African Leadership Conference 2020

First Annual National African Immigrant Leadership Conference

African Economic Development Solutions (AEDS) is proud to host our first annual National African Immigrant Leadership Conference on December 10–11, 2020. During this time of uncertainty and trauma, African Immigrants are facing some of the biggest challenges to our economic future in modern history. COVID–19 is damaging our small business sector and the uprisings all across the country as a result of the murder of George Floyd and other innocent Black lives continues to be a catalyst for strife. 

It’s estimated that 26% of the Black population in Minnesota is African-born while African immigrants nationally make up 9% of the Black population on average. Here in Minnesota we contribute $281 billion to the retail economy, and $183 million in taxes annually to the state. We have stakes in this region and this economy and beyond. That’s why, as Minnesotans, we are uniquely positioned to host this national conference. We know that African immigrants can lead the way in healing and economic recovery. As a community, African immigrants know how to create innovative solutions to our country’s largest problems by tapping into the diversity of our community to address problems that we all face. We know what it takes to create community-based opportunities and use our resources to lift up those of us who are in need. 

That’s why this year, AEDS will convene the National African Leadership Conference that will bring together established and emerging leaders for a two-day virtual conference that can provide opportunities for growth, leadership, and cross-community ideation and that will provide the space and resources to inspire, equip, and connect leaders within the many diverse African immigrant communities that have built homes, businesses, and movements in the US. 

We hope you will join us in making the first African Leadership Conference a movement-building event. 

For information on how your organization can sponsor this event contact Gene Gelgelu, AEDS Founder, President and CEO at

Panels and Breakout Sessions for the National African Immigrant Leadership Conference

Coalition Building 101 (10:30am - 12pm) Featured Speaker: Bo Thao, Coalition of Asian American Leaders (CAAL)

Coalition Building is a session open for all individuals interested in learning about multi-ethnic coalitions and coalition building. Bo Thao, co-founder and Executive Director of CAAL, will provide an overview of coalitions, various structures for coalitions and the roles and functions, and the roles they can play to build and advance movements for social change and racial equity. She will share the journey that Minnesotan Asian leaders collectively made to create, grow, and sustain CAAL as a multi-ethnic, Pan Asian advocacy network. Participants will leave this session with a deeper understanding of coalitions and the impacts they can achieve for communities of color.

Empowering African Women to Lead

In this breakout session, African women entrepreneurs, philanthropists, and artists share their stories and discuss the multiple pathways that women in their communities can take to leadership.

Growing African-led Business Enterprises in the COVID 19 Era

African immigrants have $40.3 billion in spending power nationally. In Minnesota alone it is estimated that there are between 2200–3200 African immigrant-owned small businesses. This session will feature panelists from leading African small business development organizations sharing insights about the challenges faced by African entrepreneurs as they launch, operate, and grow successful enterprises.

Advancing African Civil and Human Rights in Minnesota and Worldwide

Experts in international humanitarian movements and U.S. Civil law will share information about local, national, and international laws designed to protect and expand civil and human rights for African people.

Roadmaps to Navigating the COVID 19 Crisis and Entrepreneurial Success: A Roundtable with African Business Leaders

This session will feature successful Hennepin County and other African immigrant entrepreneurs sharing their experiences as business owners. They will offer insights into the challenges and benefits of small business ownership and offer guidance to aspiring and established entrepreneurs with navigating the economic impacts of COVID 19.

Closing Opportunity Gaps and Advancing Equity in Education

Pathways to success begin with a solid, well-rounded education that prepares and empowers individuals to navigate systems and make informed decisions in all areas of their lives. With a panel of educational experts, this session will spotlight K-12, two-year, and four-year educational trends among African students and promising strategies for addressing disparities in academic performance, college admissions, and graduation rates experienced by Black children and youth.

Building Impactful Cross-Sector Partnerships with Government Agencies

Government entities can be critical allies for Africans and other BIPOC communities striving for a better quality of life when they are effectively engaged and their resources effectively deployed. This panel will provide information about various institutions’ roles, resources, and opportunities for cross-sector partnership opportunities with African communities.

Resources and Support for COVID 19 impacted Job Seekers

AEDS and a panel of workforce development professionals will provide African workers and self-employed individuals impacted by the pandemic with information about job seeker programs and resources, jobs with partner employers, and career pathways and training programs. This session will link participants to an employer exhibit and provide them with resource materials.

Day Two Opening Keynote: Alfa Demmellash, CEO, Rising Tide Capital
Building Wealth, Advancing Economic Inclusion

This session will feature a panel of leaders dedicated to advancing racial equity and inclusion in the US economy and building multi-sector coalitions to achieve this vision for the state. They will discuss economic inclusion indicators and strategies employed to create pathways to economic prosperity and multi-generational wealth for Africans and other economically marginalized communities.

Global Africa: Preserving African Identity Across the Diaspora

Panelists in this session will explore strategies to preserve and deepen connections between Africans in the U.S. and abroad to build a more economically thriving and prosperous Africa. They will highlight the importance of reinforcing African identity among younger generations raised and educated in an American society where their race, their Blackness, takes prominence over their ethnic cultures.

Advancing Economic Prosperity with Credible Data Tools

In this session, a panel of expert economists and researchers will discuss the need and importance of data as a tool for informing and evaluating the impacts of economic development and other policies, private sector and philanthropic investments, and community-driven strategies.

Afternoon Main Stage Panel: Investing In Youth Leaders To Address COVID 19 And Build Lasting Community Resilience

The majority of Minnesota Africans are under 25 years old, with nearly 50% of Somali and Ethiopians in the state under 17 years old, making them a substantial population of the state’s future workforce, voters, and leaders. Energized and impassioned to make positive social change and impacts, African youth are not waiting for that future and taking leadership and action now to address COVID 19 and other challenges facing their communities. This keynote panel will feature leading African youth activists, entrepreneurs, and organizers who are disrupting systems and building new powerful multi-racial movements for greater community resilience against COVID 19 and the future.

Amplifying Community Power through Civic Engagement and the Political Process

Africans are stepping up to change the political landscape and actively participating in local civic processes. Africans readily volunteer, vote at high rates, and are elected and appointed to public office at all levels of government. Presentations by African elected officials and organizers will highlight the vital need for ongoing and deep civic engagement of Africans to ensure fair representation in government and the adoption of community-responsive policies.

Health and Wellness During COVID 19: Surviving vs Thriving

African mental health and community wellness experts will discuss the unprecedented levels of stress among African immigrants resulting from the health and economic impacts of COVID 19. Police killings of Blacks, civil unrest, upticks in neighborhood crime and violence, and our increasingly polarized and hostile political climate further exacerbate health-damaging trauma among community members. Panelists will elevate best practices in healing and wellness and offer strategies for building the socio-emotional resiliency needed to navigate the challenges of our time and future crises.

Positive Differences: Fostering African Immigrants and African American Collaboration

This panel will offer recommendations for addressing and avoiding cross-cultural tensions between African-born and U.S. born communities. Participants will identify and discuss strategies that leverage both communities’ many assets and identify cooperative and complementary strategies to build greater solidarity and inclusive Pan African/Black power.