By Frank Witsil
Detroit Free Press.
Twenty-five entrepreneurs from Africa are touring Detroit today as part of a program aimed at spurring economic growth overseas and boosting cultural understanding and American goodwill.
“My country has seen war in the past, a civil war,” Adama Gorou of Abidjan, Ivory Coast, who visited Detroit for the first time through the program, said. “It took us years to get up from this situation, and things are getting better. When I see Detroit getting back from this bankruptcy, I see the same resonance in the people. They say, ‘We are going to come back because we can’t see things and not try to make them better.’ I like this spirit.”
An advertising entrepreneur, Gorou, 34, said he plans to return home with many lessons about business and leadership. He said he’d like to open an incubator in his country for creative entrepreneurs.
He is one of 12 people in his country selected to participate in the program, he said.
The six-week program is part of the president’s Young African Leaders Initiative, an effort started in 2010 to bring 500 African leaders to the United States for six-weeks of leadership training and mentoring in business, civic engagement and public administration at 20 universities and colleges.
The entrepreneurs visiting Detroit are being hosted by the University of Notre Dame, where they are staying. The program is being run with a $150,000 grant from the state department, and additional funding from the Kellogg Institute’s Ford Family Program in Human Development Studies and Solidarity, IBM and Coca-Cola Foundation’s program for female entrepreneurs.
“Africa is an emerging continent,” John Pinter, the trip’s organizer, said. “It’s also a place a lot of Americans don’t know about.”
The participants are mostly between ages 25 and 35 and from 19 countries in Africa, Pinter said.
They arrived in the Motor City on Thursday and are set to meet today with executives from various businesses, including General Motors and Quicken Loans, and get a feel for the city and its history by visiting mainstays such as the Majestic Theater and the Motown Museum.
In addition to Detroit, they also are planning to visit Indianapolis and Chicago.
At the same time, Notre Dame faculty are traveling to Nairobi, Kenya, and Accra, Ghana, to teach leadership classes.
The Obama administration hopes the experiences will inspire Gorou, and other Africans, to strengthen democracy and the economy in their countries.
Last year, program participants met with President Barack Obama in Washington, and some remained in the U.S. for internships.
This is the second year that Notre Dame has been among the colleges and universities to host the program participants, who will be taking classes at the university’s Mendoza College of Business, meeting business owners in and around South Bend, Ind., and joining in everyday activities.
“These are people who are going to be future civic and government leaders in Africa,” Pinter said. “The reason we picked Detroit to visit is because so many interesting things are going on in the city’s rebirth and resurgence.”