Group pic of speakers at the Afro-Descendants on the Hill event

Thursday 11 April 2024

Fourth annual Afro-Descendants Connect on the Hill

by Olivia Barrett

Community leaders from across the country and across the Black community gathered to discuss ways to support the African community.

Franklin Epape, Executive Director of the African Development Network

Hosted by the African Development Network (ADN) led by Executive Director, Franklin Epape, the fourth annual Afro-Descent Connect, attendees heard from government officials and community organization leaders, while also getting the opportunity to network.

“There’s still so much more to be done,” said Chandra Arya, Nepean’s Member of Parliament and a member of the Black Caucus since 2015. He also spoke about the importance of events like Afro-Descent Connect being held on Parliament Hill.

MP Chandra Arya addresses the conference

“We are facing challenges on two sides,” Arya said, explaining that the collaboration of the community and government official is needs to address issues related to the conditions of the Black community both in Canada and in their home countries.

Rechie Valdez, the Minister of Small Business, who joined the meeting via video link, spoke about the role of capital for entrepreneurs. “As a former entrepreneur and a woman of colour myself, I know it’s never been easy to build a business from the ground up,” she said. “And for groups that face systemic barriers, these past few years have been even more difficult,” she added, explaining some of the measures the government has taken to help entrepreneurs, such as the Black Entrepreneurship Program.

This program allocates $250 million to helping Black-owned businesses grow and provide support for their durability. It was created in collaboration with and led by Black community leaders.

Before her speech, Valdez’s parliamentary secretary, Brian May, gave the crowd an overview of the programs and supports put in place by the minister. He explained how these initiatives, like Canada Digital Adoption Program, help make it easier for small businesses to transition into the digital world.

Dan Klinck, Director of East African Power

In addition to government officials, attendees heard from Dan Klinck, Clement Esene and several members of ADN on initiatives within the Black communities in Canada and in Africa.

Clement Esene, Executive Director, BIPOC Alberta Foundation

Klinck is the president of East Africa Power, an organization that invests in providing renewable power to East African countries that experience unstable power sources. “We should be focused on that trade, not the aid,” he said. Klinck explained that Canada has many of the resources African nations need to be able to create sustainable power, however, much of Canada’s interaction with these nations is largely focused on the aid the country provides instead.

“The journey from being ‘made in China’ to ‘made in Africa’ begins with prioritizing energy infrastructure,” Klinck added.

African Development Network President, André Gallo Azambou

ADN’s president, André Gallo Azambou, gave a presentation that detailed a new program the organization is launching, the Centre of Excellence in Entrepreneurship for Afro-descendants.

He explained that this program aims to create partnerships across the diaspora and unite resources to allow different organizations to connect and support each other in Canada and in Africa. “We want to foster entrepreneurship in the afro-descendant community,” Azambou said, explaining that the Centre wants to provide a space for the communities to foster relationships and increase the presence of Black entrepreneurs in the business space.

Abel Pli, president of FAAC Montreal

The event also had two speakers, Abel Pli of FAAC Montréal and MP Andréanne Larouche, gave their speeches in French, as this was a bilingual event. Pli talked about the work of FAAC Montréal, while Larocuhe spoke about the importance of supporting Black entrepreneurs outside of major cities.

MP Andréanne Larouche

The idea of investing in African-led solutions to issues facing African communities was a focal point of the speeches. Esene, the executive director of BIPOC Alberta Foundation, talked about creating “sustainable partnerships” with Africa through its resources like agriculture and human capital.

“By fostering these innovators, Canada doesn’t just support its citizens, it paves the way for ground-breaking partnerships with Africa,” he said, “leveraging common strength for mutual growth.”