.
Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey and U.S. Representative Dean Phillips attended the April gala to support East African business owners. Speakers included East African business owners such as Hudda Ibrahim of St. Cloud’s Diverse Voices Press.
“This is an organization that is going to help and support entrepreneurs like myself,” Hudda said of the East African Business Association.
Hudda said it’s important for immigrant businesses to help each other out, and that the new association would make that process easier.
“Our East African community—our immigrant community—is struggling to not only start their businesses but also retain them,” Hudda said.
People interested in joining the association can apply through their website; memberships are offered at a flat rate of $1,500 for one year.
Amani said the membership fee applies “across the board” because most members, no matter if they’re an established business or a newcomer, would be using similar services from the association.
Jaeb added that the membership fee could support the addition of newer services for those in the East African community who are starting to branch off into non-traditional industries.
During the April 29 gala, Frey called Jaeb the “most connected person in the Twin Cities.”
“My role in all of this is to try to be that bridge between these two communities,” Jaeb said.
Jaeb said one of his biggest goals is to connect association members to people outside of the East African community for their banking and other needs.
He said he’s been a part of the business scene in the Twin Cities for the last 30 years and now wants to focus on highlighting a growing community of entrepreneurs.
East Africans tend to stay in the same industries, and invest their money differently or just save it all, according to Amani. Learning to diversify assets and invest like other American business owners is a skill she wants members to learn.
“You can’t tell them, ‘Come invest in Apple, or come invest here.’ They don’t understand that concept, so they have a lot of cash sitting in the bank,” Amani said. “Paul is getting them in front of deals and opportunities that they’ve never really seen before.”
Amani and Jaeb said their hope is the association will help the East African community be viewed in a more positive light.
“This is not just an association to help them grow, but this is to rebuild the community,” Amani said.