Inspiring immigrants: the Africans making an impact

Immigrants don’t always generate good press, and those from Africa face particular challenges. Yet many have a positive social and economic impact. Veronique Mistiaen talks to some of those creating shared benefits for both the UK and Africa

After coming to the UK, many immigrants from Africa have gone on to become leaders in education, health, fashion and business, making a real impact both in the UK and Africa. Some have combined the expertise they have gained in the UK with their local knowledge and contacts to establish successful development projects in Africa. Others have set up foundations to support infrastructure projects across the continent.

In the UK, many have launched social projects to cater to the health, education and employment needs of African immigrants. Their organisations often target some of the most disadvantaged communities. They are having an impact because they know first-hand what challenges immigrants face when they come to the UK and how to reach out to them.

African diaspora entrepreneurs are also shifting the development agenda – at home and abroad – away from traditional aid and toward financial investment and structural improvement that will bring sustainable benefits to local people. And women hold senior positions in many African diaspora organisations, leading the way for other sectors.

Positive News profiles some of these doers from the African diaspora and looks at what they’ve achieved.

Mary Mosinghi, executive director, Africare 

Mary Mosinghi (c) Africare

Mary Mosinghi (c) Africare

Mary Mosinghi trained as a teacher in her native Uganda before becoming interested in health and wellbeing after volunteering at an HIV/Aids charity. Following political instability in her country, she moved to England in 1991. There she met her husband and studied for a master’s degree in public health and health promotion.“I was deeply troubled by the effect HIV and Aids was having on my community. Ugandans at home and in the UK were being hit very hard by the virus. I was watching my Uganda school friends and their children die in hospital and would attend three HIV-related funerals every week in London. These deaths could have been easily prevented with education and medical support, which were being denied because of stigma. Ignorance was killing people.”

”Being based in the UK has enabled Africare to transfer robust and effective skills to Ugandan communities.”

Mosinghi co-founded Africare in 1995 to identify suitable carers from within the Ugandan community, who could adopt and foster HIV-positive children in the UK. The charity also runs career skills workshops, health awareness programmes and support groups for people living with HIV and Aids. During a visit to Uganda, Mosinghi decided to expand Africare to her native country. With partner organisations in eastern Uganda, Africare now provides home-based care, peer support, access to micro credit, as well as scholarships for Aids orphans. It also operates mobile health clinics and provides various training to people living with HIV and Aids.

The organisation supports more than 5,000 people in the area. “Most of us at Africare grew up in Uganda, know people across the region and have created vital links with ministers, other organisations and influential people there. For example, many people in the region had nowhere to get the antiretroviral drugs, but now we’ve linked our sister organisations with a charity that distributes the drugs and monitors progress.

“Being based in the UK has enabled Africare to transfer robust and effective skills to Ugandan communities by supporting productivity, policy development and training, and analysing performance.”


Daphne Kasambala, founder and director at Sapellé

Daphne Kasambala (c) Daphne Kasambala

Daphne Kasambala (c) Daphne Kasambala

Sapellé is an online ethical boutique offering original fashion and accessories in African tribal prints and African-inspired styles, sourced from brands, social enterprises and artisans from across the continent.

Daphne Kasambala grew up in Malawi where she worked in banking before relocating to the UK with her husband in the early 2000s. She pursued her banking career in London until the financial crash of 2007, then decided to use her financial experience and contacts in retail to reignite her childhood passion for fashion.

She knew that Africa has a high number of skilled designers and artisans, but they lacked the means to compete in an international marketplace. “I thought I could provide them not only with a platform to showcase their work, but also advise them on how the market works and the type of clothes western women want.”

Kasambala now works with around 40 fashion designers and artisans from some 15 African countries. Roughly half of these are also social entrepreneurs who support domestic violence victims, women with HIV or Aids, grandmothers who look after Aids orphans and other projects.

“Africa doesn’t only have natural resources. It has a wealth of talents and the capability to create things that are desirable. We just need the infrastructure to reach global markets.”

