Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield’s Participation in the U.S.-Africa Leader’s Summit – African and Diaspora Young Leaders Forum

Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield
U.S. Representative to the United Nations
New York, New York
December 14, 2022


MS JEAN-PIERRE:  Hi, everybody. So good to see your faces, and welcome. Welcome to our esteemed panelists and guests, Mr. Elba, Ms. Orji, Madam Ambassador. Thank you so much for joining us all here today, and so welcome.

We just heard your impressive background, and truly how your background has really emphasized the strength of our diaspora, which is what we’re talking about here today, and how you all use your platform to lift up shared values, whether it is creative industries or foreign policy or activism. And so, Madam Ambassador, I wanted to start with you and ask you a question.

MS JEAN-PIERRE:  So how can the voice of Africa’s youth be elevated in global conversations on issues like climate change, peace, security, and economic security?

AMBASSADOR LINDA THOMAS-GREENFIELD:  Thank you. That is a truly important question, and it is a question that has extraordinary resonance for me because the continent of Africa, where I’ve worked since I was a young voice, having traveled there for the first time in 1978 when I really was young, and I think is so important —

MR ELBA:  You’re still young.


MS ORJI:  I want to say you’re still young.

MR ELBA:  You’re still young.

MS JEAN-PIERRE:  And fabulous. And fabulous. (Laughter.)

AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD:  I was about 26 years old when I first went to Liberia. And I know, having worked on the continent and around the continent for more than 35 years, that the voices of young people are so important. Africa’s median age is 19. Fifty percent of the population are under the age of 19. And it is so important that we amplify their voices and we really support their leadership.

So, we have the signature program that so many of you know about, the African Young – the Young African Leaders Initiative.  We’ve brought – yes – more than – (applause) – 20,000 young people to the United States to participate in the leaders initiative, eventually the Mandela Washington Fellowship. I heard today that there are over 700,000 young people on the YALI Network. There’s no greater amplification of the African voice than the Young African Leaders Initiative.

The young people of Africa are truly the engine of Africa’s future, and we have to make sure that we provide them with a platform, we provide them with the mentorship, we provide them with the support so that they can use their creativity, their ambitions, their hard work to bring Africa forward and build a continent that we can all look to be a part of.

MS JEAN-PIERRE:  Thank you so much for pulling on that threat a little bit, sort of giving us a little bit fulsome view here. I think we’re going to go to the audience. I know there are some exciting questions out there that folks want to ask. So, I think there’s a mic going around – I’m trying to see where we’re headed here. (Laughter.)  All right. Who has a question?


MS JEAN-PIERRE:  Wait, hold on. Hold on. There’s a mic. Hold on one second. I think folks are figuring it out back there.

QUESTION:  Okay. Hi, everyone.

MS JEAN-PIERRE:  Can you say your name? We can’t see you.

AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD:  Yeah, we can’t see you.


MS JEAN-PIERRE:  Oh, there you go. Can you say your name?

QUESTION:  Hi, everyone.  My name is Vadu Rodrigues. I’m a photographer from Cape Verde island, and I use photography and storytelling to try to change narrative of Africa. It’s called Positive Africa. My question is:  Are there any platform dedicated to connect diaspora with business and network opportunities?  And how can we expand the platform and depend – and deepen connection?

MS JEAN-PIERRE:  Okay. Who wants to take that one first? Yvonne? Idris?

MR ELBA:  Well, I think when we – I think the question is:  Are there any dedicated platforms to connecting the diaspora with – and that’s the point I wasn’t too sure what – could you repeat?

QUESTION:  Okay. I’m going to go back. Are there any platform dedicated to connect the diaspora with business and network them with opportunities? And how can we expand the platform and deepen the connection between the diaspora and the continent?

MR ELBA:  Okay, yeah. So look, one word that keeps coming up in this summit for me, and it resonates a lot, is innovation. It’s innovation. When I was younger, and I – I’m fascinated with speaker boxes and turntables, and I couldn’t afford them.  I used to turn my cereal boxes into speakers. (Laughter.) Okay? Now, that’s poverty, but it’s also innovation.

I can’t tell you if there is a dedicated platform for connecting diaspora to business, but I know that you can use existing platforms to do the same. You can be innovative in that way. You can use LinkedIn. You can use social media. You can amplify your photography, your voice, okay, with people that are like-minded that want to do business with you. That is about being innovative with your thought, with your connection skills.

In West Africa, for a long time they – to speak to one village they used a talking drum, and they used these rhythms that would go from one place to another. In some parts they used a huge tree and they’d bang on the tree and the other village would hear that.

So for us, we have telephones. We have the internet. And we have connective – you just have to reach out further and find ways to just look for those people that are wanting to see pictures from Cape Verde, that want to see new images from Africa. I think that’s something that we have to remind our youth:  when you come from a generation where we didn’t have half of this technology – right now there are kids that are making movies, films, posters, videos, video games on their phones. When I was growing up we didn’t have a computer that could do all of that. So we do have to be innovative. We do have to really dig into our exploratory sort of curiosity and find ways to do it. Yeah?

MS ORJI:  I’m going to go less eloquently and say that the platform is Google. (Laughter.) It’s a search engine. So, search. (Laughter.)


MR ELBA:  I wish I’d said that.

QUESTION:  Thank you very much.

