We are proud to announce the support of Senator Adriano Espaillat for the 2nd African Union Business Expo to be held on 11/15/2016 at MIST Harlem from 10am -7pm.

We are proud to announce the support of Senator Adriano Espaillat for the 2nd African Union Business Expo to be held on 11/15/2016 at MIST Harlem from 10am -7pm.  Register to win up to 1,000.00! at

at http://africanunionexpo.org/events/african-union-expo-2016-nyc-harlem-on-11152016-from-10am-7pm/

or email info@africanunionexpo.com or phone 646-502-9778 Ext. 8002 to the attend or to request further  information

follow: #AfricanUnionExpo2016

This year will feature 2 new events:

  • Go Africa Startup Contest (for entrepreneurs, startups and small companies)
    • General category
      • 10 min presentation of your business with 5 min Q&A from the Audience and Judges:
      • 1,000 cash (First Prize)
      • 250 Gift Card (Second Prize)
      • 150 Gift Card (Third Prize)
    • Innovation & idea Category
    • Contestant has an innovation or idea that is in the incubation, development stage
      • 10 min presentation of your business with 5 min Q&A from the Audience and Judges:
      • 150 Gift Card (First Prize)
      • 100 Gift Card (Second Prize)
      • 75 Gift Card (Third Prize)

Contestant, Individual or Business can only compete and/or win in one of the categories but not both.

  • Business Review (business plan review and financing, planning assessment) Featuring the following:
    • Individual planning and assessment with Go Africa Capital LLC and a financial institution for your business or startup.
    • Individualized scoring and funding proposal created for your business
  • If the funding proposal is accepted by all parties involved, funding will be provided within 60 – 120 days.
  • See (business Review Section for more details on the criteria, and other parameters.

___

New York State Senator Adriano Espaillat is the Democratic candidate for New York’s 13th Congressional District in the 2016 general election. He is currently the Ranking Member of the Senate Housing, Construction, and Community Development Committee, and Chair of the Senate Puerto Rican/Latino Caucus; he is also a member of the Environmental Conservation, Economic Development, Codes, Insurance, and Judiciary committees. Prior to becoming a state senator, he served in the New York State Assembly, and was the first Dominican-American elected to a state legislature when he first won his seat in 1996. In 2002, Espaillat was elected chair of the New York State Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic and Asian Legislative Caucus, and helped to reunite the group after years of division. adriano-espaillat-headshot1-214x300

Throughout his tenure as a public servant, Espaillat has been a vocal advocate for protecting tenants, improving schools, and making serious, smart investments in economic development, job creation, and environmental protection. As state senator, he currently represents the neighborhoods of Marble Hill, Inwood, Washington Heights, Hamilton Heights, West Harlem, the Upper West Side, Hell’s Kitchen, Clinton, and Chelsea.

Senator Espaillat has sponsored and helped to pass landmark laws encouraging the construction and preservation of affordable housing, developing free legal services for tenants, giving 35,000 low-income day care workers access to healthcare and the ability to join the UFT, providing workers’ compensation for 40,000 livery cab drivers, and improving hospital translation services. Espaillat has also worked to protect landmarks, taking legal action to protect the Palisades when the LG Tower threatened to permanently mar its natural beauty. After the July 1999 blackout in Upper Manhattan caused financial damage to restaurants, bodegas, and other small businesses, Espaillat helped to secure an agreement from Con Edison to invest an additional $100 million in Upper Manhattan’s electrical infrastructure at no cost to ratepayers—and when customers were billed for expenses related to an Indian Point Energy Center shutdown, Espaillat fought back and got their money refunded.

As congressman, Senator Espaillat will bring new energy to Washington and will be a steadfast champion for working- and middle-class New Yorkers. He will fight for a fair living wage, immediate and effective investments in affordable housing, meaningful criminal justice reform, infrastructure improvements, expanded youth programs, and better educational opportunities. Prior to entering public service, Adriano served as the Manhattan Court Services Coordinator for the NYC Criminal Justice Agency, a non-profit organization that provides indigent legal services and works to reduce unnecessary pretrial detention and post-sentence incarceration costs. He later worked as Director of the Washington Heights Victims Services Community Office, an organization offering counseling and other services to families of victims of homicides and other crimes, and as the Director of Project Right Start, a national initiative funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to combat substance abuse by educating the parents of pre-school children.

We are proud to announce the support of MBP Gale A. Brewer, Manhattan Borough President for the 2nd African Union Business Expo to be held on 11/15/2016 MIST Harlem from 10am -7pm

We are proud to announce the support of MBP Gale A. Brewer, Manhattan Borough President for the 2nd African Union Business Expo to be held on 11/15/2016 MIST Harlem from 10am -7pm. Register to win up to 1,000.00! at

at http://africanunionexpo.org/events/african-union-expo-2016-nyc-harlem-on-11152016-from-10am-7pm/

or email info@africanunionexpo.com or phone 646-502-9778 Ext. 8002 to the attend or to request further  information

follow: #AfricanUnionExpo2016

This year will feature 2 new events:

 

  • Go Africa Startup Contest (for entrepreneurs, startups and small companies)
    • General category
      • 10 min presentation of your business with 5 min Q&A from the Audience and Judges:
      • 1,000 cash (First Prize)
      • 250 Gift Card (Second Prize)
      • 150 Gift Card (Third Prize)
    • Innovation & idea Category
    • Contestant has an innovation or idea that is in the incubation, development stage
      • 10 min presentation of your business with 5 min Q&A from the Audience and Judges:
      • 150 Gift Card (First Prize)
      • 100 Gift Card (Second Prize)
      • 75 Gift Card (Third Prize)

Contestant, Individual or Business can only compete and/or win in one of the categories but not both.

 

  • Business Review (business plan review and financing, planning assessment) Featuring the following:
    • Individual planning and assessment with Go Africa Capital LLC and a financial institution for your business or startup.
    • Individualized scoring and funding proposal created for your business
  • If the funding proposal is accepted by all parties involved, funding will be provided within 60 – 120 days.
  • See (business Review Section for more details on the criteria, and other parameters.

___

  • Gale A. Brewer is the 27th Manhattan Borough President, responsible for advising the Mayor and City Council on borough concerns, commenting on all land-use matters in the borough, advocating for the borough in the municipal budget process, and appointing members of Manhattan’s 12 Community Boards. gale-brewer-213x300
  • The Borough President also chairs the Borough Board, made up of City Council Members and Chairs from the Community Boards, and the Borough Services Cabinet, composed of senior officials from City agencies delivering services in the borough.