The boutique features established and up-and-coming designers with popular fashion lines such as Afromania, Thula Sindi, KikoRomeo, Tina Lobondi, Tamboo Bamboo, Kutowa Designs, Modahnik and more.

Kasambala’s suppliers have to agree to an ethical code of conduct and commit to reinvesting profits to help local communities, but she is also looking for good designs, track record and quality products. “We don’t want you to buy Sapellé to help Africa, but because you love our dresses and necklaces – and as a bonus, the profit goes to Africa.
“Africa doesn’t only have natural resources. It has a wealth of talents and the capability to create things that are desirable. We just need the infrastructure to reach global markets.”

Sapelle will run a pop up shop from 8-30 November at 53 Monmouth Street, Covent Garden, London WC2H 9DG.


Sada Mire, founder of Somalia Horn Heritage Association

Sada Mire (c) Sada Mire

Sada Mire (c) Sada Mire

Sada Mire fled Mogadishu with her family in 1991 at the age of 14, as Somalia descended into civil war. They lived as internally displaced people in Somalia, then eventually made it to Sweden where they were granted asylum.

Finding herself in a strange country, Sada developed a desire to know her own heritage, so moved to London to study archaeology at UCL and SOAS. She became her country’s first and only archaeologist.

“The need to understand the present led me to study the past. Archaeological knowledge can help people understand what it means to be human. It shows that our identities are made up of so many different ones from the past. This helps us to accept others or things that are different.”

Mire’s work is so far limited to Somaliland, where she has already recorded ancient rock art at 100 sites (some 5,000 years old) and located medieval Islamic towns and pre-Islamic Christian burial sites. She estimates there might be more than 1,000 such sites waiting to be recorded.

“She regards national heritage as a human right, crucial to a nation’s sense of itself even during times of conflict and famine.”

Working in conservation in a land ravaged by war, where people are often very poor and may not be able to prioritise their heritage, is challenging. But she regards national heritage as a human right, crucial to a nation’s sense of itself even during times of conflict and famine.

Mire’s approach is to help local communities reap the economic and social benefits from archaeological resources while getting closer to their cultural heritage.

“I try to develop their skills and also protect, research and manage the sites and disseminate the knowledge. So far people have responded well and have been actively involved in finding ways to invest in and benefit from their cultural heritage, especially the tourism sites.”

Mire has helped establish the Department for Archaeology and Tourism for Somaliland, attracting government interest to numerous sites and raising awareness of the need to preserve them. She is also the founder and executive director of the Horn Heritage Charity, which assists the mapping of all monuments and sites of Somaliland and the creation of Somaliland national heritage law.


Everjoice Makuve, founder of Widows, Widowers and Orphans Relief and Development Trust International (WORD)

Everjoice Makuve (c) WORD Trust

Everjoice Makuve (c) WORD Trust

Raised as an orphan in Zimbabwe, Everjoice Makuve, a social worker, moved to the UK in 2002.

In the UK, she pioneered a development enterprise to combat the root causes of social deprivation and poverty. WORD provides support and education to Black, Asian and ethnic minority (BME) communities in the UK, and to women and children internationally.

The charity now operates in 16 countries 14 across sub-Saharan Africa and India, as well as continuing its work in the UK.

Yvonne Aki-Sawyerr, investments director at Idea-UK

Yvonne Aki-Sawyerr grew up in Sierra Leone, then studied at LSE in London and had a career in finance there. Following the war in Sierra Leone, which began in 1999, she founded the Sierra Leone War Trust for Children, for which she continues to act as chairwoman.

In March 2009, Aki-Sawyerr and her husband felt they needed to do more to make a difference in Sierra Leone, and that the ‘not-for-profit’ sector was sufficiently helping people to improve their opportunities.

Giving up their jobs, they founded the real estate development enterprise Idea-UK in Sierra Leone. A whole team of Sierra Leone diasporans moved from Europe to Freetown, Sierra Leone’s capital city, to help develop the business. Their aim is to create long-term development with a lasting difference, providing access to new business models, jobs and wealth creation. Current ventures include the first Hilton Hotel, due for completion in 2014, which has employed hundreds of local people and will help develop the tourism industry in the country.