Solome Lemma is shaking up the human rights and non-profit worlds. Founder of Africans in the Diaspora (AiD) her organisation offers a fresh approach to aid and foregrounds indigenous development solutions. Known online as @innovateafrica, this master of social media recently spent an African minute with us.
1. AiD seems to be one part community building, one part crowdfunding, one part philanthropy? What IS AiD?
You’re absolutely right. A non-profit organization, Africans in the Diaspora (AiD) is working to ensure that Africans play a leading role in Africa’s “development.” We know there are sufficient resources, skills, and ideas within and from Africa to drive Africa’s progress. AiD works to unleash, strengthen, and amplify them! And by doing so to re-imagine, reframe, and reclaim aid in Africa! How? We connect the resources and skills of the African Diaspora with the ideas and innovations of social change organizations in Africa.
There are hundreds of thousands of incredible social change organizations across Africa that are transforming their communities. Take for example, Synapse Center in Senegal, a country that has a 20% youth unemployment rate. Synapse, an organization you can support on our platform, has a great solution. Started by Senegalese youth, the organization educates, mentors, and builds next generation entrepreneurs. We want everyone to know about social innovators like Synapse. We want resources and visibility to reach them. We want them to be the voices of their communities.
We, the Diaspora, have got tremendous skills and resources. Not only are we the most educated immigrant group in the US, we also send $40 billion home every year in remittances. We need to now channel some of those resources to our social innovators and builders like Synapse. The Diaspora is dispersed across the world and the web is/has become virtual home. So, we rely on our website and social media to build our community and to nurture this market place, where African innovations and resources meet. So now, you can go on our website, find an organization of your preference, and support them directly from wherever you are.
2. AiD connects the Diaspora to projects in Africa.Why did you choose this approach as opposed to starting your own project back home?
As a Diasporan, I have always wondered about my role in Africa. I knew I wanted to give back and do so in a meaningful ways. So, I tried different approaches. I worked for the big multilateral organization. I worked with a human rights advocacy group. I did humanitarian work in Liberia and philanthropy in 20+ countries in Africa. And through all those experiences, I have learned one thing. The Diaspora can play a vital role as an intermediary, a bridge between communities, ideas, and people that rarely talk to each other. There are sufficient talent, skills, and opportunities in Africa. We do NOT need to go build new project or initiatives. Let’s support, nurture and grow what exists, and do so in a spirit of partnership, trust, and respect. And that’s what AiD is about.
3. Why is the Diaspora important?
When we talk about “the Diaspora”, we’re thinking of anyone who identifies as an African or is a person of African descent living outside of their home country. The Diaspora plays an important role in Africa. That is why the African Union recognizes us as its sixth region. Remittances from African Diaspora have surpassed annual aid flows to Africa. If we channeled our resources into systematic and strategic change initiatives that tackle the problems that necessitate our remittances in the first place, we could accomplish even more. The Diaspora also understands Africa intimately, personally, and intuitively, and I believe that allows us to do work in Africa that is impactful. So our active engagement in Africa, in all forms including the social sector, is important to the progress of our communities and the narratives that are told about us.
4. How can the Diaspora be involved?
There are many ways to be involved. Visit us at africansinthediaspora.org. Sign up and be part of our Connections community. Volunteer with us. Propose ideas for partners, blog posts, and profiles. Share AiD with your friends, family, and network. And most importantly, you can speak with your skills and resources by supporting the African social change organizations on our platform.
We launched a fundraising campaign starting December 4th, and our goal is to raise $10,000 for each of three outstanding organizations. We want to show that the Diaspora is full of resources and that together we can bring about meaningful change. So please follow us on twitter(@aidinnovation) and facebook (facebook.com/Africans in the Diaspora) and be a part of this movement to remiagine, reframe, and reclaim the meaning of aid in Africa!
5. Do the arts play a role in AiD?
Yes! The arts are integral part of our work. We recognize the importance of the arts to Africa’s social, cultural, and economic progress, and in and of themselves as expressions. So, we seek organizations that promote the arts in their work. For example, we recently profiled ImagiNation Afrika, which is building Africa’s first children’s museum amongst other things. They are currently working on a project with the Brooklyn children’s museum on the experiences of migrants, a digital media project that uses all arts forms.
As we build AiD’s online presence, we are intentional about how we represent our work visually. We want our website to be an online exhibit of images that will change on a regular basis, depicting different parts of Africa and as well as different artists and photographers, thereby telling our stories. So, the arts are the heart of society, community, and change, and at the core of what we value, do, and want to build.
For more OKA African Minute interviewees follow the links:
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Nigerian songstress Zara Gretti
Zimbabwean celebrity hair and make up stylist Jackie Mgido
Kenyan comic artist Chief Nyamweya
Rwanda’s fashion designer House of Tayo
Oli Benet and Senegalese skaters
Zimbabwean self-taught illustrator/activist Sindiso Nyoni
Papa Ghana is “An African”
Meghan Sebold on sustainable fashion from Ghana