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Highly Adaptable And Totally Indestructible

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Arikana Chihombori-Quao

Zimbabwe native Arikana Chihombori-Quao wears many labels beyond her always-stylish designer suits. She’s a physician, founder of medical clinics, and an entrepreneur who includes among her properties, the historic US-based Africa House, and South Africa’s Durban Manor Hotel.

But the one label she embraces with the most pride is that of Ambassador to the US on behalf of the African Union (AU).

“In this new position, my mandate is to promote the longstanding and historical, cultural and economic relations between Africa and the US,” she states. “More importantly, to mobilize the African diaspora, which we define as ‘people of African descent living outside of Africa’.”

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It’s the perfect job for a woman whose passion and pride for Africa and the diaspora is deep-rooted.

“I have seen diasporans come to the Americas with absolutely nothing, but through hard work, they are now professionals in a position to look back and take Africa to the next level. They are highly adaptable and totally indestructible.”

She counts herself among them.

Like many first-generation immigrants, Chihombori-Quao traveled to America to pursue an education.

A graduate of Fisk University and Meharry Medical College, she holds a Bachelors degree in General Chemistry, a Master’s Degree in Organic Chemistry, and a Doctor of Medicine Degree.

“I intended to go back home after school,” she says. “But then I got married, had children, and my family back home dwindled. Suddenly I realized I’d spent more than half of my life in America. The reasons for going back home were no longer there.”

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After completing her medical residency in 1992, Chihombori-Quao settled in Murfreesboro, Tennessee – located in the southern region of the US – to open a medical practice. Soon after, she, along with her husband, Ghanaian physician, Saban Nii Quao, opened a chain of family medical clinics in the state.

Her entrepreneurial DNA led her to purchase the historic Durban Manor Hotel – once a whites-only all-male hotel and club – now a place for cultural heritage tourism and intellectual engagement. In a greater ironic twist, she purchased a 15,000-square-foot plantation, sprawled across 30 acres of land on the hills of Gallatin, Tennessee, christening it Africa House.

“We encourage Africans to look at it as a place where they can not only hold lavish events but have something they can call ‘their home’.”

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Alongside her career and business investments are her humanitarian efforts to promote women’s rights around the globe, and improve healthcare systems in Africa.

During her tenure as Chair of the African Union-African Diaspora Health Initiative (AU-ADHI), she led a delegation of medical professionals made up of other diasporans and ‘Friends of Africa’ living in Tennessee. They used their own money and resources to travel back to Africa on missions in Malawi, Equatorial Guinea, and elsewhere, to improve healthcare in the most deserved regions. The delegation donated supplies and trained healthcare workers in the various district and regional hospitals.

Still committed to engaging and promoting the efforts of the diaspora, Chihombori-Quao now does so through her new official role as the AU’s permanent ambassador.

“It begins with reaching out to the diaspora,” she explains. “It takes a village to raise a child. There are many who say ‘Africa doesn’t matter’. We need to come together as one to raise the physical boundaries in Africa. But to do that, we need first to decolonize the black mind. We need to take time to sincerely inventory who we are and how we were colonized; otherwise the battle is going to be lost.”

Interview

Why We Need ‘Hard Cash In The Economy’

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Busi Mabuza, the Chairperson of the Board of the Industrial Development Corporation, on the BRICS summit and why we need to start talking as an African bloc.

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Focus

The Heroes Among Us

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Heroes exist in history, on celluloid, in pop culture or in these digital times, at the forefront of technology. These are the mighty who shine on the front pages of newspapers, as the paradigms of victory and virtue. But every day in public life, surrounding us are some of the real stars, the nameless, the faceless we don’t recognize or celebrate. In the pages that follow, we look at some of them, exploring the exemplary work they do, from the war zones to your neighborhood streets. They are not flawless, they are not infallible, but they are heroes.

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Entrepreneurs

The Ghanaian Who Brought HR Corporate America To Ghana

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Ghana is one of the world’s fastest-growing economies this year, according to the World Bank, the African Development Bank and the IMF. Its projected growth in 2018 is between 8.3-8.9%.

The Ghanaian workforce is young, with 57% of the population under the age of 25. This means millions of new graduates enter the workforce each year. One woman who understands the struggle that awaits this unsuspecting group in corporate Ghana is Human Resources (HR) entrepreneur, Rita Kusi.

Kusi is the founder and CEO of Keeping “U” Simply Intact (KUSI) Consulting, a marketing, training and recruiting company based in the United States (US) and in Ghana. She is also the Managing Director of threesixtyGh, a social enterprise company with an online presence showcasing innovative ventures in Ghana and the people behind them.

Born in Bolga, Northern Ghana, Kusi’s family gained access to the US through the US Visa Lottery in the early 80s. The family relocated to the US in 1991 where Kusi remained until 2013. And that is also where she amassed a wealth of experience working in several sectors.

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After college, Kusi worked a number of temporary jobs, from telemarketing in Atlanta to door-to-door sales in Maryland. She even tried her hands at customer services and working in cafes.

“I think for me having held all these jobs opened my eyes and I realized especially what I wanted to do in corporate America,” says Kusi.

All these experiences came together when she applied for a new role as HR assistant. When she did not hear back from the company regarding her application, Kusi took the initiative and called the hiring manager.

“So my dad told me to call and get feedback and as I called my CV happened to be in front of the hiring manager and he invited me in for the interview. I knew nothing about HR but I was just really looking for a job and I ended up getting that job and it was the longest I ever stayed at any job so that was a sign,” says Kusi.

She had finally found her calling in HR but it was not until a nostalgic visit back home that she would merge all her US experience together, ushering in a new life as an entrepreneur.

There were no real training programs at the time focused on improving the quality of customer service in Ghana. Kusi seized the opportunity to provide quality HR training programs, which she hoped organizations would pay for. And they did. This was the birth of Kusi Consulting.

From training services, the company has morphed its offerings into recruitment services and Kusi is now diversifying into skills-training as well as business process outsourcing, where the company handles the pay roll function for other corporate clients. Her timing couldn’t be more perfect. Hiring the right people is critical for companies to reduce employee attrition and enhance returns from HR. Companies face challenges in accurately perceiving and assessing an employee’s quality attributes prior to hiring that employee. This problem is more pronounced in African economies, which involves novices who do not have prior work records attesting to their raw skills, learning abilities and motivation. And this is where Kusi comes in.

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She believes a specialist HR function is imperative in every organization to ensure maximum output by each employee. However, she has had some difficulty convincing corporate Ghana.

“It has been challenging operating here especially being a female because it is literally a man’s world and in this country, it’s all about who you know… There is that challenge of how do I make myself look older and more respected?” she says.

But ever resilient, Kusi refuses to back down. She hopes to create her own temp agency where she has skilled staff inhouse which she can outsource on demand to other companies. Her newly-formed team is just as passionate about the business and with that focus, she is rebranding her company to be a leader in HR not only in Ghana but across Africa.

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