Columbia University's 14th Annual African Economic Forum 2017

New York NY

Mar 31 - Apr 2, 2017

We are excited to announce the 14th annual African Economic Forum (AEF) at Columbia University. We look forward to having you join us and our distinguished speakers while we explore this year’s theme - Building Bridges, Breaking Barriers: Harnessing the Power of an Open Africa.

This year’s conference will build upon last year’s theme of A Continent Connecting: Solutions from Within, providing an opportunity for fresh views and further discussion of initiatives for growth within the African continent and in relation to the rest of the world.

The 2017 theme touches on many issues including development, investment, and technology. Our goal for this year’s conference is to highlight the opportunities and challenges that lie ahead as African countries continue to present themselves as “open for business.” This year’s forum will provide a platform to evaluate the ways in which collaboration in an era of technological transformation, integration, and innovation can bridge the development gap and fuel growth in Africa.

By exploring these issues, we aim to expose the meaningful ways in which African actors have increasingly begun to look outwards and consider alternative options. By bringing together a broad range of panelists and insightful keynote speakers, AEF will continue to be a platform for meaningful engagement. We hope to stimulate fresh approaches to tackling ongoing and emerging challenges faced by a modernizing Africa.

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Abiola Oke

CEO and Publisher, OkayAfrica

Bio: Abiola Oke is the CEO and Publisher of OkayAfrica, the leading media company of its kind connecting a global audience to Africa. Under Oke's leadership, OkayAfrica, founded in 2011 as a sister site to The Roots frontman QuestLove’s Okayplayer continues to grow to become the world’s leading youth media company for African content. OkayAfrica is a community of readers, artists, and creators that use the Okayafrica platform to bridge Africa and its diasporas. The company’s Headquarters are in the US with operations in South Africa, Nigeria and the U.K. with music marketing and distribution service, a creative services agency, and events producers. Oke is an avid traveler, music producer, radio host, painter and more. He is also the founder of The Book Club That Ended All Book Clubs, a four-year-old organization with over 350 members. Abiola is currently working on a book about youth in African boarding schools and a contributing writer for various online publications, including CNN and of course OkayAfrica. Oke graduated from City University of New York’s City College., with a BA in Economics. Prior to joining Okayafrica, Abiola spent over ten years in the financial services industry holding senior executive positions at Morgan Stanley, Citigroup, TD Ameritrade, and Barclays PLC.

Adebola Williams

CEO and Founding Partner , Red Media Africa

Bio: Recently selected as a President Obama’s Mandela Washington Fellow and profiled by Forbes as the man who helped three Presidents win elections consecutively in Africa, Adebola Williams is CEO of Red Media Africa and owner of RED Group, home of several well-known brands including The Future Awards Africa,, StatecraftInc, amongst others. RED's impressive client list over the years includes the World Bank, the Africa Union, the Nigerian Presidency, the British Council, Nigeria LNG, and on a streak of wins recently acquired Union Bank, Facebook, Uber, Intel, amongst others. Mr. Williams has been named CNBC Young Business Leader of the year, Forbes 30 Under 30, Businessday 40 Under 40, amongst others. Adebola, passionate about social re-engineering, co-founded EnoughisEnough (EiE), one of Nigeria's foremost civic participation groups and premium voice for young people on politics. He was Chairman of the Board until resigning to take the lead on the communication and rebranding of the current President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, President Muhammadu Buhari as CEO of StateCraftInc. Adebola and his team helped to reshape the national discourse and optimize media engagement that helped change longstanding perceptions and ushered in a new president. He has recently done the same in Ghana helping the opposition candidate win the presidency on his third attempt. StateCraftInc is a nation building company, with deep expertise in elections, policy, governance, citizen engagement and citizen action. Inducted into the Lagos state Gallery of Entrepreneurs and pacesetters in 2014, Adebola crusades on Entrepreneurship, Leadership and Impact Change with a focus on youth across the world. He has been an invited speaker at conferences in Harvard, Wharton, Stern, ALF NewYork, WIMBIZ, AU conferences, UNFPA conferences, amongst others, and most recently at the SAID Business School Oxford. An alumni of the London School of Journalism, London School of Marketing and the Pan African University, Adebola is a member of the African Leadership Network, a British Council Global Changemaker, and Founder of the Lagos Business Braintrust, He sits on the boards of Slum to School Africa and Chairs advisory board for Young Entrepreneurs Network. Adebola on the 25th of March 2017 was named by the United Nations as one of the 100 Most Influential People of African Descent in the last decade.