Ms. Brewer previously served on the City Council for 12 years, from 2002 through 2013, representing the 6th Council District which includes most of the Upper West Side and northern Clinton.

  • As Councilmember, she successfully passed legislation guaranteeing paid sick leave for most hourly employees, compelling landlords to fix repeat violations, requiring all City data be published online, and the nation’s first law protecting domestic workers.
  • She was the founding chair of the Council’s Technology Committee in 2002.
  • Immediately prior to her election to the City Council, Brewer served as Project Manager for the NYC Nonprofits Project at CUNY’s Graduate Center, and before that worked for the Telesis Corporation, a private firm that builds affordable housing in New York City.
  • Prior to that non-profit and private-sector experience, Brewer served in City government in various roles, including as…
  • New York City Deputy Public Advocate for Intergovernmental Affairs under Mark Green (1994-1998).
  • Director of Mayor Dinkins’ Federal Office in New York City, managing the administration’s legislative agenda in Washington and a technical assistance program to help community-based organizations obtain federal funds (1990 to 1994).
  • Executive Director of the Mayor’s Commission on the Status of Women (concurrent with the Federal Office, from 1993 to 1994).
  • Chief of Staff to West Side Councilmember Ruth W. Messinger– before Messinger was, herself, elected Manhattan Borough President (1979-1989).
  • Brewer also served on the staff of Lt. Governor Mary Anne Krupsak, the first women elected statewide in New York in 1974 (under Gov. Hugh Carey) and first served in government in the City Parks Department during the Lindsay administration.
  • Brewer has an MPA from Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, and she did her undergraduate work at Columbia University and Bennington College.
  • She co-teaches a class in urban policy each spring with former Borough President Messinger as part of Hunter College’s Public Service Scholar program, and has taught urban affairs at other area colleges, including Barnard, Baruch, Brooklyn and Queens Colleges.
  • Brewer is married to Cal Snyder; they live on the Upper West Side. Together they have raised many foster children.

We are proud to announce the support of Carver Federal Savings Bank for the Go Africa Harlem 2016 Street festival to be held on 7/16/2016

Visit www.GoAfricaHarlem.org for more information.  the Go Africa Harlem Street Festival will take place on 7/16/2016 from 10am – 7pm on 116th Street btw. 7th & 8th Aves. please register at http://goafricaharlem.org/events/general-attendee-sign-up-for-go-africa-harlem-2016-street-festival-on-july-16th-2016/  or email Info@GoAfricaHarlem.org or phone 646-502-9778 Ext. 8001

We are Proud to have Carver Bank in Alignment with IDNYC support for the street Festival. Carver Bank will be in attendance to help immigrants, African Americans and the Diaspora community progressively move toward a positive financial future. 

For more information contact:

Justice Walters

Carver Federal Savings Bank

75 West 125th Street | Second Floor | New York, NY 10027

O: 212-360-4784 | P: 646-593-0110

E: Justicewalters@me.com

On FaceBook at: @CarverFederalSavingsBank  Twitter: https://twitter.com/CarverBankNYC

at LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/company/carver-federal-savings-bank

About Carver Federal Savings Bank: Print

Carver was founded in 1948 to serve African-American communities whose residents, businesses, and institutions had limited access to mainstream financial services. Today, Carver is the largest African-American operated bank in the United States. Since its inception, the Bank has continuously been headquartered in Harlem, and most of our ten branches and 24/7 ATM Centers are located in low- to moderate- income neighborhoods. To share in Carver’s history Click Here to Watch.

Carver Bank has been designated by the U.S. Treasury Department as a Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFI) because of Carver’s community-focused banking services and dedication to the economic viability and revitalization of underserved neighborhoods.logo

A measure of its progress in achieving this goal includes the Bank’s most recent “Outstanding” Community Reinvestment Act rating.

As CDFI Banks work to attract greater levels of investment and other support, the industry must do a better job of “telling the story” of the impact that is being generated by the sector. To facilitate this, NCIF created the Bank Impact Dashboard. To learn more or request a copy of Carver’s Impact Report, contact Takisia.Whites@carverbank.com.

ANHD Report
NCIF Dash Board (available upon request)
Carver Social Impact Report

Read more

Investing in African banks (The Banker (Africa))

Having undergone a series of consolidations, and operating in a region with a young, largely unbanked population, Africa’s banks are attracting the attention of investors from all over the world. However, choosing where to invest remains a challenge.

By James King | 4/01/2016 9:00 am

As investment opportunities go, banks in Africa are a good bet. Today, the growth momentum of the continent’s banking sector is attracting the interest of international lenders, private equity groups and sovereign wealth funds, among others, who are looking to capitalise on the high returns on offer. With growing frequency, these investors are executing big-dollar deals to gain an all important foothold in the continent’s market.

This trend marks an encouraging departure from the resource-dominated investments of previous years. In a reflection of Africa’s social and economic development, investment flows are becoming more diverse as new growth stories begin to emerge. For the continent’s financial services sector, and its banks in particular, these developments bode well.

Opportunities abound

“The Africa opportunity has traditionally been thought of in terms of natural resources. More recently, it has become a consumer-driven play, propelled by the dynamics around urbanisation, income growth and consumption,” says Philip Lindop, head of African investment banking at Barclays Africa.

These changing investment preferences have emerged as awareness of the opportunities in the African banking sector have grown. Over the past decade, the continent’s regulators have tightened up capital requirements, leading to a consolidation of lenders in many jurisdictions. According to Mr Lindop, this has created a greater number of top-tier institutions suitable for acquisition.

Indeed, many banks across Africa are still in need of additional funding. Slower economic growth across the region in recent years, coupled with lower commodity prices and a more stringent regulatory environment, are all feeding into the banks’ need to recapitalise. These trends have emerged as many global lenders, particularly from the US and Europe, have been winding down their presence across Africa.

“When you consider who will be investing in these opportunities, it’s unlikely to be some of the bigger European banks. Many of them have sizeable non-performing loan positions to deal with so I doubt they will be putting an Africa strategy at the top of their agenda,” says Linklaters’ Mr Bedford.

Filling the void

As the demands of Basel III requirements, as well as other regulatory burdens, take their toll, a new wave of investors are looking to fill the vacuum. This includes one of the world’s largest private equity firms, the Carlyle Group, and the Middle East’s largest bank by total assets, Qatar National Bank. Collectively, this new cast of players are leaving their mark on the landscape of Africa’s financial services sector. In doing so, they are capitalising on one of the most dynamic growth stories in the world today.

