BFP: What do you do?
DS: I lead a business network for Diasporan business leaders in the UK. We are involved in bringing forward strategies that draw people together and reverse the fragmentation that is so often a feature of Diasporan society. There is a lot of hard work being done by many people working in small groups, with very limited resources. British African Business Alliance seeks to add value to each of them by sharing the work they are doing with a larger diaspora audience.
I believe that it is by sharing knowledge, creating wealth and stimulating well-being that Africans will begin to create a continent that can really deliver for its children and the rest of the planet.
BFP: What is the best part about your job?
DS: Meeting people and understanding what they are doing; then helping them, when possible, to achieve their objectives. There is a lot of talk involved in the development of Africa, which is to be expected when people have limited resources and do not know how best to proceed – they want to be sure before committing money. So, when we get to doing deals that is very exciting. We are told we are the largest supplier of leads to one of our members and with an average order of between £5,000 and £10,000, we know we are making a contribution. Our largest project currently is a signed MOU on a $100m project in West Africa.
BFP: What have been your greatest challenges?
DS: Running a business in any economy is a challenge, more so at the moment especially, when it seems that there is no end of opportunity but in the UK we are at the wrong end of the telescope. Against a background of expansive growth in Africa, diasporans can be very conservative. A business network is not their natural environment and value for money is a constant question. All of which can be easily understood. The challenge is, with so much to do, matching those people with the ideas or opportunities with the funding to deliver their projects whilst knowing that inefficiency has a real and negative impact on the lives of those at the end of the line.
BFP: How have you overcome these challenges? What is the secret of your success?
DS: You have to deliver value. You have to have patience; and you have to make a conscious effort to bury the frustration when people who are slow to respond. My advice would be to communicate, clearly and accurately.
Business is about people and I try to deal with individuals one on one, and then the wider membership as a group. No one has all the answers but I get a real buzz when a member with a problem shares it and in a short while another member provides a solution, it is great.
I want to do this job and I think it shows in my attitude. I enjoy bringing forward successful solutions and sharing them with other people in a way that can positively improve the lives of disadvantaged people
BFP: If someone wants to do what you do, where should they start?
DS: I started with a blank piece of paper and wrote down the failings of all the business networks I had ever member joined. It was quite a lesson, although I paid my dues willingly, working out where I got real value from was not that hard.
Taking a consumer’s view and looking at where the gap is important. A lot of diaspora networks are “Africa After Work” but actually that is no longer enough, so someone would need to sit down and design an organisation that creates new value for its members, which is what we have done.
BFP: Finally; what do you hope to get out of being part of the BFP community?
DS: Business Fights Poverty has been a great way of meeting people who are actively working towards creating a fairer world. BFP brings people out in a way that explores common ground and promotes best practise. BFP events create real links that have a lot of potential. When you are looking for solutions to particular problems it is good to start by talking with people who know and understand.
Thank you to David Smith for taking the time to do this interview.
Read previous Member of the Week interviews here.