Adeola Adejobi, Esq

Agency Attorney, NYC Dept. of Housing Preservation and

Bio: After receiving a B.A. in Political Science from Spelman College, and a J.D. with a specialization in International Legal Affairs from Cornell Law School, Adeola Adejobi founded the Avant-Garde Network (, a group comprised of professionals of color focused on networking, diversity and inclusion, entrepreneurship, career advancement, and civic engagement. She has also created initiatives such as Africa 2030, Law Tech and Innovation, and the Dealmakers Roundtable. These events and discussions provide specific insight and information around different sectors and industries.

Aina Fadina

Founder, Executive Producer & Host, I of Africa

Bio: Aina Fadina is a boundary breaking creative entrepreneur. With over a decade of experience in the international fashion industry, meeting at the intersection of business and creativity, Aina emerges as a new breed of global entrepreneur, squarely focused on empowering through knowledge across multimedia platforms. Aina was born in Lagos, Nigeria and raised in America. Her life and work, are both informed and inspired, by her rich African identity and her global education. A high fashion model, Aina has worked with global fashion brands including Oscar De La Renta, Akris, Armani, Mimi Plange, Alexander McQueen, Duro Olowu, Fendi, and Versace and has appeared in Harper's Bazaar, and Italian Vogue. A graduate of Temple University, Aina has extended her reach beyond modeling and has immersed herself in business and creative ventures within the fashion industry. Her creative consulting agency Afad & Co, focuses on the continued innovation and reinvention within this ever- evolving industry. Through this venue, Aina has played the role of business and creative consultant to several designers and entrepreneurs, focusing on creative direction, manufacturing, strategy, marketing, and business development. Combining her talents as a creative entrepreneur, executive producer and model, Aina's most recognized accomplishment to date is I of Africa, a multimedia series celebrating the nuanced culture of the African continent. I of Africa, explores and celebrates the stories of inspiring Africans and friends of Africa, on the continent and in the Diaspora, who are innovating across various industries. The series provides an exclusive insight into what is means to identify as an African and to be inspired by Africa, in today’s global landscape. I of Africa was recently named one of CNN's top web series and is set to play a major factor in redefining the global relationship with this incredible continent. Aina Fadina secured a licensing deal with South African Airways, where I of Africa was shown on international flights around the world. Aina Fadina and like-minded innovative creatives recently attended South by South Lawn, a White House festival celebrating ideas, arts and action. Most recently, she was an industry facilitator at the International Manufacturing And Trade Summit at the White House.

Aisha Owusu

Senior Research Assistant/Climate Researcher-Scientist, Climate Information for Public Health Action, International Research Institute for Climate and Society | Columbia University

Bio: Aisha Owusu is a Senior Research Staff Assistant for the Climate Information for Public Health Action team at the International Research Institute for Climate and Society. The majority of her work and research involves using climate services and products and tools (e.g. ENACTS) to help African countries interpret and integrate climate data into sound health policy. She currently works with meteorological agencies in Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania, and Uganda. She also provides in-country climate and health training to varying public health agencies and ministries of health to understand how climate variables affect the transmission of vector-borne diseases such as malaria. She recently obtained her Master’s degree in Climate and Society from Columbia University. Before returning to graduate school, she received her Bachelor’s degree in Meteorology from the University of Oklahoma, served as meteorologist for the Japanese weather consulting firm, Weathernews America, Inc., and was a career development coach for the NYC-based nonprofit, Sponsor’s for Education Opportunity, and Goldman Sachs International in London.

Amy Sall

Founder and Editor, SUNU: Journal of African Affairs, Critical Thought + Aesthetics

Bio: A graduate from Columbia University’s Graduate School of Arts & Sciences, Amy Sall, holds a master’s degree in Human Rights Studies, concentrating on the right to development and youth empowerment in Sub-Saharan Africa. She received her BA in 2012 from The New School University in Culture and Media Studies, with a concentration in Cultural Studies and a minor in journalism.  Sall is Founder and Editor of SUNU: Journal of African Affairs, Critical Thought + Aesthetics, a forthcoming online platform and print journal seeking to amplify the youth voice and perspective on matters and ideas concerning Africa and the diaspora. With a keen interest in cultural studies, African affairs and artistic expression, Amy Sall is interested in the ways in which media, visual culture and critical theory inform, shape and encourage discourses surrounding the socioeconomic, political and cultural. Currently, she is a part-time lecturer in the Culture and Media Studies department of The New School University's Eugene Lang College.