“A few years ago it was primarily South African banks that were looking to expand across the continent. Now there is clearly interest from non-African investors too,” says Chris Low, group managing director of Letshego, a financial services group with a presence across sub-Saharan Africa.

Indeed, data from Dealogic points to the growing interest from overseas investors. Between 2010 and 2015, a total of 59 mergers or acquisitions involving non-African investors and African banks occurred. The total value of these deals hit just over $7.5bn.

Investors are also making the most of the attractive prices on offer as, for a number of reasons, the valuations of banks across Africa have declined in recent times. “In particular, weaker oil prices, tighter monetary policy, more stringent regulations and political dynamics have played their part. These more attractive valuations have stimulated investor interest, specifically [in terms of] private equity and some international banks,” says Adesoji Solanke, a sub-Saharan Africa banking analyst with Renaissance Capital.

Long-term prospects

While attractive valuations have played their part, most investors are keeping an eye on the longer term fundamentals underpinning Africa’s banking sector. According to data from the World Bank, just 34% of adults in sub-Saharan Africa have a bank account, up from the 24% recorded just three years earlier. Additionally, the number of people aged 18 or under is expected to hit 1 billion by the year 2050, while the continent’s total population is expected to hit 2.8 billion by 2060.

On the ground, the prospects are even more promising. “In aggregate terms, banking penetration is extremely low across the continent. But when you remove east and southern Africa from the equation, you find that lending is driven by corporate activity elsewhere. So when it comes to retail lending, the figure is even lower,” says Mr Lindop.

As The Banker’s Top 100 African Bank’s ranking (see page 56) makes clear, the returns enjoyed by the continent’s top lenders are enviable. In 2014, the return on assets of the continent’s biggest banks by Tier 1 capital was 2.2%, while their return on capital was 27.6%. This performance was achieved as total asset growth hit 5% and aggregate Tier 1 capital growth climbed by 3.6% for the year.

“Considering the fundamentals underpinning many African economies, if you can invest in a well-managed and solvent bank with a solid balance sheet then some highly profitable exit routes are likely to open up,” says Mr Bedford.

The hunt for attractive exits is underpinning the recent drive by a number of private equity groups to secure a position in Africa’s banking sector. In November 2014, the Carlyle Group invested $147m in Nigeria’s Diamond Bank, equivalent to a stake of about 18%. This follows a massive spike in interest from the private equity sector in Africa more generally. According to the Emerging Markets Private Equity Association, about $4.2bn was raised to invest in Africa in 2014 alone.

QNB’s move

In general most investors, including banks and other investment vehicles, have an eye on securing longer term operational control of their acquisitions. “On the whole I would expect most investors to pursue minority stakes in African banks only as an entry point. These will likely be executed with the option to pursue a majority stake through another route further down the line,” says Mr Low.

In September 2014, Qatar National Bank (QNB), the Middle East’s largest lender by total assets, bought a 23.5% stake in Ecobank Transnational Incorporated (ETI), the bank with the largest footprint in Africa, in two successive transactions at a value of $220m and $283m. This followed QNB’s 2013 acquisition of Société Générale’s Egyptian unit for $2bn in 2013.

QNB has set itself a target of becoming a “Middle East and Africa icon” by 2017. This strategy is driven in part by increasing competition in the bank’s home market. Meanwhile, the collapse in the price of oil has forced the Qatari government and government-related entities to withdraw some of their deposits, slowing overall deposit growth, as non-essential capital spending has also been cut. These trends, and others, have led to lower growth opportunities in the domestic market.

QNB’s overseas loan book is expected to grow by about 25% per year between 2014 and 2017, compared with just 6% in Qatar, according to research from HSBC. As such, most analysts expect the lender to aggressively pursue further international expansion. Indeed, various sources believe the Qatari lender will ultimately seek to gain full control of ETI in the coming years. How this might transpire, in light of South African lender Nedbank’s recent acquisition of a 20% stake in Ecobank, is being carefully watched.

Diamond’s search 

Meanwhile, former Barclays chief executive Bob Diamond has led a push into the African banking sector through investment vehicle Atlas Mara. In partnership with Uganda’s Ashish Thakkar, whose Mara Group holds a 20% stake in the venture, the ambition is to create sub-Saharan Africa’s ‘premier financial institution’. To achieve this, Atlas Mara is buying up positions in some of Africa’s most promising banking markets.

To date, the group has made five acquisitions with a value of about $500m, providing it with a presence in seven countries. With further acquisitions expected, the aim is to be present in 10 to 15 African countries in the coming years. Yet, the case of Atlas Mara also exposes some of the challenges facing foreign investors who are entering Africa’s banking market.

Since an initial public offering on the London Stock Exchange in December 2013, Atlas Mara has lost about half of its share value. A number of factors have contributed to this decline, from lower commodity prices, to regulatory pressures, to slower economic growth across the region.

“Investing in Africa is difficult since the operating environment changes significantly from one jurisdiction to another. You have to have an understanding of the practical reality on the ground and that takes time,” says Mr Low.

What is more, getting to grips with issues of risk management and loan quality is a further stumbling block. A number of banks in the so-called tier-two and tier-three smaller economies still suffer from legacy non-performing loan positions, while the regulatory environment in these jurisdictions can often be difficult to navigate. Though investors can look to enter more developed markets, this approach comes with its own challenges.

“Investment opportunities in Africa are difficult. You can either enter a market that is more developed and better regulated but face tougher competition, or you can invest in more frontier destinations where operating conditions are more challenging and business volumes are lower but where there is a clearer path in terms of the competition,” says Stuart Bedford, a partner with Linklaters in London.

Tech advancements

Moreover, Africa’s banking landscape is characterised by a high degree of technological innovation. This has emerged partly as a result of the entrepreneurial dynamism that colours much of the continent. But it also has a lot to do with the structure of many markets. Here, both the physical and human geography of a number of African countries lends itself to particular products and services geared around mobile banking.

“Investors need to consider issues around technology and innovation very carefully. It is clear to us that some of the mobile and non-traditional banking channels being developed in Africa are more advanced than in most markets around the world,” says Mr Low.

As such, a further challenge facing investors is combining cutting-edge technology and a low-cost base so that they are able to provide these services in a commercially effective way, according to Mr Low. Data from the World Bank indicates that Africa leads the world in terms of mobile money accounts. About 12% of adults in sub-Saharan Africa have such an account against a worldwide average of 2%.

