Nazaru founder Toyin Umesiri

Nazaru CEO Toyin Umesiri whose company seeks to increase trade between Africa and U.S. and international companies explains why Africa needs expertise, equipment, training and other resources to scale up on global trade

What led you to found Nazaru and host the recent Trade With Africa Business Summit?
After a trip back to Africa three years ago, I made a commitment to economic development on the continent. At the time I was working for Walmart and had a good grasp of global trade flows and supply chain complexities. I was shocked to realize that when it comes to global trade at scale, Africa could be considered to be largely “missing.”

While Africa dominated the terrain when it came to extractive commodities like crude oil, there was a need to create awareness of other trade opportunities.

While many would consider Africa as a region of war, famine and diseases, what African countries truly needed and were seeking was not foreign aid but global trade. Regions that capture sophisticated trade opportunities develop faster and create more jobs.

What industries in the state are most likely to benefit from exports? By 2050 the World Bank projects that Africa will have doubled its population from 1.1 billion people to over 2 billion. Urbanization is occurring rapidly, and Africa now has the youngest, fastest-growing workforce in the world, as well as a growing middle class. Arkansas offers unique trade opportunities, particularly in sustainable agriculture. Africa has 60 percent of the uncultivated arable land in the world, but it needs expertise, equipment, training and other resources.

I am excited about initiatives being led by Donnie Smith, former CEO of Tyson Foods. He founded the African Sustainable Agriculture Project, and at the Trade With Africa Business Summit he discussed how he is helping develop the poultry business in Africa. We want more leaders to engage by offering expertise and investing in the region.

How do you incentivise businesses to initiate trade with other nations, especially small businesses?
When we look at how other governments are supporting expansion into Africa, the U.S. is lagging. For example, in February, Britain announced that it would add Nigeria’s currency, the naira, to the list of accepted trade currencies. Nigeria represents the largest economy on the continent with a population of 180 million, so now equipment buyers there can use local currency for foreign procurement in the U.K. China has initiated a currency swap deal with Nigeria by knocking down trade barriers in currency exchange. These moves make it easier for African governments and private-sector players to buy from the U.K. and China.

In the private sector, by establishing Nazaru, we provide education on specific opportunities available to small businesses to grow in Africa.

What’s the first step a local business can take toward exporting its goods to Africa? One thing a business should do is evaluate country by country where commercial opportunities are. The World Bank’s “doing business” ranking highlights business environments by country. At Nazaru, we use a risk-versus-benefit framework in addition to considering population size and existing market competition. Developing strategic business relationships is critical, and that’s why attending trade shows, trade missions and events such as the Trade With Africa Business Summit is important to connect with other stakeholders.

  • Toyin Umesiri was born in northern Nigeria. She moved to the USA in 2004 to enrol in a Master’s program in Information Systems at Central Michigan University in Mount Pleasant. After graduating, she joined the Whirlpool Corp. as an analyst. In 2013, she was hired by Walmart to lead its global sourcing technology initiative. While at Walmart, Umesiri served on the leadership team for the company’s Women’s Resource Council. Umesiri left Walmart in 2017 to run Nazaru