Aniekeme Umoh

Associate, Technology Consulting, PricewaterhouseCoopers

Bio: Aniekeme graduated from Columbia University in 2015 with honors in chemical engineering. She works as a technology consultant at PwC and has record of involvement in education initiatives for underprivileged kids, most recently as the Director of Operations of the nonprofit organization, weCare Initiative for Africa. She also models part time and runs a fashion blog, TFLA: This Fashion Love Affair.

Ashley Bendell

Founder and CEO, Africa Investment Advisors

Bio: Africa Investment Advisors is a consulting firm that provides strategic advice to African Stock Exchanges, Governments, and Corporations on their international engagement with institutional investors and partners. We also work closely with international companies and institutional investors to better understand opportunities across Africa's investment and business landscape. Our New York base provides a unique vantage point from the world's financial capital. We maintain relationships with a variety of major sources of capital and a vast, thriving US diaspora. In addition, we often interact with the United States Government, as well as various African embassy and United Nations offices. This compliments our long established network across the continent. Ashley Bendell is a leading authority across Africa’s capital markets with experience in Public Equity (Research, Sales, Trading), Investment Banking, and Private Equity. He also maintains extensive, personal, and high level relationships across Africa and within the global Emerging Market investment community. Mr. Bendell has built a reputation for his engaging and unique take on developments across Africa and is regularly invited to share his experiences as an event host, moderator, and speaker. Mr Bendell moved to New York in 2006 with Credit Suisse. Since 2007 he has spearheaded the international expansion of three leading Frontier and African focussed investment banking platforms in the USA; Exotix, Renaissance Capital, and African Alliance. His clients included major institutional public and private equity funds based in the USA, Europe, and Africa. He has cultivated strong relationships with governments, stock exchanges, and senior company management in Africa, and has visited the continent on many occasions alongside some of world's largest financial institutions. In addition, Ashley has secured and hosted numerous investor roundtables with Presidents (Kenya, Nigeria, Ghana) and major corporate CEOs. Ashley received his undergraduate degree from the University of Edinburgh and a Masters in Investment Analysis from Stirling University. He is honored to be a 'council member' of the Gerson Lehrman Group (GLG), the world's largest network of thought leaders and practitioners for 1-1 professional learning.

Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu

National Leader, All Progressives Congress

Bio: Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu is a mammoth of Nigerian politics and an advocate for good governance throughout Africa. In 1992, he was elected Senator of what was at the time Lagos West Senatorial District. After the annulment of the June 12, 1993 Nigerian presidential election and the subsequent reversion to military rule, he helped found the National Democratic Coalition (NADECO), which battled the military government head on. For this, then Senator Tinubu suffered numerous detentions and threats to his life, eventually forcing him to flee the country. However, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu continued to agitate from abroad and, in 1998, triumphantly returned to Nigeria. A year later, he was elected Governor of Lagos State, where he overhauled state government and revenue collection, taking Lagos from a yearly Internally Generated Revenue of N14.64 billion in 1999 to N60.31 billion in 2006. Today, as a national leader of the All Progressives Congress, he remains the most vociferous voice in the call for true federalism and grassroots development. Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu graduated summa cum laude from Chicago State University with a degree in Business Administration in 1979. He is married to Senator Oluremi Tinubu.


Artist, Ayoinmotion

Bio: Ayoinmotion grew up in Lagos, Nigeria until he was 14, when his family immigrated to Flint, Michigan to get away from the climate of military dictatorship and pursue better opportunities. At 16, Ayo enrolled at the University of Michigan, where he obtained both is undergraduate and graduate degrees. His enigmatic stage presence, energetic performances and multi-faceted creative content has made waves, captivating the eyes of the music community and garnering notable attention. Recently, he opened for Wande Cole at UPenn and prior to that, was a supporting act for Talib Kweli at the legendary J.Dilla's tribute hosted by Jairobi of the iconic hip-hop group, A Tribe Called Quest. He has served on a panel with Lupe Fiasco, interviewed Russell Simmons for MTV and went on a successful European tour last year. He has also graced the legendary Apollo theater stage and featured at SXSW, where he opened for Gyptian. Ayo is a proponent of using his artistic platform as an avenue for social action; he organized a benefit for the kidnapped Nigerian girls and recently performed with his band to raise funds for children affected by contaminated lead water in Flint, Michigan.

Chi Achebe

Founder and CEO, ResSpot

Bio: A UPenn alum, the tech entrepreneur and business development consultant is the Founder and CEO of ResSpot, the first global “911” emergency response mobile platform. She is also the creator of the Anzisha Prize, a $100,000 African entrepreneurship award in partnership with MasterCard Foundation.

