By Omega Tawonzezvi – The 2014 Southern African Reunion ended on Monday September 1st with a Professionals Networking Breakfast for professionals & entrepreneurs hosted at the Courtyard Marriot on Fenton Street in Silver Spring Maryland. This was the first networking event for Africans that was geared towards Southern Africans.
The free event was attended by a diverse group of professionals, entrepreneurs, job-seeking recent college graduates and retirees alike. Also in attendance were SACU Directors, SACU Advisory board members, diplomats from some of the Southern African embassies and members of the Press corps. Non Southern African Countries represented included Gabon, Liberia, Nigeria, the Caribbean, Sierra Leone and the USA.
SACU Director and event host Omega Tawonezvi opened the event by explaining that the networking event was the first step in series of programs that SACU has designed to encourage, empower and improve our Southern African Community. This immigrant community has been trying to navigate the new corporate, entrepreneurial and social worlds in which they now live in. SACU recognized that their was a need in the community to address the challenges that Southern Africans face. Directors are actively working towards addressing the need through this event and other upcoming programs.
As with any African event, food and drink were plentiful with guests being treated to a free breakfast while they listened to advice from the the invited speaker.
The guest speaker, Mercy Chogugudza , an HR executive with over 20 years’ experience explored the challenging aspects of corporate America that immigrants and other minorities experience. She advised the group on how to use networking as a tool to overcome these challenges. Having immigrated to the U.S. from Zimbabwe and having risen up the ranks in corporate American herself, she knew first hand what other Southern Africans were experiencing in the work place.
Chogugdza expounded on 3 points: The first point was advising the group to be true to themselves – “being true to you” . As immigrants Southern Africans face the pressure to fit in and be “American”. However she advised that imitators always came in as second best when they copied another person’s ways, accent or work ethic – ” you are short changing yourself [and] typecasting yourself as a follower”. She advised the group to “be yourself, stand out and play that to your advantage”. Mercy’s second point was for Southern African not to be afraid to promote themselves – “don’t be afraid to brag about yourself”. In the majority of Southern African nations, the cultural background looks down on self-promotion and encourages humility instead. In contrast, in their current environment, they were encouraged to be their own advocates – “just working hard and waiting for someone to recognize you is not sufficient … Toot your own horn.” The only caveat she gave was for them to be mindful of the place & audience. Mercy’s third point was for them to have an accountability partner. This is someone to hold them accountable for their career advancement and who would ensure that they stay on top of your career. The person should ideally be someone not afraid to tell them when they were too comfortable in a position.
She imparted another networking must have, ” Always have a 3 line sentence ready for that elevator speech should the opportunity arise”. Depending on whether the target is an internal contact or a total stranger, she advised them to rehearse 3 sentences that contain all the pertinent information including name, title or department as well as one or two flattering – but meaningful relevant facts about their accomplishments or project.
Following the guest speaker, was a question and answer session and a raffle drawing from the business card bowl. Chogugudza did the drawing and two lucky people won a year’s free SACU membership subscription. One of the winners’ was Hem Matsi, fashion designer of Hemline Couture, who flew in from Namibia to showcase her designs at the Southern African Fashion Show – USA which had kicked off the reunion weekend.
The Networking Breakfast ended with attendees interacting and connecting on issues of common interests and needs. Recent college graduates were connected with potential employers, Service providers also made contacts with potential clients. Overall, the event was a success and SACU received positive feedback from attendees. It also received positive feedback from Voice of America, who featured the event in its radio and print coverage. Everyone is looking forward to the next networking mixer!