A collaborative piece by Bénédicte King, Hannah Getachew, and Runako Celina Bernard-Stevenson
“A race that is solely dependent upon another for its economic existence
sooner or later dies.” – The Honorable Marcus Garvey
At its core, group economics refers to an economic strategy where members of a community trade internally as a means to circulate money amongst themselves and retain the benefits of their profits. When black resources leave the community through money spent at non-black businesses the profits are most likely to be re-distributed amongst non-black groups. Legendary black leaders such as Angela Davis, the Honorable Marcus Garvey, and brother Malcolm X have long campaigned for black economic nationalism as a means of emancipation from the chains of political, social, and economic bondage. In his words, Garvey called for us to “Be Black, Buy Black, Think Black, and all else will take care of itself!”
Other groups have employed this strategy with great success, we don’t need to look further than our country of residence to witness the surge of economic growth that China is benefitting from after decades of economic isolation and internal trade. Chinese and Asian diasporas have also carried this culture with them for generations. In America for example, a dollar circulates in Asian communities for a month, in Jewish communities approximately 20 days, white communities for 17 days and in the black community for a staggeringly low 6 hours.
This leakage is an enormous loss for the black community, especially considering its phenomenal collective purchasing power. According to African-American Women: Our Science, Her Magic, a report published in 2017 by Nielsen, Black [R3] spending power will reach a staggering 1.5 trillion USD by 2021. To put this into perspective, 1.5 trillion USD is the GDP equivalent of a country like Canada.
The phenomenon of group economics and the recognition of its importance has gained speed more recently on the African continent itself with the recent announcement of the Continental Free Trade Agreement. The Cairo-based African Export-Import Bank estimates that intra-African trade grew by 8% in the first nine months of 2017, suggesting that the CFTA serves only to capitalise on a pre-existing desire to increase trade ties amongst African nations. This is desperately needed when we consider the fact that, at current, intra-African trade comprises only 15% of Africa’s total trade – meanwhile this figure stands at 48% in North America, 58% in Asia and 67% in Europe. The CFTA eventually aims to bring together fifty-four African countries – over one billion people with a combined GDP of more than US $3.4 trillion.With the aim of creating a single continental market for goods and services, with free movement of business persons and investments the ambitious plan will boost intra-African trade and, once fully implemented will perhaps be the largest example of black and African group economics in practice. This will be the world’s largest free trade area. To put things into perspective only the WTO can boast a larger free trade deal.
Both above examples provide opportunities that are likely to encompass a complete spectrum: from single entrepreneurs to larger venture capital-backed investments. These provide great examples of how we can all practice group economics, and become part of this global tide today in different ways but many other Black diasporas all over the world also have.
How can Black communities in China practice group economics? Here are a few ideas, based on successful instances of Black group economics on Chinese soil:
1. Form a Likelemba/Pardna
Likelembas are commonly used amongst Congolese diasporas in Europe, the US and China to contribute to basic needs of its members as well as financing business ideas. The term Pardna (or Paadna) refers to the same pooling of resources in Caribbean communities and their diasporas in the UK and elsewhere. These associations are rotating savings clubs; members contribute a fixed amount at a fixed interval of time. At each interval of collection, one member receives the pool of the total sum. For instance, in a Likelemba with ten members, everyone will contribute 1,000 RMB per month, the ‘savings pool’ is 10,000 RMB. This amount will go to a different member every month. Other forms of microfinances such as ‘Susu’ in West Africa, and ‘Ukob’ in Ethiopia also work in a similar way, using microfinance to finance and empower Black entrepreneurs.
2. Consolidate existing black businesses
The consolidation of black business through merging of two black companies or one company by a bigger company, has many benefits, amongst which is the creation of larger revenues. A prime example of consolidation happened last year when black-owned Blavity, the media and events startup focused on black millennials and black culture, acquired Travel Noire, a popular travel and discovery platform for Black millenials. In China, setting up wholly foreign-owned enterprises requires a fair amount of time, capital, and resources. If small to medium scale black businesses were to partner amongst themselves, they would be able to speed up this process. The black community should also consider investing in these businesses to help raise the necessary capital.
2. Registration and Employment
A universal hurdle to starting a business is the administrative red tape that entrepreneurs must cut through thread by thread. Here in China, the only way for the black diaspora to register a start-up with complete independence is to open a Wholly Foreign Owned Enterprise. This process typically takes one year to complete from conception to completion. Once registered, black companies will have the freedom to run their operations in line with their business strategy.