Clare Karabarinde

Associate, Chadbourne & Parke LLP

Bio: Ms. Karabarinde is an Associate in the New York office of Chadbourne & Parke. She represents lenders, equity investors, sponsors, borrowers, and developers in connection with the development, project financing, acquisition and divesture of power, energy, transportation and other major infrastructure projects in the United States, Africa, Europe and Latin America. Her experience includes the representation of the Africa Integras Fund in the negotiation of a PPP/concession to develop, finance, construct and operate university infrastructure on various National University of Rwanda sites; the Government of Uganda in connection with developing a structure for the redevelopment of the Kilembe Copper Mines and preparing a tender for a public private partnership; and a US private equity sponsor with respect to the project development and construction of one wind and two solar powered electricity generation facilities in South Africa. Ms. Karabarinde, a Ugandan national received her B.A. from Middlebury College and her J.D. from the Boston University School of Law. In addition to English, Ms. Karabarinde is fluent in Luganda and Lunyankole. Ms. Karabarinde is also the Chairman of the Board of Directors for African Dream Initiative (ADI). ADI transforms the lives of forgotten children in East Africa by finding bright children living on the edges of society – including refugees, AIDS orphans, former child soldiers, abducted girls, and child laborers – and providing them with long-term, quality education in Uganda; leadership and critical thinking skills; and other resources they need to become leaders.

Daniel Agbor

Managing Partner, Udo Udoma & Belo-Osagie

Bio: Mr. Agbor is the Managing Partner, current co-head of the private equity team and one time head of the banking and finance, power and taxation teams at Udo Udoma & Belo-Osagie, one of Nigeria’s leading law firms. Mr. Agbor has pioneering experience and has advised on a range of matters including Nigeria’s earliest global depositary receipt programme; its first independent power project; the establishment of its first discount house; its first Eurobond transaction and the structuring of an international debt fund listed on the Nigerian Stock Exchange. His experience also extends to drafting regulations for the Nigerian power sector regulator. Mr. Agbor is ranked as a leading lawyer in the Corporate/M&A sections of Chambers Global Directory and the Practical Law Review. He is also featured in the International Financial Law Review (Expert Guides), the Practical Law Company Which Lawyer Guides, Legal 500 and Who’s Who Legal. Mr. Agbor holds B.Sc. and M.P.A. degrees from the University of Calabar and LL.B. and B.L. degrees from the University of Benin and Nigerian Law School respectively.

Dr. Glennis Mehra

Director, SPRIM-Strategy and Intelligent Innovation Group

Bio: Dr. Glennis Mehra is an accomplished serial entrepreneur, business consultant, and angel investor with proven success in a variety of geographies and industries. Her experience spans teaching, biotechnology (biotech), technology transfer, international business operations, research and development, functional genomics, and consumer product development and insights. Her multifaceted academic, commercial, and international experience enables her to offer a unique and holistic approach to her consulting clients. Throughout her career, Dr. Mehra has gravitated towards emerging technologies and businesses. As one of the early adopters of functional genomic tools during her doctorate work at Columbia University, she performed one the first high-content gene expression profiles and analysis of damaged and regenerating epithelium. After earning her Ph.D. in Neurobiology & Behavior from Columbia University, she joined the university's technology ventures group, where she created IP strategies and valuation systems and helped commercialize technologies from the biology and chemistry departments. From there, she co-founded and ran two successful startups in India before partnering with SPRIM Strategy and Innovation Consulting to provide a startup perspective to multinational/Fortune 500 companies. Dr. Mehra helps clients mitigate risk and focus on novel growth opportunities by generating insights into operations, markets, consumers, and emerging technological platforms. Her expertise includes the development of new products and concepts, market expansions, fundraising strategies, operations optimization, and ventures. She also advises and performs biologically based risk assessments for high net worth investments in emerging technologies.

