God Bless America, God Help Africa! – Of Rome, Afropreneurship, and Lost Passports
September 1, 2011 was not meant to be like any other day prior to it. Even I knew that, and had eagerly awaited the day.
After all, it was going to be the first day of my post-Chevron career. After six great years at a company I am deeply proud to be associated with, I had just turned in my company badge, and was set to embark on a new chapter, my Afropreneurship journey- the business of technology in health and education on the African continent.
It would not be the first time I was taking such a bold step. Eight years earlier, I had resigned my position as Planning Manager at Procter & Gamble, West Africa, to study for a MSc. in the US. But this time, not only were the stakes higher, the goals were bigger, they scared me!
Another reason the first of September was supposed to be different was that it was the day I was to embark on a trip to Rome, Italy, to attend the Harambe Rome Forum holding at the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross in Rome.
The invitation letter from the Harambe Entrepreneur Alliance to attend the forum had said “On September 2-4, 2011, HEA will bring together young African entrepreneurs and representatives of leading organizations of Africa’s public and private sector for the purpose of exploring the relationship between the humanitarian challenges of the continent and the development of Africa’s private sector. Our conversation will shed light on the challenges and opportunities of active participation of African youth in the private sector as a source of skilled labor and entrepreneurial innovation.
In line with our previous discussions at the British House of Lords and the Parliament of Ghana and aware of the dire need for more effective action demanded by Africans under the age of 25, which represents over 60% of the African population, the Harambe Rome Forum will result in greater awareness of the challenge at the heart of HEA’s mission and give birth to partnerships among participants and our Alliance. “
I had also been invited to moderate the Private Sector Roundtable at the Vatican Session, which was to address the challenges facing young African social entrepreneurs across the continent.
Some of the identified issues for discussion were;
- The role of youth entrepreneurship in Africa
- Financial challenges facing young entrepreneurs in Africa
- Access to philanthropic and investment capital
- Successful Models of Engagement.
Perusing through the list of leading international foundations and venture capital firms that were attending, I found names such Actis, Nestle, GSK, USADF, Dalberg ,Transformational Business Network, Homestrings, London Business School, Acton Institute, Harambee Africa International, John Cabot University, and the Pontifical Council Justice and Peace among others.
So September 1 came, and fully packed and prepared, I left home early for a breakfast discussion with an angel investor (and major donor to Rice University) who I had recently been introduced to by a member of my personal Board of Directors ( I don’t have mentors, I have an entire B.O.D). The discussion was great, with him expressing great interest and support for my ventures, providing useful high-level contacts, and requesting me to send more detailed business plans which he could review. Great day so far!
Breakfast over; I headed to Hobby Airport to catch the noon Delta flight to Atlanta, then Rome. With over two hours to spare before the flight, I had leisurely transferred my luggage into a cart, took out my travel wallet which housed both my Nigerian and American passports, and a few thousand dollars, and made for the check-in counter.
Ten minutes later, I noticed that my wallet was nowhere to be found. Thinking I had probably dropped it in the elevator, I spent the greater part of the next two hours scouring the whole airport, talking to every security agent and anyone I could find at the information booth, but my wallet, money and passports were gone!
Noon came, and the flight came and left, and in Houston I remained. Tired, frustrated, but not giving up, I headed to the Houston Passport Office (after reporting the loss over the phone to the HPD), to apply for an expedited replacement. It was my experience at the US Passport Office that led me to surmise thus; “God Bless America, God Help Africa!”
Without tipping anyone, lacking any ‘connections’, thirty minutes later, after showing proof of citizenship and paying the official $195 replacement expediting fee (with an official receipt), I was asked to pick up my new US passport early the following morning. Throughout, the staff were very sympathetic and courteous, and even remarked that if I had come in a bit earlier, I might have been able to get a replacement same day!
In all the time it took to achieve this, I had not even succeeded in getting across to anyone at any of Nigeria’s consulates in the USA, not to talk of beginning the arduous and frustrating experience of replacing a Nigerian passport.
As God would have it, a few hours later, I got a call from the Airport that my wallet had been recovered with my passports intact, but all the money was gone! I quickly proceeded to cancel my passport replacement application, retrieved my passports, and rebooked my flights. It’s now 8:30 pm September 1, and I am finally aboard a BA flight to Rome.
I look forward to a great session at the Vatican, and to ensuring that Africa is well represented at the table when issues affecting Africans are being discussed.
It was the poet, Robert Frost, who said “Two roads diverged in a wood, and I / I took the one less traveled by/And that has made all the difference”.
In my own case; I have decided that it is no longer enough to follow the less travelled path. Instead, I intend to chart my own path, so help me God!
Note: Watch out for great pictures from Rome, and follow the hashtag #haramberomeforum on Twitter for tidbits from the sessions.