Young and innovative companies like this tend to be flexible and creative. As their business expands so will their need for qualified staff members with an irreproachable work ethic. China draws in tens of thousands of black students every year, by the time they graduate these students will have acquired the latest skill sets in their chosen field and a nuanced understanding of Chinese culture. More often than not these students are also fluent in written and spoken Chinese. Our community’s very own Black X recognizes the unbeatable dynamic of black executives running companies staffed by black employees and is championing this very strategy.
Here are some of the notable organisations making waves in the exercise of group economics in China, listed below in no particular order.
The latest in a series of efforts by the black community in China to exercise group economics is the upcoming BlackEXPO event on March 31st, 2018 in Beijing. “More than just a market, BlackEXPO is a fun and interactive cultural experience placing the spotlight on the community and businesses, services, and talents therein.”
BlackEXPO was born out of the desire for two things; to create our own narrative of excellence in China and create a formidable platform to elevate Black business within the community and within the larger Chinese economy. With a growing black community in Beijing there is no time like the present to capture the electricity created by vibrant Black community. BlackEXPO seeks to:
- Create partnerships that elevate small businesses to national stages
- Increase networking opportunities for small and large Black-owned businesses
- Promote cultural exchange and trade among different communities
- Create dynamic technology that leverages group economics and collective effort to effect substantial and lasting change
The community response has been strong and swift, with people from all over China reaching out to support and join in the effort. BlackEXPO has secured 30 vendors, 14 sponsors, 10 performers, and 3 workshops for the day of. As a collective, it represents the US, Burundi, Uganda, Ghana, Nigeria, Kenya, Seychelles, UK, Guyana, Ethiopia, and a number of other countries in the diaspora.
Though the first market is based in Beijing, BlackEXPO has attracted vendors and sponsors from other Chinese cities and plans to hold EXPO’s across China in the future.
Their slogan ‘Connecting Business, Education and Community’ is reflective of their greater mission. They are determined in their efforts to bring all community partners together for the betterment of all. Simply stated, they help people in all areas of our community make connections with each other.
Black X strives to advance its community members by educating, energizing, and connecting a diverse group of leaders to serve the community.
Black X has a unique community-based identity and a bright future with our member businesses leading the way. To help their member businesses, they provide a variety of networking, advertising, educational, and social opportunities over the course of the calendar year.
They also support collaborative efforts with the other local governments in the region that provide additional opportunities for our members to initiate or build business relationships. The Black X office staff is available to anyone who seeks information regarding the Black X community. The office also encourages all residents and members to bring forward new ideas on how we can best serve each other to improve our community.
Conscious Africans Network
CAN is a non-profit group established in May 2017. It has members from almost all 55 countries of Africa and the diaspora and is often fondly regarded as a microcosm of the African Union (AU). Its members include businessmen and women, expatriates, teachers, and students. CAN aims to bring Africans in Beijing and beyond together for the purpose of articulating common goals and action plans aimed at impacting real political and economic changes back home in Africa. As Africans in the Diaspora, CAN maintains that it is our duty to harness our resources from outside and push them inside to make significant advancements.
CAN is building towards becoming a self-reliant African group through its own human and economic pool. Its vision is to build an African community connected by a common goal and purpose which is to help build strong institutions in Africa, help accelerate economic developments, help build business alliances and partnerships for Africa, help build a sustainable and working social welfare in Africa and ultimately, help build communities in which we will all return to someday to live, work or enjoy retirement.
Based in Xiamen, Pan-Africans Today have held group economics as a priority since they first begun in the summer of 2016. Last year they held China’s first ever Pan-Afronomics Conference with the aim of sharing knowledge about business growth and entrepreneurship in black communities. This year’s conference is due to be held in May and promises to bring together even more of the community across the country.
Pan-Africans Today also work to strengthen community ties in other ways, by providing a home away from home for Africans and the Diaspora living in Xiamen and Fujian Province. The group’s ultimate mission is to educate and empower from within, and build bridges of friendship and mutual respect from without.
Black Livity China and partners
Black Livity China also aims to propel black business forward by creating a business directory of black companies and using that platform to create opportunities for growth within the community.
This online directory aims to create a sort of telephone book for black businesses across the entire country. This would be the first black directory in China and would help other community-led initiatives.
Are you an African organization in China that encourages Group economics? Get in touch at: firstname.lastname@example.org
(Disclaimer: BlackEXPO is organized by Olivia Nadine Lamb, James Sserwadda and Hannah Getachew)