Dr. Nicholas Githuku

Professor of African History, York College

Bio: Dr. Nicholas Githuku holds a Ph.D. from West Virginia University in African history with a focus on Eastern Africa in general, and contemporary political history in Kenya in particular; a Rotary International Mid-professional Certificate in Peace, Development and Conflict Studies, Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok-Thailand (2008); a Master of Arts in Armed Conflict and Peace Studies from the University of Nairobi (2004); and a Bachelor of Arts (1st Class Honors) Degree in History and Political Science & Public Administration, University of Nairobi (2001). His research interests include cross-cutting themes in the making and evolution of the generic colonial and postcolonial African state such as the political economy of race and ethnicity and emergent politics; gender & women history; class; and social movements. He is also a student of the history of science and technology; the history of capitalism; British national and imperial history; both the Indian Ocean and the Transatlantic Trade; the intricate, inescapable and dialectical link between power or government legitimacy and resistance in the generic African state; human rights, development and democratic governance issues in Africa south of the Sahara; auto/biography theory and history; counterterrorism & security issues in Africa and beyond; justice, war & structural peace; peace-building, peace-keeping, postwar reconstruction and nation-building in Africa; structural/latent conflict, negotiation and mediation; African Regional Economic Communities in general and the East African Community in particular and contemporary politics and political trends in the Great Lakes and Horn Regions of Africa; memory and memorialization of war; electioneering and elections; comparative missionary history in Eastern Africa; and military, and (colonial and postcolonial) legal, history. Githuku’s first book, Mau Mau Crucible of War: Statehood, National Identity, and Politics of Postcolonial Kenya (2015) is a study of the social and cultural history of the mentalité of struggle in Kenya, which reached a high-water mark during the Mau Mau war of the 1950s, but which continues to resonate in Kenya today in the ongoing demand for a decent standard of living and social justice for all. His current book project, Jomo Kenyatta, a Man for All Seasons: Radical Rebel, Arbiter, Detainee and Conservative Statesman?, is an analysis of the creation and reproduction of the Kenyan capitalist social system that scrutinizes both this structure, and various individual agencies through time and space in general, and that of Kenyatta in particular.

Dr. Witney Schneidman

Senior International Advisor for Africa, Covington and Burling

Bio: Dr. Schneidman is a Senior International Advisor for Africa at Covington and Burling. He leads Covington and Burling’s Africa initiative and is a senior member of the firm’s Public Policy and Government Affairs Practice Group, International Strategy and International Trade and Finance Groups. He has nearly 40 years of experience working across sub-Saharan Africa. Drawing on his experience in the State Department, World Bank, think tanks and his own consulting practice, he has advised energy, technology, consumer and health companies, among others, on projects in more than 30 African countries. He provides strategic advice on the varied political, economic, social and regulatory issues that are critical to companies’ success in Africa. This includes corporate social responsibility, compliance, market entry and risk mitigation. He played a leading role in the passage and reauthorization of the African Growth and Opportunity Act and was a delegate to the Global Entrepreneurship Summit co-hosted by President Obama during his visit to Kenya. Dr. Schneidman received his B.A. (cum laude) from Temple University, his M.A. from the University of Dar es Salaam and his Ph.D. from the University of Southern California, School of International Relations.

Ejim Achi

Shareholder, Greenberg Traurig, LLP

Bio: Mr. Achi represents private equity sponsors, strategic buyers and sellers, and venture capital investors in connection with buyouts, mergers, acquisitions, divestitures, joint ventures, restructurings and other investments spanning a wide range of industries and sectors, with particular emphasis on technology, consumer packaged goods, hospitality and infrastructure. Mr. Achi also has significant experience representing institutional buyers and sellers in connection with secondary market transactions involving privately-held interests in investment funds and emerging companies. Mr. Achi received his M.B.A. from Yale School of Management, his J.D. from the University of Pennsylvania Law School, and his B.A. from the University of Pennsylvania. He is on the board of the Harlem Symphony Orchestra and The Angaza Foundation for Africa Reporting. Mr. Achi was listed as a New York Super Lawyer “Rising Star” from 2015 to 2016, and he was the recipient of the “Accelerator Award” at the MIT Sloan School of Business Africa Innovate Business Plan Competition.

Emeka Chinwuba

Counsel, Norton Rose Fulbright LLP

Bio: Mr. Chinwuba is of Counsel at Norton Rose Fulbright’s New York office. His practice focuses on project finance transactions primarily in the power and infrastructure sectors. His experience includes general bank finance transactions and project development including wind power projects, asset acquisition transactions, parking and toll road concession transactions and US P3 transactions. Mr. Chinwuba’s experience in project financing spans the United States, South America, Middle East Asia and Africa. He has also served as a volunteer prosecution attorney at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, where he assisted on the trial of genocidaires in the 1994 Rwandan genocide. He was also awarded the New York Metro “Rising Star” award in the field of Securities and Corporate Finance Litigation in 2016 by Thomson Reuters. Mr. Chinwuba received his LL.B. from the University of Nigeria, his B.L. from Nigeria Law School and LL.M. from Columbia University, Columbia Law School.

