Emmanuel Owusu knows what it’s like to come to a new country alone and try to start to a life. As an African immigrant, he understands the challenges that an immigrant can face, from learning a new language to finding healthcare. This can be especially difficult when an immigrant doesn’t have connections in the new country. Owusu has set out to make the path to this new life easier for African immigrants.
By creating the African Bridge Network, Owusu instituted a network for professional Africans to come together and address their aspirations and needs. Owusu was inspired to create the network after meeting with Richie, a cashier at a local retail shop who was originally from Ghana and had a college degree in engineering.
“He reminded me of my early years in the U.S., when I also worked in customer service, like many African immigrants,” Owusu said in an email. “You have to start from somewhere and work your way up.”
Owusu was shocked to hear that Richie was planning to go to nursing school after his friends advised him that he would have an easier time getting into nursing school than pursuing his dream of being an engineer. Undeterred, Owusu encouraged Richie to go after his passion.
As Owusu described, Richie’s story is just one out of the 76,000 African-born immigrants living in Massachusetts, mostly in the greater-Boston area. Owusu urged Richie to avoid what he calls the “Brain Drain” where highly-educated Africans end up taking positions in the workforce that underuse their skills and potential.
“The waste of knowledge is a loss to the individuals, their families, communities, and society,” Owusu explained, “and the culprits are a lack of accurate and timely information, career support, networking opportunities, integration resources and social capital in the African Community.”
In response, Owusu founded the African Bridge Network in 2015.
“Our mission is to build a supportive environment for African immigrants to leverage their foreign degrees and experiences to reach their potential,” he said. “We envision the day where every African immigrant in the U.S. will receive the necessary support to turn his or her potential into a brain gain for themselves, their families, the communities, the United States and for Africa.”
Westy Egmont, professor in the Immigrant Integration Lab at Boston College School of Social Work and advisor and sponsor of the African Professionals Mentoring program, was approached by Owusu at the time when the African Bridge Network was just a fledgling idea in his mind.
Egmont explained how the Innovative Integration Lab exists to find ways in which people who are new to the U.S. can find their way toward full social, political, economic, and spiritual integration. When he heard about Owusu’s concept of a professional network among Africans he was immediately in support of the idea and willing to act as a sponsor. Part of his role is to find out the resources of other organizations with similar goals for other population groups and also to brainstorm different programming ideas.
“It was an exciting opportunity for me to meet a group of African leaders and particularly Emmanuel in order to learn his vision and see if I could be supportive of what he was doing,” Egmont said.
By March 2015, Owusu had taken the first steps in establishing the network and Egmont was excited to rally his support from the sidelines.
Egmont is confident that the model here will continue to expand and replicate, hopefully to other metropolitan places like Washington D.C., and stresses how furthering local depth surpasses their national potential at this time.
Mary Schletzbaum, SSW ’18, a first-year graduate student in the Global Concentrations two-year program, was first introduced to the African Bridge Network when she was sent there through the School of Social Work for her first field placement. Due to the network’s still burgeoning start, however, they were not quite ready to have a student and so Schletzbaum transitioned to another organization, only to return to the African Bridge Network this past January. She was pleased to see how the network has grown. Owusu, her former supervisor, asked for her help in consulting for their Orientation workshops.
“Emmanuel is fantastic and very well connected,” Schletzbaum said. “Everywhere I go it seems like he knows someone there. He’s very authentic and welcoming to everyone and he really sees the importance of valuing each person that you make contact with. He’s a great leader and has his whole heart in the organization.”
Schletzbaum described how the overall network is broken down into a mentoring program that partners college-aged African immigrants with professional mentors, a professional networking event with multiple seminars, an orientation workshop and the curriculum that goes along with it, and a career advising program.
She stressed how the seminars keep expanding in size, with the the latest one focused on housing and how to make good investments. Schletzbaum also hopes that hearing about the network will encourage faculty and staff at BC to reach out and act as mentors.
The Network continues to expand and Owusu continues working to provide the best connections and opportunities he can to young immigrants like Richie, so that they won’t end up settling for less than they can achieve.
Featured Image Courtesy of African Bridge Network