boston diaspora theme

The African American Artists in Residence Center (AAMARP) in Jamaica Plain welcomed community groups to a Boston African Diaspora Coalition meeting on February 26, 2018.  The celebratory event, which focused on African Diaspora Innovation and Entrepreneurship, brought together African Diaspora activists, young technology entrepreneurs, artists and academics.  It was co-organized by the Boston Pan-African Forum and Boston University Diaspora Studies Initiative and co-sponsored by AAMARP and the Progressive African Network (PAN).

The event provided a productive venue for panel discussions and informal conversations around social and technological innovation and the role of the Diaspora as important facilitators of African innovation and knowledge on the continent and globally. Conversations built on the initiative started at the Boston African Diaspora Roundtable a year ago where the African Union Ambassador to the U.S. called on the New England diaspora community to focus on constructing unifying institutional and technological platforms to enhance diaspora engagement in the development of communities here and in their countries of origin. In the course of a series of subsequent meetings at Boston University and MIT over the past year, the Boston African Diaspora Coalition, with its thematic sub-groups, was formed to facilitate communication among area professionals and activists and to enable systematic networking and sharing of knowledge and expertise.

Panelists highlighted the role of the African diaspora as a mediator of innovation and knowledge exchange. Dr. Fallou Ngom, Director of Boston University’s African Studies Center (BU ASC), delivered a powerful message about the importance of preserving and researching African indigenous systems of knowledge and literacy and incorporating these cosmologically-important cultural understandings in the formal systems of education and epistemology. Ngom also reflected on his experience as a long-time sender of remittances to his family and relatives in Africa, highlighting the spiritual dimensions of that important informal system of support so central to many Africans’ livelihoods. Dr. Jemadari Kamara of the Center for African, Caribbean and Community Development of UMASS Boston talked about the history of Pan-Africanism in the communities of the United States and highlighted the need to promote and consolidate these constituencies within the frequently challenging and divisive environments of the present day. Dr. Joyce Hope Scott, President of Boston Pan-African Forum (BPAF) reflected on her transnational work on reparations and social justice among the communities of the African diaspora and BPAF’s  role as an advocacy group focused on educating the community about the Pan Africanist agenda and issues affecting continental Africa and its diasporas.

Dr. Daivi Rodima-Taylor of the Diaspora Studies Initiative of BU ASC discussed social and technological platforms for facilitating diaspora engagement and networking and their potential for contributing to the various countries of origin. She highlighted the existence of a multitude of vibrant innovation initiatives among the African diaspora community that aim to advance transnational communication and circulation of knowledge and resources – including digital remittance platforms, social media, crowd-funding initiatives, and novel ICT-based educational products and services. Rodima-Taylor also explored the role of academic area studies centers in facilitating inclusive social and institutional platforms for diaspora networking, mutual learning, and policy engagement, for managing ties with community partners in Africa, and promoting knowledge exchange relating to innovation and technology. Mr. Leonard Tshitenge of the Progressive African Network talked about the need to understand the still existing disconnect between the area technology innovation hubs and local communities of color and diversity. He highlighted the role of the quarterly African Business Networking events and other public platforms as well as social media in generating awareness about the contributions of local African entrepreneurs, start-ups and innovators and facilitating connections and networking. Tshitenge pointed out the crucial role of diaspora activists and platforms in creating ‘systems of dialogue and solidarity’ that enable the building of more sustainable bridges to the young people interested in technology and entrepreneurship initiatives on the African continent.

Mr. Jeff Siaw of Africans in Boston brought examples of digital technology initiatives among the African diaspora that facilitate connections with communities in Africa, including innovative e-commerce and digital remittance platforms and the driving role of young entrepreneurs in these. Young music technology entrepreneur Mr. Tyrie Daniel from the Loop Lab – a cloud-based collaborative music studio and podcast station based in Cambridge – reflected on the organization’s experience with this highly successful innovative technology initiative and talked about their efforts to launch a creative safe-space of training for young adults where they can learn the technology to digitally share stories, music and news in their communities.

Discussions during the question and answer period also foregrounded other innovation initiatives within the African diaspora, as well as in the African communities of origin, and joint solutions were sought to frequently-occurring problems of exploitative appropriation of indigenous knowledge and innovation resources. Participants highlighted the important mediating role of culturally and socially competent diaspora in transnational knowledge transmission and exchange. The group decided on the importance of formalizing the Boston African Diaspora Coalition as a network of activists/academic groups and agreed to hold one key cultural event every year as a way to advance Pan African advocacy and the work of the various organizations of the network.