Above and beyond these operational considerations, issues of regulatory and political risk remain paramount. The sacking of South Africa’s finance minister, Nhlanhla Nene, in early December 2015 is a case in point. Arguably one of the most highly respected public sector figures on the continent, Mr Nene was abruptly relieved of his position by South Africa’s president, Jacob Zuma, in favour of little-known candidate who in turn was replaced just a few days later.

With speculation that the move was politically motivated, it has cast a dark shadow over the continent’s second largest economy. Moreover, that such an incident could occur in the most politically and economically developed state in sub-Saharan Africa speaks of the difficulties to be encountered elsewhere for investors and financial institutions alike.

“Banks are now deemed to be systemically important to both economic development and financial inclusion across the continent. Clearly, strong and independent regulators and institutions are required to oversee their development,” says Mr Lindop.

Where to choose? 

Looking ahead, as opportunities remain abundant, selecting an appropriate investment in Africa may be the biggest challenge of all. “This broader [investment] trend is set to continue. In Nigeria, for example, you have a situation where, unless there is an ease in the capital regulations, some banks will be looking for additional capital in testing market conditions,” says Mr Solanke at Renaissance Capital.

Here, the continent’s investment potential requires weighing up the various pros and cons behind each opportunity. This includes considerations around operating in different economic communities and political zones, including the Southern African Development Community, as well as issues around investing in Africa’s linguistic, demographic and economic centres of power. In the case of the larger banking markets, including South Africa, Nigeria and Kenya, which fall under many of these categories, growing investor awareness has stoked fierce competition.

As margins in these more dominant economies compress, a greater number of longer term opportunities may open in Africa’s smaller markets and among its less sizeable lenders. “Looking forward, there is a lot of opportunity in some of the smaller economies, particularly in the East African Community. [But] there can be a high risk in terms of buying into tier-two and tier-three institutions in Africa,” says Mr Low.

Nevertheless, there may be other ways for investors to tap into the continent’s rising consumer wallet. With larger markets and traditional banking operations expected to become increasingly competitive in the coming years, microfinance lending has the potential to emerge as a new investment opportunity. According to the Microfinance Information Exchange, the number of active microfinance borrowers across sub-Saharan Africa was 4.7 million in 2013, while the gross loan portfolio stood at $7.1bn across the countries that reported data.

A number of microfinance private equity funds now straddle the African continent, while dedicated microfinance providers continue to grow in terms of their reach and scale. But beyond the business case, the implications of greater financial inclusion for the continent’s social, economic and political development are commensurately large. Providing greater numbers of people with financial services will in turn lead to the formalisation of regional economies as well as increased and more inclusive growth.

What is more, greater levels of foreign investment can only help to stimulate, as well as accelerate, the development of products and services in the continent’s financial sector. A broader suite of financial offerings will promote consumer engagement with the continent’s banking sector and create a strong cycle of inclusion, growth and prosperity. With the prospect of further international investments into African banks remaining likely, the outlook for the continent’s financial services sector, as well as a more inclusive growth model, is positive.

Read More at the Banker.com

Watly: The computer that provides clean water, energy, internet access (CNN Africa)

(CNN) Touted by its creators as the “world’s largest solar-powered computer,” it could offer a quantum leap for development across rural Africa.

By Kieron Monks, for CNN

The Watly machine, created by an Italian-Spanish start-up of the same name, resembles a futuristic space capsule. But its mission is to provide electricity, clean water, and Internet services that could transform lives and economies across rural Africa.
Around 625 million people in Sub-Saharan Africa are currently without electricity — more than two-thirds of the population — while 39% lack access to safe water.
“This is an infrastructure solution for people without access to three fundamental pillars of civilization,” says Watly founder Marco Attisani. “We are (taking) people to the heart of the 21st century.”

Patented technology

The system works by capturing solar energy through photovoltaic panels on the surface of the Watly module, which is converted into electricity through an internal 140 kwh battery.
This powers a patented water treatment system that uses a graphene-based filtering process, before the water is boiled and then distilled. The process can deliver 5,000 liters of safe drinking water each day.
The battery also powers a connectivity hub that provides wireless internet access within an 800-meter radius, and a charging station for electronic and mobile devices.
During its 15 years of service, one Watly can reduce emissions to the tune of 2,500 tons of greenhouse gases, equivalent to 5,000 barrels of oil, its makers say.
Watly has already tested a prototype in rural Ghana, and the next step is to roll out units across the continent, starting with Nigeria and Sudan.

Local partners, international investors

In July, Attisani will present the final design of a scaled up 40-meter, 15-ton machine to potential customers and investors.
“We have support from big corporations but I cannot say their names yet,” says Attisani, citing interest from leading mobile phone and energy companies.
The project has also received 1.4 million euros from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research funding program.
“The project could have a huge social and economic impact especially in Africa,” an EU spokesperson said. “It aims to bring clean energy and clean water to people in countries that are in desperate need of both vital resources… and ultimately contribute to raising the living standards of potentially millions of people.”
Attisani stresses the need to involve local NGOs and civil society to drive widespread adoption.
“No technology can change the world without a human factor,” says the entrepreneur. “Local partners will care for the logistics, spread the word, play a role in education, and leverage functionality.”

Empowering economies

Beyond subsistence needs, the machines could power a surge of economic growth.
“We expect Watly to be a starting point for local entrepreneurs to start businesses,” says Attisani.
Within eight years, the company hopes to install 10,000 units across Africa, and estimates this will create 50,000 jobs. Many of these will relate to construction and maintenance of the machines and their products, while others will come indirectly through businesses benefitting from a reliable supply of vital services.
Attisani believes the model of providing services through localized, sustainable modules could have far-reaching consequences.
“There are going to be hundreds of companies developing technologies similar to Watly,” he says. “This could create a new economic paradigm worldwide.”
Read more at CNN Africa

Kenya’s $13 billion railway project is taking shape (CNN Africa)

(CNN)It’s been billed as the most ambitious project in Kenya since it gained independence in 1963.

By Phoebe Parke, for CNN

Planned extent of railway

Now, the first section of the east African nation’s $13.8 billion railway is nearly finished.
Originally planned to link Mombasa and Nairobi, the decision was made to extend the line to the market town of Naivasha in 2015, and 75% of civil works have reportedly been completed. This first Mombasa-Nairobi stretch will be completed by June 2017, consulting firm CPCS told CNN.
It is hoped that the track will shorten the journey between the two cities from 12 hours to four hours. Passenger trains will travel at 120km/h, and freight trains will be able to carry 25 million tonnes per year, according to the International Railway Journal.
Eventually, the East Africa Railway Masterplan will link Mombasa with other major east African cities such as Kampala, in Uganda, and Juba, in South Sudan.

