African Professionals Network got started at NKU, continues to spread connections

The African Professionals Network (APNET), quickly becoming Greater Cincinnati’s go-to organization for anything related to continental Africa, hosts its fourth annual symposium Oct. 10 with a keynote address from Trey Grayson, president and CEO of the Northern Kentucky Chamber of Commerce.
“This event will provide a platform to network, share ideas and create long-term business relationships between some of the most successful Africans in the Tristate and American businesses,” says Clara Matonhodze, APNET's vice president for strategic initiatives.

The organization first formed in 2010 as an outgrowth of connections and friendships forged at Northern Kentucky University. Today it's the prime support network for African people living in the region and creates a welcoming environment for African immigrants coming here.
“(It was) a result of long ongoing conversations by African NKU alums about how best to assist individuals of African descent in the area become part of their new community, tap into the local networking scene, graduate from college and find careers in their desired fields,” Matonhodze says.

Frederick Odame, APNET’s vice president of finance, says NKU alumni remain in leadership positions and want the organization to continue making connections across the Tristate.

“Northern Kentucky attracted us, and many of us live in Northern Kentucky,” he says. “I’ve lived in Northern Kentucky for eight years. We see it as our responsibility to make sure Northern Kentucky thrives economically, socially, culturally and make sure APNET is connecting in NKY.”

APNET has not only provided regular opportunities for members to network with each other and other business organizations but also organized events for members to volunteer and give back to their new community. They’ve partnered with Cincinnati Youth Collaborative to provide one-on-one mentoring to students from elementary school through college and worked with Little Brothers Friends of the Elderly to put on a yearly Easter Brunch for elderly Cincinnatians with few family or resources.
For Matonhodze, the opportunity to be involved in the local community while creating community with other Africans was what drew her to APNET. She was born in Zimbabwe, where she worked in television media before coming to the U.S. at 23 to attend NKU. She got involved with APNET in 2012.
“I was looking for a dynamic organization that shared my passion to assist African immigrants by helping them integrate into American society, a pretty daunting task, and showcase our great city to new African immigrants by providing a support system if you will,” she says. “I also needed the organization to be open to genuinely working with people across cultures.”
Matonhodze stresses that anyone interested in Africa and related issues is welcome at APNET events, including the upcoming symposium. The organization has made an effort to form relationships with a variety of businesses and professional groups in the area, working to show off Cincinnati to recent immigrants as well as educate the city about the African continent.
“Africa has problems, we acknowledge that,” Matonhodze says, “but the image we want to promote and put forth is one of a progressive Africa — an Africa that most of our members and leadership agree is not shown enough.”
Their goals seem to be popular. APNET has held more than 20 programs and events this year and expects around 200 people at the October symposium, which will also celebrate its fifth anniversary. In addition to its success in Greater Cincinnati, APNET is taking its model to other cities by forming chapters in Chicago and Indiana.

“Most of the NKU students, when they finish, they tend to migrate to Chicago, Houston, etc. because they think that’s where the opportunities are,” Odame says, adding that APNET is trying to keep that talent here by helping graduates find opportunities and helping businesses understand what those graduates have to offer.
Tickets to the Oct. 10 symposium at the Anderson Center in Anderson Township are $35, with discounts available for groups and students. Register online here.
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