Hakeem Belo-Osagie

Chairman of the Board of Directors, Etisalat Nigeria

Bio: Hakeem Belo-Osagie is a well respected Nigerian entrepreneur with a track record of leading and backing highly successful private investments in various sectors of the Nigerian economy. He is an investor in and chairs the board of Emerging Markets Telecommunications Ltd which trades in Nigeria under the Etisalat brand. He is also the main stakeholder in and chair of the Board of Duval Properties Ltd, a real estate company engaged in a mixed use development in Abuja, Nigeria. Mr. Belo-Osagie chairs the Board of Vitol Nigeria, the Nigerian subsidiary of Vitol Group, and Chocolate City Group, a leading entertainment company in Nigeria. He is a member of both the global board of advisers for the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), and the International Advisory Council of the Brookings Institute. Mr. Belo-Osagie has an MA in Politics, Philosophy and Economics from Oxford University, a law degree from Cambridge University and a MBA from Harvard Business School."

Jessica Matthews

Founder & CEO, Uncharted Play

Bio: At the age of 19, Jessica invented the SOCCKET ball, an energy generating soccer ball that provides off-grid power for the developing world. At the age of 22, she founded Uncharted Play, a renewable energy company specializing in motion-based, miniaturized power systems. ​ Jessica was invited by President Barack Obama to the White House to represent small companies for the signing of the America Invents Act in 2012, and currently serves as an Ambassador of Entrepreneurship for Nigeria. In 2016, she was selected to ring the NASDAQ opening ceremony bell, representing all Forbes 30 Under 30 alumna. ​ Jessica’s research and career centers around the intersection of disruptive technology, human behavior, and the psychology of self-actualization. A dual citizen of Nigeria & the U.S., Jessica has a degree in Psychology and Economics from Harvard University, and an MBA from Harvard Business School. ​ Her list of accolades include Fortune’s Most Promising Women Entrepreneurs, Forbes 30 under 30 list, Black Enterprise’s Innovator of the Year, and Scientist of the Year by the Harvard Foundation.

Jibolu "J.G." Ayodele

Co-Founder and Chief Vision Maker, Thando Holdings, LLC

Bio: Jibolu “J.G.” Ayodele co-founded Thando’s, a Lagos and NY based fashion company that provides a platform for African artists to design for a global audience. Thando’s utilizes design competitions to crowdsource its designs from aspiring African artists. Each competition highlights a social cause in Africa and drives the inspiration behind the designs. The community of fans/followers to vote on their favorite designs and profits are shared with the artists that designed the winning print. In addition, a portion of the sales is used to support the social cause that influenced the design competition via partnerships with NGOs. Our first product is a vegan, machine washable foldable ballerina flat. Mr. Ayodele holds an MBA specializing in Finance, Entertainment, Media, and Technology from NYU - Stern School of Business, a Masters in Accounting from NC State University, and a Bachelors in Business Administration from the Kenan-Flagler School of Business at University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill. Prior to Thando’s, he led the business development efforts of Viacom International Media Networks in Nigeria where he co-created partnerships with brands such as Hewlett Packard and Lufthansa. While at Viacom, Mr. Ayodele established relationships with music artists, producers, managers, and corporate executives. These relationships were very helpful during the early stages of Thando’s as they helped in creating brand awareness. Mr. Ayodele is married to his co-founder, Taffi Ayodele.

Karen Ruggles

Content Curator, DreamAfrica

Bio: Karen coordinates and delivers original content for DreamAfrica, a digital platform that seeks to increase diversity in digital content for children throughout the world. Karen Ruggles is a member of the faculty at DeSales University in Center Valley, PA and has been teaching Digital Art and 3D Animation since 2013. Karen is passionate about storytelling and seeks to support education–whether personal or formal–through multicultural representation.