Investment from China

The East Africa Railway Masterplan is being managed by the East Africa Community; an intergovernmental organization of six partner states; Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, South Sudan, Tanzania, and Uganda, which aims to create a politically united and secure East Africa.
Management consulting firm CPCS advised the East Africa Community on the financial, legal and economic impact of the project.
The railway is being built by the state-owned China Road and Bridge Corporation (CRBC), 90% of the ongoing development of the Mombasa-Nairobi section is being financed by The Export-Import Bank of China.
The hope is that this new railway will reduce congestion on Kenya’s crowded road network, and promote tourism.
This railway is the most expensive of a series of construction projects in Africa.
According to Deloitte, more than $131 billion was spent on transportation construction on the continent in 2015; by 2025, $200 billion is expected to be spent on the continent’s roads, and another $7 billion dollars on African airports.
China has been investing in other projects in Africa, including a mega port in Lamu, Kenya, and a manufacturing zone in Ethiopia.
Read More at CNN.com

New Crowdfunding Rules Let the Small Fry Swim With Sharks (NYT)

https://www.facebook.com/GoAfricaNetwork/

If you’ve always dreamed of being Mr. Wonderful from “Shark Tank,” now is your chance.

Starting Monday, new rules will permit anyone, not just the moneyed, to risk $2,000 a year or more investing in small companies in exchange for a stake in the business. Companies can raise up to $1 million a year this way.

By STACY COWLEY    MAY 14, 2016

This change, years in the making, represents an enormous shift, one that essentially permits anyone to become a venture capitalist — with all the attendant risks of losing one’s shirt on a company that fails. Until now, only accredited investors, meaning those with an annual income of at least

$200,000 or a net worth of at least $1 million, have been permitted to take equity stakes in most private companies. The wealthy “sharks” of the ABC reality television series got to risk their money, while the rest of us watched the action from the couch.

It is also an opportunity for start­ups and other small businesses, which can raise money with fairly few regulatory burdens. For instance, small companies seeking less than $500,000 and most first time issuers will not need to provide audited financial statements, just unaudited ones.

“For the first time, ordinary Americans will be able to go online and invest in entrepreneurs that they believe in,” President Obama said when he signed the bill into law that set these changes in motion.

 

That was four years ago. It took a long time to iron out the details, in part because the Securities and Exchange Commission was concerned that ordinary people could lose their life savings because of fraud or naïveté.

 

That remains a fear for many in the financing industry. Samuel Asher Effron, a lawyer with Mintz, Levin, Cohn, Ferris, Glovsky and Popeo who specializes in securities law, thinks the companies that choose to crowdfund will largely be those that are passed over by professional investors.

 

“When high growth companies are looking to raise money, it’s not just for the money,” he said. “They’re also looking for validation, and they want it from venture funds or well­known angels. They won’t get that from a crowdfunding offer.”

 

But one entrepreneur who is eager to take advantage of the new rules is Kelechi Anyadiegwu, 26, who started Zuvaa, an online marketplace of African fashions, two years ago. Her website is a portal where African­inspired designers from around the world can market their wares, which recently included a $120 office­appropriate dress from Tanzania and a $55 Lycra dashiki party dress.

 

When sales recently topped $1 million, she said, she started thinking about expanding. So far she has been relying on pop­up retail events, networking, and Instagram and Facebook accounts that now have more than 100,000 followers.

 

“We’re building a tribe of women around the world who are passionate about African textiles and want to support these emerging designers,” Ms. Anyadiegwu said.

 

 

 

 

It occurred to her that those women might be interested in buying not just dresses and textiles but also a piece of the company. Ms. Anyadiegwu has been talking to SeedInvest, one of about a dozen companies poised to serve as middlemen in the emerging business.

 

Ms. Anyadiegwu wants to increase her part­time workers’ hours, move her base of operations from Sayreville, N.J., to Atlanta, where she has built a clientele, and do more marketing. To finance that, she’s willing to part with some of her equity in the business.

 

“Our customer base is so engaged,” she said. “This could be a perfect opportunity for them to participate and be a part of the company in another way.”

 

Another company thinking about taking this route is Rorus, a technology start­up in Pittsburgh that makes water filters for developing countries. It has already raised nearly $300,000 from rich individuals and traditional venture capital funds, but the founders like the idea of building a larger circle of investors who act as advocates.

 

“We can build a community around our company. That’s an intangible that you don’t get from private fund­raising,” said Kyle Henson, 23, the company’s chief business officer. He is preparing Rorus to comply with the new securities rules, he said, if it chooses to do a crowdfunding offering.

 

But are the 230 million adult Americans who aren’t millionaires really that interested in becoming do­it­yourself venture capitalists? While supporters cheer the new rules as a democratization of high finance, potentially opening up to the masses deals once reserved for the rich, skeptics worry that regular investors might get only the leftovers.

 

They may dream of discovering the next Facebook. But the most promising companies — the high­growth ventures delivering the monster returns that keep the entire venture­capital industry afloat — may also be the

 

 

 

 

ones least likely to bother raising money in small dribs from the crowd, they fear.

Finding ‘Blockbusters’

The shift toward the new rules began more than four years ago, when President Obama signed the Jump­Start Our Business Start­Ups Act, a bipartisan bill that he called a “potential game changer” for fledgling businesses. The bill itself is a slender 22­page document ordering a number of technical changes to ease fund­raising for small companies.

But what got people excited was the crowdfunding provision allowing companies to raise up to $1 million with few regulatory obstacles.

Sounds simple, right? Not to the Securities and Exchange Commission. Concerned about protecting investors from charlatans, bad ideas and their own poor judgment, the agency spent years drafting its proposed rules. The final version, released in October, runs to 685 pages.

 

The new rule, known as Regulation Crowdfunding, allows most private companies to advertise shares for sale to anyone, regardless of income.

Individual investors can invest $2,000 to $100,000 a year in crowdfunding offerings, depending on their earnings and net worth.

The option appeals to Bhree Roumagoux, 42, and Robert Hensch, 46, a married couple in Anchorage who make a hobby of tracking early­stage technology ventures. They recently sank a five­figure sum into buying shares in Virtuix, a privately held start­up in Austin, Tex., that is developing a virtual reality motion platform for gaming.

