Nasibu Sareva gained inspiration and enduring leadership lessons as he watched his grandfather, Juma, care for about 20 people in a single household in Tanzania. “My grandad raised just about everybody,” Sareva said. “He raised his children, nieces, nephews and even grandchildren.”
Sareva, who was in the mix of those Juma looked after, often contemplates how one man nurtured a village of children and still managed to maintain his demanding job with the Tanzanian railway system. “He made sure that all of us go to school, do homework and grow to become good human beings,” Sareva said. “That translated to most of us being very hard-working individuals.”
That also translated into Sareva’s commitment to make his current home, Minnesota, a better place for African immigrants by helping them connect to resources and economic opportunities available here. He now serves as the executive director of the African Development Center (ADC), a nonprofit organization that, among other things, helps African communities in Minnesota establish and sustain businesses and provides financial education to understand the process of becoming a homeowner.
Homeownership seems out of reach for many
Many African immigrants with the means and the will to own homes and open businesses feel the idea isn’t just far-fetched, it’s impossible, largely because of the highly complex transactions, the unknown rules and seemingly difficult procedures of the process.
ADC provides immigrants with financial literacy training and personal counseling to widen their understanding of credit and credit reports, debt management, home purchase and mortgage delinquency.
The organization also helps immigrants to overcome barriers as they go through the process of homeownership. “We educate people about how homeownership process works, how to find financing and how to shop for a home, which is right for the person,” said Sareva.
ADC offers services to African immigrants in the Twin Cities metro, St. Cloud, Rochester, Owatonna, Mankato, Willmar and Marshall.
Over the past two decades, the African population has increased in the United States from 80,000 in 1970 to approximately 1.6 million between 2008-2012, according to a U.S. Census Bureau brief released in October.
Minnesota is a home to one of the largest African populations in the United States. Most African immigrants have arrived in Minnesota over the past two decades, escaping civil wars in Somalia, Liberia, Sudan and other parts of the region.
For many African immigrants arriving today, Minnesota remains an ideal place to live — despite the frigid weather — mainly because of the established and vibrant African communities and the availability of unskilled jobs that don’t require fluency and literacy in English.
Sareva was an immigrant himself not all that long ago. After he completed high school in Tanzania, he moved to Malaysia in the 1990s to study economics at International Islamic University of Malaysia.
Then, in 2000, he got an opportunity to come to the United States to pursue graduate studies at Lincoln University of Missouri. After completing his MBA program in 2003, Sareva moved to Minnesota in hope of serving African communities.
He first joined ADC in 2006 as a business analyst and later held positions as an in-house certified public accountant, loan officer, senior business lender, IT administrative assistant and chief finance officer.
Becoming ADC executive director
Sareva was appointed an interim executive director for the ADC when the organization’s founder, Hussein Samatar, died last year of complications stemming from leukemia.
Sareva later became ADC executive director, managing the organization’s $1 million budget and overseeing its financial and administrative duties. “We’ve been working really hard to make sure that we continue to strive for excellence in our services,” he said. “We’re talking about a year of going through challenges: Losing the founder and the executive director. It’s not easy to take over for a charismatic leader like Hussein Samatar.”
One of the challenges the organization faced upon the death of Samatar, Sareva said, was pitching donors on the services the organization provides to its clients.
Sareva added: “When you’re running a non-profit organization, philanthropic communities are not only funding the great programs that we have; one of the criteria that they’re looking at is who’s actually running the organization.”
ADC had also faced another challenge: Many in the community thought the organization was going extinct after the death of Samatar, Sareva said. So he and his team made sure that ADC services are intact to send an important message to the community: ADC still remains strong and continues to serve communities.
“To be the executive director is a huge responsibility,” Sareva said. “Initially my job was to make sure that we overcame the challenges that were on the table at that point in time.”