MS JEAN-PIERRE:  All right.  I think we have a —

QUESTION:  There is a platform on the way.  It’s called The Wave, and the CEO is Jason, who’s right there.

MS JEAN-PIERRE:  Great.  Look at that, connecting people.

MR ORJI:  There you go.  There you go.

MS JEAN-PIERRE:  That’s what you get at the summit. (Applause.)

QUESTION:  I am Omi Bell. I’m the CEO of Black Girl Ventures. We work to foment black and brown women founders. I’m a businesswoman, but I have a personal question. So I get my DNA. I go – I’m African American.  I go, I get my DNA results, and I —

(Audio drop.)

AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD:  — young technology entrepreneurs on the continent of Africa. Nigeria, I went to a tech – sort of like a WeWork operation in Lagos, where there were young Nigerians who were doing all kinds of business in the technology field. So we – there are opportunities there, and we just have to make sure that people connect. And again, she said she was a Mandela Washington Fellow. That is a platform.  Remember, I said 700,000 people on that platform.

I recall there was a young man from Mauritius who met a young man from Senegal, and they never would have met because they are a thousand miles away. And they set up a business together, operating all the way across the continent.  So, YALI is a platform that I think is really delivering.

MR ELBA:  On most phones at the moment, there is this app, whatever – it’s a translator.  It’s crazy. You say something in English; it comes out in the language that you are speaking to. All right? Or the country you are. That device, that interface, that translation mechanism is something that we need to figure out and amplify. Okay?

One of the things that investors from the West say about African investment is: “risky.” And they have to de-risk. Now, what they’re really saying is they don’t understand or don’t have an interface in between this money and that technology. This and that. Interfacing agencies are something that we can all participate in.

I’m really interested – I would love to see those that live in America that also go on to Africa finding ways to interface between the two cultures, finding agencies, finding think tanks, finding forums so that you can bring investors so they can come in, use their translator app and say what they want to say and feel comfortable with that. They aren’t being risky with their investments.

Now, it sounds like a really simple and elementary mechanism, but it’s something I think the U.S. could really amplify. Let’s find these interfacing mechanisms. Let’s find what is the language that the young diaspora need to go to Africa and say, “Hey, I want to do business there.”  What is that? Let’s help that. That’s what I think.

MS JEAN-PIERRE:  Wonderful. So we are at the end of this panel. I’m going to ask each of you to just give your final thoughts. I’m going to start with Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield, but I have – want to take a point of privilege for a second.  If you do not know this woman, you should.  She has spent her – (applause) –

MS JEAN-PIERRE:  She has spent her entire career as a Foreign Service servant, a public servant, working on these issues.  And I am lucky every day during this administration to work with her. And so I just wanted to say that if you guys don’t know her, you get – you should know the ambassador and stop her, ask her some question, ask her about her lived experience and the work that she has done on behalf of all of us. And so with that, hopefully I didn’t embarrass you or anything. (Laughter.)  I had the opportunity to do that, and I just wanted to lift you up a little.


MS JEAN-PIERRE:  Give you your flowers. But, Ambassador, please give us your final thoughts.

AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD:  Our strength, our country’s strength in Africa, is you. We have a diaspora like no other country in the world.  People talk about competing with China.  How many Afro-Chinese do you know who live in China and can call themselves Chinese and engage with their countries? So, when people tell me about the competition, I just say look at us. Look at our people. And I want you to – if I can leave you with one thing, to use those connections, use that power of your voices to support the partnership that we have with the continent of Africa. For all of us – white and black – Africa is home. It’s where civilization started. And it’s where civilization will survive. So we have to focus our attention on this continent, and the Africa Leaders Summit has provided us the opportunity to do that. (Applause.)

MS ORJI:  And to piggyback on that, it’s not about competition, it’s about collaboration.  Everyone says Africa is the most untapped place. Look, people are tapping it – it’s just not us.  (Laughter.) Like, and people are tapping it and benefiting for it – from it. And so it’s time for us to tap our own natural resources; it’s time for us to see the investment opportunities, to see – every time I go back to Lagos, every year, it’s a different restaurant, it’s a – like, people are using, like juicing – how we have here – instead of kale they’re using the greens that grow naturally in Nigeria. And I’m like, that’s innovation.

And so, any idea you think you may have, maybe that idea is going to just multiply if you bring it to the continent.  Don’t look at it as this place that’s over there. Yes, we still need infrastructure. Yes, there are things that, like, we have the basics here in America that we don’t have in all the places in Africa. But that’s where you come in. You can bring the basics. And sometimes the first cut is the deepest, but somebody’s got to take that cut, and that person is you all. So don’t be afraid of it. (Applause.)

MR ELBA:  As someone that definitely continues, wants to, and has always championed Africa, just to give you an analogy:  In my film industry in West Africa, there are 400 million people and there are 269 cinemas. Now, we know what cinema culture has done for us. We’ve seen some of the greatest stories told, fell in love with the greatest actors. (Laughter.) But we’ve seen a version of ourselves up there and it’s strengthened us. So that’s the analogy I want to leave you with.  In this country, you can’t make another Ford, McDonald’s, Comcast; but in Africa, you can.  You can make it all. (Applause.)

MS JEAN-PIERRE:  All right. Thank you so much. Thank you for this conversation. Thank you for being here. Enjoy the rest of the summit.  (Applause.)