Toyin Umesiri is an entrepreneur and the convener and founder of the Trade with Africa Business Summit. In 2017, she made the big leap from corporate America into full-time entrepreneurship to focus on increasing trade between the United States (US) and Africa. After over a decade of working in corporate America at Walmart & Whirlpool Corporation. She helps to increase trade with Africa through Nazaru, LLC, a US based company that helps African Exporters and Importers to become more visible on the global market.
Who is Toyin Umesiri and can you tell us more about your passion and purpose?
I grew up in Nigeria and moved to the US in 2004 for my graduate programme at Central Michigan University. After graduating with a Masters of Science in Information Systems I began a career in corporate America as an Analyst. I remained loosely connected back to Africa through the years but following the passing on of my father in 2015, I started a new journey to rediscover my passion for Africa.I then realised that I was very privileged and also knew I had acquired unique skills and networks that I could use to support Africa’s emergence on the global market and this has become the essence of my work as CEO of Nazaru LLC, Founder and Convener of Trade with Africa Business Summit and IATF Ambassador. I continue to represent the region well by bringing key investors and stakeholders together and also facilitating trade with Africa.What is the inspiration behind Nazaru LLC?
At the very beginning, I did not know how best to position the company and what exactly Africa needed. But after various conversations with business executives around the world, it became clear to me. While there was rhetoric around trade with Africa, not many people knew how to accelerate trade conversations and few knew what the opportunities looked like and how to take advantage of such.
Nazaru has emerged as a go-to-resource for trade relations and foreign direct investment (FDI) Advisory. We support Africa’s exporters to secure, access market in the US under the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) and US businesses looking to trade with the region. To Fast track trade conversation, we have also successfully launched the global annual event — Trade with Africa Business Summit. A platform where business executives take a lead role in discussing trade opportunities and highlighting success stories. We invite policy leaders as part of these discussions for them to commit to helping remove barriers to trade with Africa.
What has impressed you most about Nazaru since you started?
The need to support trade with Africa is huge so are the opportunities because Africa remains largely underserved and under-represented. The amount of positive feedback and encouragements from those following our work is a confirmation that we are heading in the right direction.
How important is it for African businesses/ brands to be given support and financing they need to help them get to the next level?
Capacity management remains a recurring issue when it comes to African exports. As an export trading company, we often receive quality demand signals but the question remains if the capacity and quality to meet the demands can be achieved seamlessly in Africa. Regarding the current financing gap, most regions of the world close that gap by borrowing against a firm purchase commitment. From a banking standpoint, the bank uses the commitment or PO as the main collateral. In fact, this is one of the topics we would cover in detail during our next trade event in Chicago.
How has your perception of Africa as a whole changed since you started Nazaru in 2015?
I continue to believe in the future of our continent and remain very encouraged. For the first time in a very long time, there is a new level of seriousness on the part of many of the leaders in Africa to pursue trade opportunities. I think visionary leadership is a must for African countries to emerge on the global stage.
What are your proudest professional moments?
My personal philosophy is to take bold steps every day towards my goals. That’s the only way we all can continue to make the impacts that we do. While in corporate America I was recognized for various accomplishments however nothing compares to the joy of knowing every day that we are building for the future generations. The work is ongoing, and we are very proud of the support we continue to enjoy from global leaders who believe in our cause and committed to be a part of our journey. We thank them for their support.
Your thoughts about the Africa Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), an agreement that would create the world’s largest duty-free market?
Typically when investors are evaluating which market to enter in Africa they run through various criteria including political stability, market size etc. What you would find is that the same set of countries emerge each time. Which means the same set of countries keep receiving most of the FDI funds. To ensure investment opportunities spread we must create new opportunities across the region.
AfCFTA is a window of opportunity for all African countries looking to create expanded exports for their products and create supply chain global linkages.
When it comes to expanding to newer markets, after winning in the local terrain, the neighbouring country becomes an opportunity for exporters to expand into. Currently, in Africa, it is extremely challenging to move products across the borders and the cold chain must be developed especially since we have 15 landlocked countries on the continent. Africa’s current logistics infrastructure is largely driven to move in product out of Africa so we need to start building the stronger goods movement channels within the continent to enhance distribution of goods and services.
AfCFTA also makes the continent more attractive to foreign investors. The combined economic power is a great bargaining tool on the global stage. In fact countries that can show stronger regional connectedness would be positioning themselves as a gateway to increased trade which means they can now bargain with their neighboring country’s GDP as well.
Foreign participants in trade on the continent of Africa should continue to offer technical support but Africa must also invest heavily in knowledge management institutions to help transition our youths beyond the knowledge economy.
Tell us about the 2nd edition of Trade with Africa Business Summit? How was the first edition?
Africa must no longer be ignored by global business leaders or seen as a region of only war, famine and disease. For those that are actively involved already this is not a secret, however, there is a significant number of people misinformed about Africa. The Trade with Africa Business Summit was created as an active step to engage the US business community to develop increased mutually beneficial commercial activities in Africa to accelerate economic growth for both regions.
In 2000, the United States established the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) to support US trade with Africa. Although some level of success has been accomplished, the US still engages at less than 2% of total global trade with Sub-Saharan Africa.
On the US side there are several constraints including lack of awareness, supporting business data, and misconception and information gap. On the African side, there is lack of information related to available business partnerships and opportunities for African businesses as well as education on ways to secure investments needed to build the level of capacity required to meet US standards. At the inaugural event, we were able to successfully highlight and showcase effective strategies to remove barriers to trade.
Trade with Africa Business Summit 2018 is focused on bringing much-needed conversation on Africa to ‘corporate America’. With the population rise on the continent and the projected economic growth, US businesses could participate commercially. Africa is home to over 1 billion people with a large youth population and a rapidly growing workforce.
For US based businesses, this event serves to showcase the vast opportunities in Africa, create linkages where they could either export to or source goods from under favourable trade policies, and allow for an opportunity to address with high-level officials critical concerns or impediments to doing business
Following a successful inaugural event in Bentonville, Arkansas; home to world’s largest retailer and Fortune #1; Walmart, global business leaders, trade experts and policy representatives of African countries will convene for the 2nd edition in Chicago, Illinois.
Topics to be covered in the 2019 events include but not limited to: African Growth & Opportunity Act (AGOA), African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA), Trade Financing, Sustainable Agriculture, Export & Import, Blockchain in Africa, Technology Innovation, E-commerce, Manufacturing, Healthcare and Women Empowerment.
Top 3 things Africa needs to do to scale up trade with other global players?
All Africa’s political leaders must aggressively attract investment to the region. For example, since President Cyril Ramaphosa became president of South Africa FDI into his country has increased by over 400%. He is currently raising $100billion and has made significant progress towards his goal.
Africa’s business leaders must lead the global conversation on Africa and showcase what Africa has to offer the global market. We must not only think locally and regionally but also globally to capture more global trade opportunities.
We must invest heavily in small businesses as the best rock of future growth and provide all the resources, training and finance necessary to scale.
The education system across Africa must be revamped and retooled to incorporate entrepreneurship at all levels.
Finally, the energy of, the youth must be channeled towards productive engagement in the manufacturing, Agro-processing, and intellectual spaces.
What is your top tip for entrepreneurs especially women?
Women must assume help is not coming and learn to take charge of the future of our continent.