The company caught Mr. Hensch’s eye nearly two years ago, after it raised

$1.1 million on Kickstarter. He scoured tech blogs for tidbits, signed up for the company’s newsletter and followed along as executives posted updates from China about their production process.

So when Virtuix announced in March that it would crowdfund its next investment round, Mr. Hensch and Ms. Roumagoux jumped in. “I’ve seen where Robert’s recommendations have gone in the market. Typically, when he identifies something early on, it becomes a blockbuster item,” said Ms.

Roumagoux, recalling her husband’s early enthusiasm for Tesla, Netflix and a “really neat” search engine called Google.

 

Ms. Roumagoux works as a lawyer, and Mr. Hensch is a real estate business manager. As financiers, “we’re definitely novices,” she said with a laugh, but both like the idea of diversifying their retirement fund and other investments by gambling on a small portfolio of fledgling technology ventures.

 

Jan Goetgeluk, Virtuix’s founder and chief executive, likes the idea of having hundreds or thousands of stakeholders along for the ride. “This allows us to turn those fans into true brand advocates. It’s incredibly powerful.”

 

Mr. Goetgeluk, a 32­year ­old mechanical engineer, had dreamed of becoming an entrepreneur since moving to the United States from Belgium nine years ago. The money he raised from 3,000 backers on Kickstarter funded Virtuix’s early production, and the publicity the campaign created got him a spot pitching his company to a panel of rich investors on “Shark Tank” — where he failed to land a deal.

“If my husband brought this into my house, I would divorce him immediately,” Barbara Corcoran, a real estate entrepreneur, announced on the show.

Still, Mr. Goetgeluk went on to raise $8 million in two seed rounds from venture capitalists and wealthy angel investors, and an additional $4.7 million from a more complicated — and much more expensive — previous program for selling stock to regular investors.

The rules that take effect on Monday make crowdfunding far cheaper and easier for companies to use. But the cost of that concession is a $1 million cap on the amount they can raise in a 12­month period.

Cautionary Tales

To promote their offerings, companies will have to work through a funding portal, a kind of online bazaar for investment deals. More than a dozen websites are preparing to enter the business, including CrowdBoarders, FlashFunders, NextSeed, SeedInvest, StartEngine and ZacksInvest.

Wefunder, one of the first to get a green light from regulators, says it will have around 20 live offerings on Monday. It’s a day the site’s creators, Mike Norman, Greg Belote and Nick Tommarello, thought might never come. They started their company in 2012, and then they waited.

“We had no idea that it would take the S.E.C. four years to write all these rules,” Mr. Tommarello said. “We had to figure out how to stay alive and not go bankrupt.”

To make money, the site started hosting Regulation D offerings — the kind only wealthy people can invest in. Some of those deals turned into cautionary tales. In 2013, the human resources start­up Zenefits raised money from Wefunder investors, who bought in at a valuation of $9 million. Two years later, the company’s valuation had sailed past $4 billion.

And then, three months ago, Zenefits imploded. The company’s founder and chief executive, Parker Conrad, stepped down after it was discovered that he had created software that let Zenefits employees cheat on a brokerage licensing course. Zenefits is being investigated by regulators in several states, faces fines that could total millions of dollars and risks even stiffer penalties. A valuation is hard to calculate on that kind of mess, but it’s safe to say that the $4 billion days have passed.

Many start­ups that take crowdfunding money — probably most — will fail. Half of American small businesses close within their first five years, and even successful companies usually struggle through many lean years before generating meaningful profits.

That’s one reason the S.E.C. moved so slowly. “We are counting on brokers and funding portals to be bulwarks of investor protection in this space,” Mary Jo White, chairwoman of the S.E.C., said in a recent speech. “We will hold them to that responsibility.”

 

Still, this isn’t like investing in the stock market. Want to sell Facebook? Just call your broker. Want to sell your shares in Ms. Anyadiegwu’s company, Zuvaa? Well, under the new crowdfunding rules, people must generally hold their shares for at least a year. And even then, there are few marketplaces for finding another buyer.

Virtuix’s offering circular, which is a more detailed document than is required from companies using the new rules taking effect this week, is full of warnings. The company has not finished its commercial product, has little revenue and has a history of losses. It also has a “going concern” notice — the warning auditors put in when they’re not sure that a company has enough cash to survive.

But Ms. Roumagoux, who said she had skimmed the circular, isn’t worried. She and her husband may not be millionaires, but she says they’re financially sophisticated enough to judge the risk that they’re taking.

“I know all these rules are there to protect us, but honestly, I don’t think we need the protection,” she said. “We’re relatively young, and this is a long­ term investment.”

Read More at the New York Times

A version of this article appears in print on May 15, 2016, on page BU1 of the New York edition with the headline: Now the Small Fry Can Swim With Sharks.

Press Release: The second annual Go Africa Harlem Street Festival will be held ‪Saturday, July 16 from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. on 116th Street btw 7th & 8th avenues in NYC

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

May 8, 2016  

 

Contact:

Madina Toure

Senior Public Relations Officer

Go Africa Network

mtoure@goafricanetwork.org

646-502-9778 Ext 844

Street festival aims to support black-owned businesses in Harlem and New York City in general

 

New York, NY — The second annual Go Africa Harlem Street Festival will be held ‪Saturday, July 16 from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. on 116th Street within the boundaries of Adam Clayton Powell and Frederick Douglass boulevards in Harlem.

Manhattan Borough President Brewer’s Immigrant Task Force is a proud support of the event.

The festival will include live music and dance, African food and beverages, African-American food and beverages, clothing and apparel, health and wellness services, financial services such as banking and insurance, city agency services in areas such as immigration, housing and social services, taste tests and giveaways.

 

Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, a sponsor and supporter of the festival, will serve as the grand marshal for the event.

Shaun King, senior justice writer for the New York Daily News and a prominent civil rights activist known for his use of social media to shed light on social causes, will serve as master of ceremonies.

 

Some of the restaurants that will be participating in New York African Restaurant Week (NYARW) 2016, will be in attendance. A Taste of Africa, a community-based organization dedicated to promoting the best of African cuisine and culture that organizes the annual NYARW, is among the supporters of the event.

 

Other sponsors and supporters include the Consulate General of Senegal in New York; Association Nationale des Senegalais d’Amérique; Manhattan Community Board 10 and the Honorable Professor Michael John Downie, chairman of the CB10’s Arts and Culture Committee; the Delegate General of Côte d’Ivoire; the Permanent Mission of Guinea to the United Nations; New York State Assemblyman Keith Wright; Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz, Jr. and his African Advisory Council; Souleimane Konaté, imam of the Masjid Aqsa Mosque in Harlem; New York City Civil Court Judge W. Franc Perry; New York State Senator Adriano Espaillat;

Manhattan Borough President Brewer’s Immigrant Task Force; and Halstead Property.

