The White House honored a Minneapolis woman Monday as a "Champion of Change" for her work supporting the efforts of women of the African diaspora.

Semhar Araia is the founder and executive director of the Diaspora African Women's Network (DAWN), a group working to bring together women of the diaspora -- people living outside Africa who consider their roots to be in the continent, by birth or descent.

Araia, a University of St. Thomas graduate born in New York to Eritrean parents, first got involved in the work when she was a foreign affairs legislative assistant in Congress.

"I started to look around, and I found there were many other people who felt as passionate as I did about their country's origin, but we couldn't connect," Araia said at Monday's event at the White House.

She started meeting informally with colleagues, and in a few years, the group grew from five or 10 women to a network of 180 members from 28 African countries, as well as the United States, the Caribbean, South America, Europe and the Middle East.

"First thing is to mobilize and organize yourselves and tell your story, and that's what we're doing with DAWN," Araia said.

DAWN, founded in 2007, creates connections and provides opportunities for women from the African diaspora to support each other and share their stories.

Araia recently moved to the Twin Cities, home to large populations of people from the Horn of Africa countries and Liberia.

Rahama Wright, DAWN's director of finance, said Araia is "really passionate" about bringing the diaspora together. "She genuinely wants to see more of us in leadership roles," she said.

"I realized the power of being a diaspora is you can build a bridge between the countries, your [two] homelands," Araia said.

Araia has experience in public and foreign policy, conflict resolution, and international humanitarian law. She earned a bachelor's degree at St. Thomas and a law degree from Marquette University.

She was honored Monday along with 13 other leaders in American diaspora communities with roots in the Horn of Africa.

The Champions of Change program recognizes different groups each week, from educators to entrepreneurs, for work they do to bolster their communities.

Bryna Godar is a University of Minnesota student on assignment for the Star Tribune.