A special business networking conference targeting members of the city’s African community is to be held in Birmingham this Friday.

As African entrepreneurs in Birmingham gear themselves up for the One Africa Network business in Creative Industry event to be held at on Friday the 31st of January at the Clayton Hotel in Birmingham, concern has been expressed over the career growth challenges that entrepreneurs and professionals from the African community in the region continue to face.

A previous One Africa Network eventSupplied
A previous One Africa Network event

In an exclusive interview with I Am Birmingham, the Chair of One Africa Network, Eugene Nizeyimana said:

“The challenges also range from institutional cultural bias, complexities and integration barriers that are affecting Africans who form a significant proportion of Diasporas, experts, professionals and the business community in the Midlands.

“The typical assumption is that they are fit for mostly low paid employment and this diminishes their career growth, participation and contribution to the economy, the majority struggle to secure appropriate professional employment and career growth opportunities in workplace due to various Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) challenges.”

The One Africa Network chair noted that entrepreneurial opportunities represent an important channel for economic and social participation and upward mobility, as it allows disadvantaged or marginalised entrepreneurial groups, including young people, women, Diasporas, refugees and ethnic minorities, to create their own opportunities that would enable them to participate in economic growth.

In this regard, the One Africa Network chair observed that the economy likewise, entrepreneurship and Small Medium Businesses (SMB) play an important role in the wider business eco-system as well as the economy and it remains a major source of job creation.

“Entrepreneurial opportunities which the one Africa Network is advocating for represent an important channel for economic and social participation and upward mobility, by allowing disadvantaged or marginalised entrepreneurial groups, including young people, women, diasporas, refugees and ethnic minorities, to create their own opportunities to participate in the economy.”

However, the chair lamented over the mix of challenges being faced by many African entrepreneurs and businesses in the midlands since the challenges are inhibiting productivity and growth. Most of these start-ups or small businesses either fail in the first years of activity or remain very small. At the same time, many produce limited innovation, do not go beyond small local markets and have low growth potential which results in limited expansion throughout their life cycle.

One Africa Network is a hub for African entrepreneurs to connect with and inspire each other Supplied
One Africa Network is a hub for African entrepreneurs to connect with and inspire each other

Nizeyimana, who is also the CEO of SSCG Consulting, mentioned that he aspires to contribute to the acceleration, growth and productivity of these African owned businesses in the Midlands through various business development, management consulting and capability enhancement initiatives including professional platforms like the One Africa Network, which is the leading networking forum for African businesses, professionals and entrepreneurs in the Midlands.

“I have been engaging various stakeholders, networks and the business community around the Midlands to discuss and establish core barriers and challenges affecting African entrepreneurs, start-ups and small businesses while proffering solutions.”

The One Africa Network chair believes and recognises that the current economic and support models being deployed do not foster inclusive and sustainable growth. He said many academic and Government reports highlight and confirms that African entrepreneurs have more than twice the entrepreneurial tenacity and ambitions to launch start-ups than their white peers.

However, most of them receive inadequate support, face adversity and uphill survival struggles to bring ideas onto the area of marketing and growing their businesses. It has also been established that there is a disconnect in support and funding programmes in the market, which are mainly less inclusive, inaccessible and channelled towards high growth businesses beyond criteria and reach of many these minority businesses.

Denise Maxwell is a Birmingham-based photographer who shoots all around the worldLensi Photography / IAB
Denise Maxwell-Weir, owner of Lensi Photography, will be speaking at the event

The reality of doing business and to create new sources of value in the region is challenging given the current economic climate, complexity and political volatility and uncertainty as a result of Brexit.

“No one should underestimate the difficulties of starting and running a business, and if entrepreneurs and businesses want to achieve superior performance, productivity and long-term success, they need to establish stronger foundations and support networks to enhance readiness to persevere and thrive past failures, embarrassment, frustration and other negative feelings and events.” “We cannot continue to deploy same approaches, strategies, practices and expect different or better outcomes.”

Some of the key barriers identified not limited too includes; access to finance and growth capital, poor financial management and controls, management skills, technology uptake, poor branding and marketing, customer service management, product innovation and building robust entrepreneurial ecosystems and networks.

The One Africa Network Chair said boosting the success of these professionals, entrepreneurs and businesses, will require and depend on a number of factors which include collaborative efforts, building smart relationships, connections and partnerships; provision of training to reshape and rethink their operational approaches, improve quality management, make decision based on advanced insights; and product or service innovation and delivery through effective design thinking methodologies.

Businesses need to evaluate how they engage and manage customers, adapt to technology advancement and innovation, manage complexity and how well they build resilience and embrace agility culture to navigate barriers, disruptions, failures and expected economic changes across key industry dimensions.

He added that transforming the narrative, refocusing efforts and resources in areas that deliver improved impact is vital to achieve excellence, drive competitive growth and accelerated success. Entrepreneurs and business leaders in the Midlands must also focus on building innovative business models that not only focus on economic value and profitability but also drive enhanced inclusive growth and deliver better social value.

One Africa Network event flyerHandout

Among speakers and panellists who have been invited to the event is Denise Maxwell-Weir, owner of Lensi Photography.

“It is great to be part of this event. As a full time creative photographer, it is important that people from BAME communities also see professionals like themselves in the industry. Stereotypes even with the creative industry are still largely engrained.

“When a stranger sees my work and I am introduced as the author of that work, I am often met with puzzled looks, lots of questions about whether I took the photos. Whatever a lot of people’s stereotype of what a professional full time photographer looks like, it is definitely not me.”

The One Africa Network business in Creative Industry event will be held at 6pm on Friday the 31st of January 2020 at the Clayton Hotel, Birmingham B5 5JE and not at the Bantu Lounge & Restaurant as indicated on the event flyer. Some prominent people in the business sector in the West Midlands will speak at the event and there will also be a panel discussion.

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