Creighton University, the Creighton African Students Association and the University’s African Studies Program hosted, with generous funding from the Creighton Global Initiative, African Rising Week September 18-24th. Now in its second year, the week is a celebration of African history and culture.
In addition to enjoying Africa’s rich and diverse traditions through food and music, students, faculty and guests from the Omaha community explored how the African diaspora has enriched the world economy through film and panel discussions.
Given the economic focus of this year’s Africa Rising Week, the Heider College of Business played an increased role in the week’s events. Tirimba Obonyo, PhD, CFA, assistant professor of finance, was part of a standing-room-only discussion following the film “Guangzhou Dream Factory.” The documentary explored the entrepreneurial aspirations of African migrants in China.
“In the greater geopolitical context, there was discussion of what China’s goal may be in gaining influence in Africa and why Africa is one of the places China is targeting,” says Obonyo, who is a native of Nairobi, Kenya.
Students asked why the Africans in the film felt they had to locate their businesses in China rather than in their native countries. The question “brought out the theme of bureaucracy and poor business infrastructure as something that hinders business in Africa,” says Obonyo.
Students remained after the discussion to continue their conversation with Obonyo, who has seen a keen interest in Africa on campus since his arrival this summer. “They were interested in understanding both the differences and similarities as regards the complexity of immigration for, say, someone migrating to China from an African country compared to one migrating to the U.S. or another western country,” Obonyo says.
Economics professor Charles Braymen, PhD, took his International Trade and Finance class to the viewing of “Guangzhou Dream Factory,” which was also sponsored by the Creighton University Asian World Center, “to examine both the positive and negative effects of international trade from the perspective of individuals in developing countries.”
Senior Michaela Hendricks, a pre-law student majoring in international business and minoring in French, attend the screen as part of the class. Hendricks says the film was a myth-buster for her. The difficulties the African entrepreneurs experienced in establishing their businesses in China ran contrary to her belief as “China as a place with endless jobs.”
“This film gave me a better understanding of how exporting and importing goods has created global interdependence,” says Hendricks. “As a business student, this cultural exposure gives me a better level of understanding about the world around me and helps prepare me to facilitate cooperation and collaboration in the workplace.”
The economic theme of Africa Rising Week is actually a continuation of last year’s focus on the African refugee experience in Omaha. After shining a spotlight on refugee populations last year, organizers of Africa Rising Week this September wanted to build on the immigration theme but take it in another direction, says Jay Carney, PhD, associate professor of theology and director of Creighton’s African Studies Program. From a business perspective, Africa is a dynamic, emerging economy and claims one of the world’s fastest growing GDPs, and African immigrants in the U.S. achieve successful careers.
To highlight the diversity of these successes, Carney solicited the help of colleagues from multiple schools and colleges in assembling a panel of local African business professionals. The goals of panel discussion were to “offer insight into cross-cultural business practices, spotlight businesses flying under the radar and raise awareness,” says Carney.
Kristie Briggs, PhD, associate professor of economics, was the moderator of the discussion. “I was incredibly excited that Dr. Carney reached out to include Heider in Africa Rising Week. Such cross-pollination of schools is important as it provides students from all colleges with well-rounded discussions and perspectives from a variety of vantage points. This sharing of ideas and perspectives across disciplines helps challenge each individual to learn more and know more, and critically evaluate the reasons for why they hold the opinions they do,” says Briggs.
The panel included Chaima Maradi, owner of Chaima Restaurant; Nedu Igbokwe, partner of Banwo & Igbokwe Law Firm LLC; Violet Illuebey, owner of International Daycare; and Victor Ful, owner of Omaha Tropical Market.
Briggs, who served as moderator, asked the panelists about their desire to become business owners, the challenges they faced and if these challenges were universal or germane to their identity as an African entrepreneur. They also shared advice with community members looking to establish a business of their own.
“I truly wish that every Heider student could have been there, as the conversation was so valuable,” says Briggs. “The event lasted about one hour and 15 minutes, but it felt like only 15 minutes!”
Carney hopes attendees walked away with a sense of “sameness,” that country origin aside, “people are people and are part of the human race.”
“Africa is not just exotic,” says Carney. “Immigrants from Africa are the same as anyone. They want to do rewarding work, support their families, make a living and positively impact society with their work.”