This weekend we were in Boston, Massachusetts, to meet one of the most connected African community leader there: Voury Ignegongba.
Voury holds a Bachelor’s degree in Electrical Engineering from McGill University, speaks English, French, Spanish, Japanese and Mundang. He grew up in 4 countries (Cameroon, Mauritania, Niger, Mali), and have been living in France, Japan, the United States, Senegal, Burkina Faso, Cote d’Ivoire and Nigeria.
He is the co-founder of a successful real estate brokerage and investment firm based in Boston “Makumba Estates”, and currently acts as the President of one the most well ran African diaspora community in the world: Africans in Boston.
In this Interview, Voury shared his passion for Africa, his dedication to serve, and support his fellows, and some amazing networking tips to build relationship and get what you want in life. Africa needs more people like Voury. I love to speak to him.
Silicon Africa (SA): Good Morning, Voury! You are the Founder and President of the organization “Africans in Boston”. If someone asked you to tell them about “Africans in Boston” in about three sentences, what would you say?
Voury Ignegongba (Voury): Africans in Boston is an organization that brings together the 102,000+ members of the African Diaspora living in the states of Massachusetts. The organization provides a platform that Africans and friends of Africans can identify with when it comes social events, educational initiatives, business opportunities and entertainment. We have been in existence for about 2 years and we are growing.
SA: “Africans in Boston” is the best African diaspora community I have ever seen. How did the idea come to you? and How long you have been working on it?
Voury: It started with the launch of Chadians in Boston in 2010 and the quick realization that 10 Chadians are not enough to have any significant impact at the community level here in Boston. However, if you bring together the Nigerians, the Ghanaians, the Ethiopians, the Somalians, the Kenyans, the Tanzanians, the Moroccans, the Ugandans, the Cameroonians, the South Africans, the Egyptians, the Cape Verdeans, the Congoleses, the Ivorians, the Senegaleses, the Guineans, the Algerians, the Sudaneses and all the other African communities in the state of Massachusetts, you now have a constituency of over 102,000+ members that the State Senator and the Governor want to address.
In addition a unified and organized African community in the state of Massachusetts can tackle more effectively African related issues on immigration, employment, education, business and trade locally first, then in the country and finally in Africa. Our first initiatives such as our Facebook Group Page or Linkedin Pages were launched in 2010, our first Hakuna Sundays mixers started in the Fall of 2011.
We have been reaching new milestones since then when it comes to structuring the organization and serving Africans in the area.
SA: When a common friend, introduced you to me, he wrote “Voury is the most connected person in the diaspora there”. Please, Tell us about your background.
Voury: I am a Citizen of the world and an Africanist. My roots are in Chad, Central Africa. Living in countries such as Cameroon, Mauritania, Niger and Mali and attending local French International Schools at an early age enabled me to build friendships from a diverse pool of individuals.
So networking is a hobby I have been practicing since kindergarten. My interests in technology led me to study electrical engineering at McGill University in Canada and my sense of adventure led to me places such as the U.S. and Japan.
Those experiences exposed me to different worlds, different kinds of people. Prior to Boston, I had never spent more than 4 years in one particular location. So Boston and Massachusetts provided me the environment to leverage my background by navigating through different circles.
SA: You speak English, French, Spanish, Japanese and Mundang. You grew up in 4 countries (Cameroon, Mauritania, Niger, Mali), and have been living in France, Japan, the United States, Senegal, Burkina Faso, Cote d’Ivoire and Nigeria. How does the exposure to such a broad range of countries and cultures shaped the way you see the world?
Voury: One it makes be aware of my roots and where I come from. For instance, when sitting next to a Japanese, the contrast is so stark and the cultural clash is particularly interesting. Two, it makes me be a Citizen of the World and an Africanist.
The World in my opinion is a Global Village shaped by local cultures that are intermingling and clashing. The U.S. has an amazing advantage in this Global Village World.