Kibonen Nfi

Creative Director, Kibonen NY

Bio: Inspired by traditional Cameroonian garments, West African fabric and New York’s vibrant fashion scene, Kibonen delved into the fashion world with ingenious ideas of producing modern interpretations of one of the most delicate and intricate hand woven traditional garments of Cameroon western highlands region, the "toghu”. Although the pursuit of a fashion career is routinely frowned upon in Cameroon where Kibonen was born and its success deemed unfathomable, she pursued her dreams and formed a label Kibonen NY In 2013 she was nominated for Africa Fashion International's Emerging Designer award in 2013. She's successfully showcased her talents at Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week in New York, South Africa and had been profiled in international media. Her work was also displayed at the Smithsonian Museum of African Art in Washington, DC. To further fine-tune her fashion skills, Kibonen recently graduated from The Art Institute of New York City where she learned how to narrow down her research process and better interpret design inspiration and she obtained a degree in Fashion Design. "I learned how to give life to my inspirations, put my ideas down on paper, interact with the right audience and market my products. I learned how to take fashion to the next level.” She explains In 2015 Kibonen NY was one of the 200 designers around the world featured in the September issue of Vogue Italia as part of their Vogue Talents 2015 Fashion Designers edit. She was later featured on the popular Humans of New York blog and its social media on which her story amassed an astonishing near 100.000 new social media followers, 500.000 comments, near 6000 shares, thousands of orders and her website eventually crashed. To top it all Blake Lively, America’s sweet heart stumbled on Kibonen’s story on her Humans of New York post and had this to say “Just read the story of@kibonen_ny --the designer of this rad jumpsuit-- on @humansofny . She's amazing and has a story to tell in her work and in her life. I love learning about hidden treasures! “ This was such a huge recognition and endorsement. Kibonen has since raised money through crowdfunding and other investing partners, and they have put together a fair trade garment manufacturing plant Made In Camer, in Bamenda Cameroon. The goal for Made In Camer is to collaborate with the biggest fashion houses in need of an ethical sourcing throughout the world in order to continuously provide jobs for the workers as well as improve their lives, empower them and alleviate poverty. Through Kibonen’s designs she aims to provide a confluence of cultures through beautifully crafted and stylish garments with a social stand. Kibonen made History with the Oscar Award Winner and star of Disney movie “Queen of Katwe”, Lupita Nyong’o, where within a week Lupita wore Kibonen’s designs on two of the biggest TV platforms - The Ellen Degeneres show and Good Morning America during her Media tour for the new movie. These garments are all products from the Made in Camer Fair trade plant recently set up in Bamenda.

Kwadwo Sarpong

Co-founder and CEO, African Research Academies for Women.

Bio: Kwadwo Sarpong is the cofounder and Chief Executive Officer of African Research Academies for Women – a non-profit organization that aims to bridge the gender gap in Africa’s STEM research pipeline by creating opportunities for young women who are interested in discovering solutions to health problems in the developing world. Sarpong is a current PREP Scholar at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai and hopes to one day become a physician scientist specializing in neuropsychiatric disorders. Kwadwo serves on numerous non-profit boards and is the recent recipient of the Presidential Lifetime Achievement Award from President Barack Obama. He has spoken at several conferences including the 2016 White House United State of Women Summit, Clinton Global Initiative, US-Africa Leaders’ Summit and The Next Einstein Forum in Senegal. Kwadwo is a Her Majesty The Queen Elizabeth II Young Leader and also the recipient of the Consortium of Universities for Global Health (CUGH) Youth Leader Award. As an avid proponent of health equity across the globe, Sarpong merges his love and passion for medicine, scientific research and advocacy for gender parity in STEM to address global health challenges.

Kwame L. Dougan, Esq.

Managing Partner, Scotch & Palm

Bio: Kwame L. Dougan, Esq. (LAW ‘10) is an attorney and Managing Partner of Scotch & Palm, the only law practice in the United States focused exclusively on transactional matters with a nexus to Africa. Kwame is drawn to technology-based solutions that create positive, practical and profitable outcomes for communities and investors. For over a decade, he has been connecting global investors with promising young companies in Africa and counseling emerging companies seeking capital. Previously, Kwame managed Africa projects for the Community Development Venture Capital Alliance, a $100MM Fund of Funds. With assistance from MARs Canada and the Global Impact Investing Network (GIIN), Kwame launched the African Technology, Impact and Opportunity Fund to invest in Ghana and Nigeria. Previously, Kwame practiced securities litigation with global law firm Shearman & Sterling LLP. Kwame earned his J.D. from Columbia Law School and holds master’s degrees from the London School of Economics, attending as a Rotary Ambassadorial Scholar, and from the University of Amsterdam. He also a graduate of York University and Tsinghua University, where he studied Mandarin Chinese. In 2015, he was awarded the Trailblazer Award by the National Bar Association. He is a Millennium Fellow at the Atlantic Council and an advisor at Princeton University’s Keller Center for Entrepreneurship.

