The East African community in Minnesota is growing every year, but new businesses that come with that growth might not always get the support they need.
Amani Radman was attending conferences and training sessions last summer for her work as a logistics broker when she had an idea: Offer similar experiences and educational services to East African business owners to spur success in her own community.
But Radman couldn't do it alone. So through a friend she connected with Paul Jaeb, a local entrepreneur who has been working as a consultant for East African business owners for the past few years. He's helped educate clients on business regulations, compliance issues and real estate investment.
They launched the Minneapolis-based East African Business Association, of which Radman now is CEO. "I just feel like it's an obligation for me to my community to, you know, put this forward," she said.
The association, which got its start with an April 29 gala, will provide industry-specific training in healthcare, transportation, technology and retail. Radman said those are the most common industries represented in the East African community.
Trucking and healthcare are the two biggest industries, so the association's first training session will be a major trucking event in July, according to its website. Many of the association's training sessions are expected to be tied to those two areas.
Radman and Jaeb decided that a business association was a better fit for the community's needs than a chamber of commerce.
"Our focus is 100 percent economic," Jaeb said. "Chambers [of commerce] tend to get involved in a lot of policy discussions. They might get involved in politics, and that's not our mission."
Other than industry-specific training, the association also plans to offer free legal clinics to its members as well as networking events. Radman said the association hopes to survey the East African business community to get more concrete numbers on how many people own businesses and in what industries.
Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey and U.S. Rep. Dean Phillips attended the April gala to support East African business owners. Speakers included Hudda Ibrahim of St. Cloud's Diverse Voices Press, who said the association "is going to help and support entrepreneurs like myself."
Ibrahim said it's important for immigrant businesses to help each other out, and that the new association will make that process easier. "Our East African community — our immigrant community — is struggling to not only start their businesses but also retain them," she said.
People interested in joining the association can apply through its website. Memberships are offered at a flat rate of $1,500 for one year. Radman said the fee applies "across the board" because most member businesses, whether established or starter, would use similar services from the association.
Jaeb added that the membership fee could support the addition of newer services for those in the East African community who are starting to branch into non-traditional industries.
At the gala, Frey called Jaeb the "most connected person in the Twin Cities." "My role in all of this is to try to be that bridge between these two communities," Jaeb said.
Jaeb said one of his biggest goals is to connect association members to people outside the East African community for banking and other needs. He said he's been a part of the business scene in the Twin Cities for the past 30 years and now wants to focus on the growing community of entrepreneurs.
East Africans tend to stay in the same industries, and invest their money differently or just save it all, according to Radman. Learning to diversify assets and invest like other American business owners is a skill she wants members to learn.
"You can't tell them, 'Come invest in Apple, or come invest here.' They don't understand that concept, so they have a lot of cash sitting in the bank," Radman said. "Paul is getting them in front of deals and opportunities that they've never really seen before."
Radman and Jaeb said they hope the association will help the East African community to be viewed more approvingly, especially in light of the federal food-aid fraud case involving the nonprofit Feeding Our Future.
Dozens of people from the East African community have been charged in the case, in which suspects are alleged to have stolen at least $250 million from the federal government to spend on cars, real estate and luxury goods instead of food for underprivileged children.
"There's a much bigger community outside of those people that are doing amazing things that are not involved in this," Radman said.
About the partnership
This story comes to you from Sahan Journal, a nonprofit newspaper dedicated to covering Minnesota's immigrants and communities of color. Sign up for to receive Sahan's free newsletter in your inbox.