I believe Africa will find its place in that context if Africans are Africanists and fully embrace the Union of African States.
SA: Most african diaspora communities around the world are quite weak, ridden by internal conflicts, mostly leisure-driven and poorly structured. How do you explain the success “African in Boston” community?
Voury: Our work is conducted by committed individuals here locally that have a passion for what they are doing. We are building an institution that the next generation can inherit. And that’s the primary focus. Our objective is to continue building an extremely well structured and efficient African community, once you have set that goal, it is extremely clear where the emphasis should be put and where the priorities are: unifying the community, providing services, creating a strong network, working with community members.
Africans in Boston is reaching its goals because we share the same the vision.
SA: You are a master networker. You are connected to very powerful people in United States, and in Africa. You know how to reach out to influential people who could support your organization. Can you share some of networking tips and secrets with us?
Voury: If I tell you, it would no longer be a secret … I would say this: networking is a sport … a contact sport. The first tip is just to show up early to all events that are presented to you and leave late. The second tip is to have a focus. The third tip is to be in the right role or position, if you are basketball player and want to score 30 points per game then be a guard.
SA: What are the main projects your community is now working on?
Voury: We are building relationships with the different communities to improve communications between our channels. We are bringing in key individuals to the organization to advance our goals.
Our main projects of the moment include the “Book of Lists”, the Boston 30+ school initiative and AD Net. The “Book of Lists” consists in building a comprehensive directory of all African-owned businesses in the Greater Boston area. The Boston 30+ school initiative consists in connecting all the head of Africans studies department, scholars, heads of Africans students organizations and clubs from the Boston 30+ schools to share information and communicate efficiently. AD Net stands for African Diaspora Network and consists in building a strong network of students and professionals. Finally we would like to offer interesting events with guest speakers from a pool of public officials, government representatives, ambassadors, scholars, professionals, artists to the Diaspora.
SA: As an African community manager, what are your joys? What are the challenges?
Voury: I am happy to see people come together, discover new things, talk about big things and dream. I can see how the exchanges at Hakuna Sundays can enlighten a community member to write a book, start a business or become a better engineer, doctor of lawyer.
I am happy to see the Diaspora realizing how it can influence foreign and local policies. I am happy to see the Diaspora realizing its potential. African towns are still to be developed, the African community in Massachusetts still needs a greater level of organization and sophistication.
African businesses still need more visibility. Before we can start scaling our work and expanding to cities such as New York, Washington, DC, Chicago, Los Angeles, Miami and worldwide, Africans in Boston needs to serve as a very well functioning template. Those are great challenges and great opportunities.
SA: You have a great team working with you, and your organization “African in Boston” is structured in a way to make it run smoothly and professionally. How did you succeed to put together such a great team? What is the magic behind your team building and networking skills?
Voury: I used to watch the Chicago Bulls in the 90’s. A great basketball team. That’s how you build a team for success with key individuals that are the building blocks of the team. Then you bring in additions to the team to complement areas that are weak. The dynamic has to be great and each member of the team needs to understand the role he/she plays and how to fit in the puzzle. I have also learned from the Bulls to be able to dismantle a great team and put it back together. Networking put you in a position to identity and meet talents that you can bring on board and you have to be on it constantly.
SA: Besides your community building activities, You are a businessman. You are the co-founder of “Makumba Estates”, a real estate brokerage and investment firm based in Boston. What advice will you give to a young african person who want to start his or her company today?
Voury: Be inspired and passionate. Take risks. Stay hungry, stay foolish.
SA: What are your current major challenges? How can people reading you here could help you?
Voury: Our major current challenges is not having physical office spaces to run our activities. In addition it is always a challenge to retain talent as volunteers without compensating them. First, readers can help by connecting us with individuals they feel we should connect with. Second readers can help by volunteering to advance our work, we need talents in Marketing, Finance, IT, Communications, Law and Event Planning.
SA: How could our readers get in contact with you?
Voury: Readers can me reach at firstname.lastname@example.org.