African Development Center: a path to success for immigrants

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In 2004, the African Development Center had no funding but plenty of good intentions. Under executive director Hussein Samatar, it has since transformed into a resource for aspirational African immigrants. Whether seeking to become business owners, home buyers or U.S financial literates, the ADC has something to offer for the money-minded immigrant.. “Every step along the way is a challenge,” Samatar admits. But then he points to the success stories on the ADC Web site: all examples of challenges overcome.

Along with the language and legal barriers that incoming Africans must navigate, some—particularly those from Ethiopia, Sudan and Somalia—also bring with them religious needs that affect their financial lives. The African Development Center has answered this need by developing finance systems that fit Islamic principles of lending.

The Muslim faith views charging and paying interest as haram; it’s forbidden. The consequence of this is that Muslims have been shut out of the business-creation process in the United States. The ADC stepped in with a solution: Rather than forcing prospective business owners to take out a standard business loan that requires payment of principle and interest, the organization developed a plan in which a partner can invest in the business fully expecting a percentage of profit back. There are more than 80 business deals in the works with the ADC, many of which will use the Muslim-friendly finance model.

More than just African Muslims have benefited from the assistance of the ADC. One high-profile project that the ADC has engaged in this year is the Global Market at the Midtown Market on Lake street. In partnership with the Latino Economic Development Center, the Neighborhood Development Center and several other forces for change in the community, the ADC forged a development plan, soliciting a client company to take on development, fundraising, and also assisted with the development of the eight to ten African businesses seeded into the Global Market, that opened on June 3.

Among those businesses owners at the Global Exhange is Faduma Hashi, who Samatar describes as “his hero.” A mother of eight and a Somalian immigrant, she impressed Samatar with her meticulous business plan. She is now the owner of Starlight Café, where she serves desserts that have also been featured in other Minneapolis restaurants.

Hashi is hardly the only beneficiary of assistance from the ADC. Suad Mohammed of the business Adam and Eve boutique (formerly known as Al Suadda), says of the ADC’s assistance, “They were always there to help, doing advertising for me, making flyers for me – they even put me in the Web site for awhile.”

The ADC is unique in Minnesota, and Samatar suspects that it may be unique in the United States, too. “[The ADC] may be the only immigrant-run organization for Africans in the United States [to focus on] wealth-building.” He attributes the ADC’s current and continued success to the support of the community, even as he mentions that fundraising is always a major factor in what the ADC can do. “We must do the fundraising, and make sure we are sustaining our quality of services while striving for excellence.”

When asked what he would say to an incoming African immigrant, Samatar was momentarily taken aback, but then responded with inspiration and encouragement enough to compete with Stephen R. Covey: “Believe in yourself. Believe in this country. Believe in your community, and invest in it. Learn the language. Do your research. Don’t fall in the trap of credit problems. This is a great country, you can do it if you work hard and understand the U.S. financial system.” He repeated several times throughout, “Get an education.”

Of the ADC itself, Samatar said, “We’re passionate about the work itself. We feel that, as a community, we are making the cities and counties a better place by encouraging civic engagement.”

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