 

For questions about the event, please call (646) 502-9778 ext. 8001 or visit https://www.goafricaharlem.org.

 

About Go Africa Network:

 

Go Africa Network is a U.S.-based nonprofit that seeks to advance the awareness and socioeconomic development of Africa and the United States through local and international outreach initiatives.

 

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GO Africa Harlem Street Festival outside merchants 8-19-2016 GO Africa Harlem Street Festival public 8-19-2015Music Go Africa Network Street Festival 2016 4-16-2016

(Ghana Web) Future Ghanaian Scientist Invited to White House

Simon Peter Frimpong Photo from Ghana Web

Meet Simon-Peter Frimpong, a 13-year old Ghanaian American from Aurora, Colorado. The 8th-grader is one of about 100 top science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) students from across the USA who have been invited to the 2016 White House Science Fair, scheduled for this Wednesday, April 13th.

The fair, which is President Obama’s sixth and last, is a hands-on showcase of student innovation – robots, prototypes, tools to help us fight cancer and climate change – all researched, designed and built by the next generation of America’s scientists.

Simon-Peter and two of his schoolmates from Horizon Middle School, Maya Max-Villard, 13, and Grayson Fast, 14, were inspired by a veteran at nearby Buckley Air Force Base who needed a more comfortable and functional prosthetic limb. The three young scientists designed and built a new artificial leg using computer design, and 3-D printing of prototypes, as well as interviews with the veteran and others for feedback. The team built a prosthetic leg that will allow the amputee to hike, manage uneven terrain, and even skateboard!

The part designed by Simon-Peter is what makes the prosthesis unique. As their STEM teacher, Ms. Mel Possehl put it, “…with the design [Simon Frimpong] made, the bottom comes off. So you have a walking part, then you have a part that hooks onto a longboard or a snowboard, then you have a part that hooks onto skis, and then a part that can do multiple things. It’s a multiple-use prototype.” The project was so innovative that it was selected as a finalist in the Samsung Solve for Tomorrow national competition, and then to participate in the 2016 White House Science Fair.

Simon-Peter is the son of Mr. Tony Frimpong, and Mrs. Yaa Frimpong (popularly known as Obaa Yaa), who is the secretary of NPP Colorado Chapter, and 2nd Vice Chairperson of NPP-USA Branch.
[Partly culled from the White House blog https://www.whitehouse.gov/blog/2016/04/08/science-fair-2016-meet-next-generation-americas-innovators]

The article was published on Ghana Web.

(Medium) The Braiders of Harlem

Christiana A Mbakwe / Medium

Christiana A Mbakwe / Medium

Christiana A Mbakwe | 

There is no décor. The only art on the pumpkin colored walls are vintage posters of bare shouldered black women with elaborate hairstyles. Two women, one from Senegal, the other from the Ivory Coast, split 7 feet of black synthetic hair into sections before they begin to braid.

Behind them is a restless elementary school girl; she swings her legs so vigorously her timberlands thump on the floor. Her hairdresser, Tenin, has tightly wrapped the ends of each braid with string until they resemble sooty bees nests. She dips the ends of the braids in boiling water; acutely aware of the risk involved, the child is finally still. The final step of the three-hour process is simple — Tenin lathers the girl’s head with white mousse.

Aicha Hair Braiding Salon is one of a number of African braiding shops that are clustered around 125th street in Harlem. Much like the Apollo Theatre and Abyssinian Baptist Church, the braiding shops and braiders that work in them are a Harlem landmark.

Hair braiding is a tradition that has been practiced in various African societies for centuries. Across the United States, women from countries such as Senegal, Ivory Coast and Togo, have used braiding as a bridge to a better life. In the 1990’s and 2000’s, entrepreneurial instinct and the ability of braiders to amalgamate traditional braiding styles with hair trends within African-American culture, meant braiding was a secure source of income.

According to Professor Cheikh Anta Babou, an expert in African history and the Africa diaspora, although it was generally confined to the informal economy, braiding was once such a lucrative profession, in the peak season braiders could earn $200-$300 a day. Babou estimates 70% of Senegalese immigrant women in the United States are hair braiders. Braiding is so pervasive it has reshaped and transformed Senegalese life in the United States. For instance, the economic independence women gained from braiding meant patriarchal norms were resisted; consequently divorce has become more frequent within the Senegalese community.

In recent years, however, a combination of demographic shifts in neighborhoods, rising rents and technological disruption, has meant braiding is no longer a trade immigrants can rely on.

“This country’s not like before. You don’t get money like before,” said Tenin, the hairdresser who hails from the Ivory Coast. “It was more busy than this. When tax season comes you’re very happy. But now?” she shakes her head in dismay and returns to her work. Two months ago, Tenin gave birth to her fourth child. The uneven nature of her job meant she had to come back to work. On some days she has no clients, while on other days she has eight. Staying at home was far too risky.

Today, it’s not uncommon to see braiders hustling for potential clients at the busiest intersections in Harlem. Some even wait at subway turnstiles, hoping to find a customer. According to Aicha, Tenin’s mother and the owner of the braiding salon where they both work, the spread of braiders onto the streets hunting for clients is a relatively new development. Aicha has worked as a braider in Harlem for over 20 years. She believes the demographic shifts in the neighborhood and rising rents, has meant they have a smaller customer base and have to fight harder for what’s left. “I don’t like to beg on the street for customers. I used to, but not any more. But I understand why women do” she said.

Aicha is correct in her observation about rising rents and dwindling black customers. A report by the Community Service Society, showed between 2002 and 2014 average rents in Central Harlem rose by 90%. Recent census data showed that Harlem’s black population is the smallest it’s been since the 1920’s and they are now only 40% of its residents. The ramifications of this on the informal braiding market are palpable. A number of braiding stores have been forced to close, and some braiders even left New York in search for work elsewhere. However, there’s another force working against women like Aicha and Tenin — technology. In particular, the proliferation of social networking sites, which have created virtual communities centred on sharing information about black women’s hair and an increase in women finding their hairdressers using the Internet. In an unexpected twist, it seems that immigrants aren’t taking jobs from Americans, instead technology is taking jobs from immigrants.

