New Organization Gives Voice and Support to Black Business Owners in Manitoba

A newly formed network of entrepreneurs and community leaders is seeking to level the playing field for Black business owners in the province.

The Manitoba Black Chamber of Commerce was officially launched at an event Wednesday at the Legislative Building.

“If you look at the map of our black businesses, a lot of them are immigrants, newcomers, and there are serious challenges navigating the system on how to start a business, for example,” said Zita Somakoko, founding president of the BMCC.

“Conventional or traditional chambers of commerce really focus on development,” Somakoko said. “We want to focus not only on development, but also on the groundwork to equip these entrepreneurs and business owners to do business like it is done in North America.

Somakoko, a business development coach and refugee from the Central African Republic, said there are about 500 black-owned businesses in Manitoba.

The chamber seeks to leverage its expertise, foster sustainable and equitable economic development, and ensure that black business owners have a strong voice in their cause, she said.

It’s an indispensable voice, says local entrepreneur Andrew Idemudia.

A government employee from 9 to 5, the self-taught artist hopes to one day live out the dream of “becoming a full-time artist.”

Working primarily in oil and acrylic, Mudiarts, Idemudia’s company, is “primarily Afro-centric”, heavily influenced by African culture and people wherever it finds them.

“Inspiration can really be anything, seeing someone at the bus shed, you know, if the way they’re standing or sitting strikes me and touches a certain emotion in my heart,” Idemudia said. in a recent interview.

The “Nigeria-born, Canadian-made” painter said that after moving to Manitoba, he was first drawn into the stereotypical Western lifestyle. Losing herself at work and school, Idemudia earned a degree in biology from the University of Manitoba before having the chance to create again; now he works as an appraiser by day and paints at every other opportunity.

“You don’t even realize that you are completely absorbed in a different culture and you forget almost everything; where you are from and how things went,” said Idemudia, who moved to Canada nearly 12 years ago when he was 17.

“So most of my paintings that I do are to remind, not just myself, but all who live ‘this life’ and Africans in the Diaspora or whoever really, to see the legacy, the culture and more.”

Idemudia believes Winnipeg’s African community is “really growing every year,” especially from when he immigrated to the province in 2010. But while he was excited by the abundance of African entrepreneurs starting businesses , he fears Winnipeg may not be able to keep up.

Premier Heather Stefanson (right) smiles at Dr. Zita Somakoko at the launch of the Black Manitoba Chamber of Commerce at the Legislative Building on Wednesday. (Ruth Bonneville/Winnipeg Free Press)


Premier Heather Stefanson (right) smiles at Dr. Zita Somakoko at the launch of the Black Manitoba Chamber of Commerce at the Legislative Building on Wednesday. (Ruth Bonneville/Winnipeg Free Press)

“From my perspective, Winnipeg as a whole is still very exposed and remains a growing community, as a whole,” Idemudia said. “So yeah, it can be difficult… It’s better than 10 years ago, in terms of embracing other people and cultures, but it’s still something that we as a community have to improve.”

While artistic creation came easily to Idemudia, its marketing in Winnipeg had its problems.

“It’s been a bit difficult, as an African artist, to get some of these prime locations to exhibit or work in,” said Idemudia, who had an exhibit in early April.

“I mean, I can absolutely say, ‘Oh, it’s because I’m African’ but after a while – surely after two, three, four tries – it occurs to me that maybe it’s- be the reason why it is difficult to reach certain resources as an African entrepreneur in Winnipeg.

In her eight years working in business development, Somakoko said she heard from entrepreneurs who felt they were not sufficiently supported as members of existing chambers of commerce and needed support. additional support to achieve their goals.

“That’s why we’re here…to really build from the ground up,” she said.

On Wednesday, Premier Heather Stefanson applauded the organization for the role it will play in Manitoba’s economic development.

“Diversity and representation are important because together they create an inclusive environment where people feel welcomed and empowered,” Stefanson said.

“There is a growing movement of Black Chambers of Commerce across Canada, and I am so honored and happy to see this distinct platform coming here to Manitoba.

Stefanson said she expects the provincial government to work closely with the chamber going forward, adding that her government is committed to removing barriers faced by Black and Indigenous entrepreneurs.

While the nonprofit focuses on supporting black business leaders, its membership is open to anyone, regardless of race, creed or political affiliation, Somakoko said.

“We are here to advocate for equal opportunities for all. We are here to connect our black business leaders to resources, opportunities, partnerships, to help them rise to who they are called to be,” she said.

Having witnessed local growth firsthand, Idemudia agrees that “community begins at home”.

“In terms of Winnipeg’s landscape as a whole for African entrepreneurs, I just think it’s a matter of time,” Idemudia said. “I think it’s possible, you know, if we put more pressure in the right places. I think we can get there.

— with files by Isabel Buckmaster

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Danielle DaSilva

Aubrey L. Morgan