Obtaining business loans. Marketing. Working with artists to promote community development.

African immigrant business owners and community representatives from around the country will share knowledge and learn about the power of leadership to advance immigrant communities when they gather in Minneapolis this week at a first-ever in-person conference hosted by the St. Paul nonprofit African Economic Development Solutions.

The National African Leadership Conference will feature Kenyan lawyer and professor P.L.O. Lumumba and Verna Price, a Twin Cities cross-cultural communications leader, as keynote speakers.

The theme of the Thursday-Friday event is "Lifting as we Climb: Unleashing the Potential of African Leaders."

"It is important because there is no conference that is designed by and for African leaders. It is about community empowerment and building more connected communities," said African Economic Development Solutions Executive Director Gene Gelgelu.

The conference, which was held virtually twice and will be hybrid this year with a Zoom option for attendees, features a dozen breakout sessions for leaders in fields that include business policy and development, wealth building, challenges and opportunities with African refugee resettlement, and women and youth leadership. There will be also be cultural performances with music and dance, said Gelgelu.

The two largest challenges facing African immigrant businesses around the country are access to loans and marketing, said Gelgelu, topics that the conference and African Economic Development Solutions work to address.

Gelgelu said he is particularly excited about a session on creative placemaking, a partnership between the economic sector and artists or creatives, such as the yearly Little Africa Festival in St. Paul.

"In everything we do we inject culture as a catalyst for economic strategy," Gelgelu said.

Keynote speaker Lumumba, former director of the Kenya Anti-Corruption Commission, was also the virtual keynote in 2021. He will speak about creating change on the African continent, where resources were used to build other nations. It is crucial for Africans in the U.S. and around the world to look back and help change the face of Africa, Lumumba said last year.

"Wherever we are, we have a duty to work together to ensure we lift our continent by our bootstraps," he said.

Through the sessions, African immigrant voices will be amplified both about the challenges and the successes of the community, Gelgelu said.

Price, who has spoken at conferences around the world, said she hopes to bring her global perspective to her keynote speech this week in Minneapolis, a place that has become more global.

"It's important for us to understand our own power as an individual person, but also our power to create positive change in our world," Price said. "Whether that's here in Minnesota, where there is a growing ethnic mix of people or whether that global world is us extending ourselves across the seas, physically."

The conference will bring an economic boost to local vendors, hotels and other businesses in the Twin Cities in the short term, and will create a network of African leaders for the long term, said Gelgelu. He expects about 400 people to participate in person or on Zoom.

Registration to attend the conference at the Hyatt Regency in downtown Minneapolis or virtually is available until Tuesday. Some tickets may be available at the door.