Many people of African origin living in Belgium are eager to start up a business in their country of origin. Belgo-Nigerian Maureen Duru explains us how she supports them.
Maureen Duru, founder of The Food Bridge and the African Diaspora Project Initiative
Supporting the entrepreneurship of the African diaspora in Belgium
Business ideas are booming among the African diaspora, but funds, information and guidance are lacking.
In 1999, I came to Belgium to join my husband, who worked in Anderlecht. I stayed at home to care for our child, but that felt like a punishment. In Nigeria, I had studied journalism and history and I had always worked.
That is why I decided to take up a degree in European Studies at the VUB. A couple of years later, in 2005, I was the co-founder of an association for Nigerian Igbo women, after which I founded the non-profit organisation The Food Bridge in 2014. In 2016, I became vice-chair of the Federation of Anglophone Africans in Belgium. I also wrote a book: Diaspora, food and identity - Nigerian migrants in Belgium. In fact, I am a typical African woman: someone who faces enormous challenges but always perseveres.
One of the aims of The Food Bridge is to promote 'food cultures' as a bridge between people and communities. Together with the Meise plant garden, we try to preserve indigenous food crops in Africa. We recently obtained a piece of land in Nigeria to grow traditional edible plants. In Brussels, we give food to the homeless.
The non-profit organisation also wants to assist the African diaspora - people of African descent - in Belgium. Do you know that almost every African who is living here does something for his country of origin? Some send their family in Africa a bit of money to allow them to buy food, pay school fees or maintain the house.
The remittances, the money that migrants send home, exceed all official development aid in the world! People do not leave their country of origin for themselves, but for their families. And that bond is not lost.
People do not leave their country of origin for themselves, but for their families. And that bond is not lost.
Many people of African origin would like to start a social enterprise in their country of origin. They often have brilliant ideas. The Food Bridge wants to help them through its African Diaspora Project Initiative. It offers information and guidance, but also brings them into contact with potential financiers.
That is how I got to know Ondernemers voor Ondernemers (OvO), an organisation that enables Belgian companies to support entrepreneurship in the South. I was able to convince OvO to organise the competition 'Sustech4Africa' (Sustainable Technology for Africa). The aim was to help Belgo-Africans who are developing a sustainable business idea for the African market.
Sustech4Africa was organised for the first time this year, together with high school Thomas More and VITO (Flemish Institution for Technological Research). 11 of the 23 entrepreneurs who submitted a project were guided to develop their idea into a business model. In the end, three laureates remained. These are further supervised and educated and receive a social loan of up to 100,000 euros. One of the winning projects was MNB, an initiative that is meant to learn Rwandan farmers how to grow mushrooms on coffee waste. From now on Sustech4Africa will be organized every year.
The potential of the diaspora should be used more. Governments and NGOs may set up projects for Africa, but these are usually top-down projects. When these projects are discussed, most often no one of African origin is consulted. The diaspora, on the other hand, starts from the concrete needs of the local people. As many have studied in Belgium, they know both sides very well. Imagine what could happen if we just gave the diaspora a bit more support!
Imagine what could happen if we just gave the diaspora a bit more support!
Migration often has a negative connotation nowadays. I regret that some politicians exploit people's fears to pursue their own interests.
But people should ask themselves more often why migrants come here. It’s because of unfair trade, economic imbalance, wars… As far as I know, no weapons are produced in Africa. These weapons are produced in rich countries, where companies benefit from conflicts in African countries.
Time hasn’t been on our sides. If a boat with 100 people is stranded at the shores of America, the entire world will immediately know through internet and social media. Reactions will spread like a fire. When the colonizers arrived in Africa - they too were migrants - we didn't have a smartphone to take a picture and send it around the world.
When the colonizers arrived in Africa - they too were migrants - we didn't have a smartphone to take a picture and send it around the world.
When I grew up in Nigeria in the 1980s, nobody wanted to take a boat to Europe. The travel visas were just available. It was only when access was restricted that those clandestine sea routes were created.
Indeed, many in Africa believe that life in Europe is better. A wonderful filmmaker from the diaspora wants to show the reality in a documentary, which is: Europe does offer possibilities, but the road is not as easily paved as one would like to imagine. But the filmmaker can't find the funds to make his documentary...
I can't repeat it enough: the diaspora has so much potential! However, they lacks funds, information and guidance.