In 2008, a shift occurred in the black cultural zeitgeist that reshaped how black women decided to style their own hair. According to “Hair Story: Untangling the Roots of Black Hair in America” by Ayanna Byrd and Lori Tharps, the natural hair movement caused a critical mass of black women to stop chemically straightening their hair and wear their hair in its natural state. Historically, there have been other waves where black women have favored natural styles however this was the first in the era of online social networking.

Conversations about black women’s hair are constantly happening on the Internet. They occur in YouTube comments, hair forums and an amorphous subculture within Twitter called “Black Twitter”. The #naturalhair hashtag on Instagram has 7.4 million photos. In theory, this movement should have meant African hair braiders were perfectly positioned to exploit a new and hungry customer base. According to Mintel Black Consumers and Hair care 2015 report, the black hair care market is worth an estimated $2.7 billion — there’s more than enough money to go around. But a cornerstone of the natural hair movement and the digital conversation surrounding it is an emphasis on autonomy and agency. An important expression of this agency is the ability to understand and do your own natural hair.

The emergence of social networking and the fact that the web significantly influences black women’s hair choices, places braiders at an acute disadvantage. The informal and underground nature of the braiding industry has meant there’s a natural and almost instinctive aversion to social media. Despite their presence on the streets of Harlem and Brooklyn, most braiders prefer to be or remain inconspicuous. Some braiders are undocumented or in regular contact with people who are undocumented and this creates a reluctance to create a visible online presence. Very few of the braiding shops have Facebook or Instagram pages, websites are rare and most salon owners don’t respond to reviews on Yelp. Furthermore, in West African culture, privacy is viewed as virtue and openness is a vice. All these things are diametrically opposed to the relentless self-promotion and hyper-exposure the digital age requires. In the meantime, the savviest natural hairdressers are exploiting technology for their benefit and gaining customers.

“I did it in college just for fun, just one video — and it went viral” said Sadora Paris, a popular natural hair blogger. Since Sadora posted her first video tutorial two years ago, her audience has grown to 120 thousand YouTube subscribers and almost 25 thousand Instagram followers. She has leveraged her fan base to become a fulltime brand ambassador for natural hair care lines such as Carol’s Daughter and Shea Moisture. Sadora also earns additional income as a hair coach and beauty consultant.

Sadora views the relationship between the African braiders and their customer base as a complex one that is fractured by generational differences as much as cultural ones. African braiders aren’t the only segment within the black hair industry that struggled to keep up with how technology has transformed it. Many older African-American salon owners who catered exclusively to black women with chemically straightened hair failed to keep up with the times and are also struggling. Additionally, the women she coaches who no longer go to African braiders cite three main factors — saving money, time and their hair. Traditional braiding methods favor tight, neat styles and an aesthetic is valued over the health of the hair. However many black women have concerns about their hair, particularly the perimeter of the hairline referred to colloquially as their “edges”. For Sadora and her clients, the choice to do their own hair is less about the African braiders and more about how they prefer to do their hair.

Dr. Shartriya Collier is an expert in immigrant women entrepreneurs, who has done extensive research on the braiding industry in the United States. While she agrees that technology and other variables have contributed to the difficulties the braiders currently face, she cautions against overstating their significance. In her view, there were no real glory years in the braiding industry– it’s always been a difficult trade. “There was always a tension between African shop owners and their African-American clients,” she said. The intersection of language and cultural barriers meant exchanges between African braiders and their African-American clients have always been characterized by difficulties.

In their economic transactions, most braiders tend to occupy the grey space between legal and illegal activity. Cash is the preferred, and often the only form of payment. Most financial transactions aren’t documented in official records and braiders aren’t paid an hourly wage; instead they pay the shop owner a commission on every client they get. And while technology has had an adverse effect on their cash flow, it’s been advantageous for most parts of the informal economy. Professor Justin W. Webb, of The University of North Carolina at Charlotte, is an expert on entrepreneurship within the informal economy. In his research, he has observed how technological advances have created more opportunities for entrepreneurs who operate outside of the formal sphere. “Technology is presenting a larger market and in a way they’re able to skirt [legislation]. They’re less visible to those who are monitoring and enforcing them,” said Webb.

In his years of studying informal economies, Webb has frequently come across a phenomena he calls the “stepping stone effect” This occurs when a worker gradually formalizes and legitimizes their trade or they accumulate enough capital and knowledge to leave the informal sphere and work in another part of the formal economy. But braiders face a challenge that impedes this effect — language.

Most braiders come from French-speaking African countries, so if they do speak English, it is often their third language. French or Wolof tends to be the lingua franca inside the hair shop and English is only used while establishing price or in brief exchanges with clients. The lack of English fluency makes it difficult to leave the industry. On the other hand, braiders from English speaking African countries often use braiding as a job on the side, to support them while they attend night school or while they learn a more economically advantageous trade. As soon as these women achieve their goal they stop braiding.

In 2002, Mama (as she calls herself), made the trip from Nouakchott, Mauritania to the United States. At the time she was fluent in Wolof and French, and could speak only broken English. She found accommodation in the Bronx and was embraced by a network of African immigrants. They told her to go to Harlem and start braiding hair. Mama is middle aged and braiding has taken its toll on her body. Some days she works for 12 hours at a time at Barry’s Good Braiding, she has constant back pain but can’t afford the surgery. What was supposed to be an opportunity has become a trap and Mama wishes she picked another trade when she first moved to America. Braiding is so niche that her years of experience aren’t easily transferred to another industry. “It’s not a job I’m doing and love it. I don’t have a choice,” said Mama.

Walk into any braiding shop and you’ll notice the incredible speed at which braiders move their wrists and fingers. No matter how long you stare, this speed makes it difficult to decipher each step of the process. It’s wondrous to watch because the women maintain this speed for anything from 3 to 6 hours. And on a particularly busy day they may braid for a total of 10 hours.

Ask any woman who’s had her hair braided the worst thing about it and she’ll probably mention the pain. Most people don’t think about the pain the braiders endure. The physically taxing nature of the job and the mental strain of hoping for clients mean that braiders often end the day exhausted. Over the years this accumulates and has acute physical manifestations. Back pain, shoulder pain, it isn’t rare to come across braiders with ganglion cysts on their wrists — big bumps that are the evidence of years of strain.

For those that have the option to work in the formal economy, the decision to become an entrepreneur is often an expression of their independence and freedom. But for many of the braiders, with limited childcare options, low levels of education and significant language barriers, being an entrepreneur is the only option, rather than a romantic form of self-actualization. It is a beautiful struggle at best.

The article was published in Medium.