Laolu Senbanjo

Creator, Afromysterics

Bio: Laolu was born and raised in Ilorin, Nigeria to Yoruba Parents and is based in Brooklyn, NY. He’s a Visual Artist, Musician, Human Rights Lawyer and Activist. His motto is: “Everything is my Canvas” and takes it to heart. He puts his mark on everything from canvas, to shoes, to walls and buildings, to clothing and even the body with his Sacred Art of the Ori (trademark). There’s no separating Laolu from his Yoruba heritage, it is ever present in all his work. A strong advocate of holding onto your culture and spreading its glory he finds a way to marry his modern detail and ornate style with his Yoruba heritage by being one of the leaders in Afrofuturism Art. His preferred mediums are charcoal because it’s something as natural as life and death and he also likes to dabble in acrylics, inks and even wood. Laolu worked with ‪Beyonce‬‬‬ on “Lemonade,” Equinox Fitness, Nike, Angelique Kidjo, Black Coffee, Vice, Essence, Kenneth Cole, ‪Alicia Keys‬‬‬, BET, the Grammy Museum, Axel Audio, ‪Usher‬‬‬, Seun Kuti, Davido, Sound Sultan, Tony Allen and ‪Swizz Beatz‬‬‬. He’s been featured in the New York Times, made the front page of the Sunday Washington Post, the cover of the Smithsonian Magazine, to name a few.

Lolade Olayokun


Bio: Lolade Olayokun is a New York and Lagos based emcee, producer and on air personality. She is the first US based correspondent for, an original news and entertainment video channel based in Lagos, Nigeria. She has been a red carpet correspondent at the annual Nigerian Entertainment Awards in New York and has also hosted events in the UK.

Michael Rain

Co- Founder & Editor-in-Chief, ZNews Africa

Bio: Michael Rain is the co-founder of ZNews Africa, a mobile-first media+tech company delivering the best news and stories to the global Pan-African community via mobile app, website and newsletter products. The company is a selected member of Facebook, Google and Microsoft’s accelerator programs for startups. He is currently a fellow at the Tow-Knight Center for Entrepreneurial Journalism. Michael is a content developer and product manager with a background in strategic communications and has worked with some of the world’s largest and best-known brands including TimeWarner, Toyota, and The Wall Street Journal. He earned a B.A. degree in Political Science with a concentration in International Relations from Columbia University. He serves on the boards of Public Allies of New York and the Columbia University Black Alumni Council. He is Ghanaian-American, a lifelong New Yorker and Brooklyn native.

Murray B. Low

Adjunct Professor, Columbia Business School

Bio: Professor Low is an experienced entrepreneur and a leading authority on entrepreneurship in independent, corporate and not-for-profit settings. As the founder of the Columbia Entrepreneurship Program, he has worked to make entrepreneurship a viable career option for MBA graduates. As the Co-Director of IE@Columbia, he has worked with faculty, students and staff across the University to spread innovation and entrepreneurship. He has also lead initiatives to improve business education in developing countries, particularly in Africa. Low consults to both small and large companies, family businesses and not-for-profits. He teaches executive seminars in the areas of entrepreneurship and innovation and makes frequent presentations to academic and industry groups. He has published widely in academic and practitioner journals and is a regular commentator in the media. He is an active advisor, board member and angel investor.

Nadia Shash

Chief Executive Officer, PolyCon Solutions

Bio: Nadia Shash is the Founder of a social enterprise movement Made 4 Change/Made in. The company provides high quality heritage or hometown pride apparel for adults and children to American consumers. In turn, all the profits supports the mission of linking orphans and vulnerable children to educational resources needed to help them thrive and improve their quality of life in Ethiopia. Ms. Shash is also the Chief Executive Officer of PolyCon Solutions. She brings over a decade of professional and federal acquisitions business services experience to PolyCon. In her many roles, Ms. Shash has prepared and managed various types of contracts totaling over a billion dollars in support of national technical and systems programs. She has briefed and advised programs on pre- and post-award procurement guidelines/regulations, managed source selection teams and provided audit, policy and oversight support. In addition to her direct acquisition professional work, Ms. Shash was a member of a large-scale civil and criminal litigation team in Washington, D.C. She was responsible for analyzing, researching and advising others on complex case documents, reviewing case materials and presenting findings and evidence at strategy meetings. Ms. Shash is a licensed attorney and member of the State Bar of Georgia and the District of Columbia Bar. While with the federal government, she held a Level III Federal Acquisition Certification in Contracting and an Unlimited Warrant. Ms. Shash obtained her J.D. from the University of Michigan Law School and her B.S. from University of Southern California - Marshall School of Business.

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