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Go Africa is boosting business in Ghana and beyond (Microsoft Alumni Network) article

Aug , 11
Go Africa is boosting business in Ghana and beyond (Microsoft Alumni Network) article

By Brad Broberg

A seed Dennie Beach planted five years ago is about to bear fruit — or to be more accurate beans and nuts.

Dennie is the president of Go Africa LLC, which will begin processing cocoa beans, coffee beans, cashews and peanuts in a production facility in Ghana this fall.

Go Africa isn’t stopping in Ghana. The plan is to open a dozen facilities across Africa in the next five years — all part of Dennie’s effort to build an international commodities business and bring economic opportunity to the continent of his forefathers.

Although his family came to America more than 250 years ago, Dennie is 100 percent African — a fact the Microsoft alum discovered six years ago when he took a DNA test to satisfy his curiosity.

By that time Dennie was already helping better the lives of Africans here and in their home countries. He chaired the board of the African Services Committee, a nonprofit based in New York, from 2008 to 2012 before joining like-minded friends to start the nonprofit Go Africa Network and the for-profit Go Africa LLC in 2014.

Dennie and his friends took matters into their own hands because they wanted to do more than raise money, give money and share their contacts — the primary role of nonprofit board members, Dennie said.

“As a board member, you can give your advice, but they won’t necessarily act on it,” Dennie said.

“We decided to form our own nonprofit to get done what we wanted done…health and economic development.”

— Dennie Beach

What they didn’t want to do was “bail the ocean,” said Dennie, borrowing a Microsoft mantra for spreading yourself too thin in an attempt to meet every need. “That’s how we’ve been able to stay focused on economic development and health and punt other things that would be nice to do but are … a waste of our resources.”

The nonprofit Go Africa Network works to raise awareness and establish relationships to address health issues and expand trade opportunities via fairs, forums and social media and through public-private partnerships.

One example is the annual Go Africa Carnival held in Harlem, N.Y., which showcases the unique products and culture of the city’s African and Caribbean communities.

Go Africa LLC — and its affiliate Go Africa Trading — is the commercial counterpart of the Go Africa Network. This for-profit venture is not so much about the where — Africa — as it is about the why. “It’s a good business opportunity,” Dennie said.

Africa is bursting with commodities that are ripe for export — a bonanza Dennie discerned on his first trip to the continent in 2013. Go Africa began by processing coffee beans from Africa at a roastery in New York and selling them in eight-ounce bags on Amazon. Then came cashews, cocoa and peanuts.

Now those commodities will be processed in Africa and sold as retail products — either under the Go Africa brand or a private label — or supplied in bulk to wholesalers. The initial facility in Ghana will train and employ up to 60 people from the surrounding community.

“We are starting with commodities that are just everywhere,” Dennie said. “It’s not like we’re going to have a supply problem. We’re starting with something that they know.”

Dennie worked for Microsoft from 1997 to 2006 starting as a partner program manager and finishing as a global services manager, which involved coordinating sales, service and deployment of Microsoft enterprise technologies for several major accounts.

His biggest takeaway from his time there: “Being first is not necessarily being best. Just do the right thing even if you’re not successful at first.”

Doing the right thing means delivering what you promised — and even things you didn’t promise if the customer thinks you did. “That way you don’t have to run from them at the airport,” he said with a laugh.

Dennie grew up with a thing for databases and began his career as a software quality engineer for what is now Accenture. He has four college degrees: a bachelor’s in economics from Northeastern Illinois University, a master’s in technology management from New York University and a master’s in business administration and a Ph.D. in public administration from Walden University.

Life after Microsoft included stints in business development and account management at Nortel Networks, Teradata Corp., IBM and Dell EMC.

After founding Go Africa in 2014, Dennie wore two hats for four years before leaving Dell EMC to devote himself to Go Africa’s success — a leap he will never second guess regardless of the outcome.

“Why wait when you can be in control,” he said, “and if it fails, at least fail at something you really wanted to do.”

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