Karine Sokpoh didn’t launch Midlands African Chamber on a whim. An immigrant from Togo who’s lived in Nebraska for 22 years, she knew firsthand the need for people like herself to have access to a group that understood the challenges of assimilating to a new country and culture.
“I’m a lawyer by trade and owner of 402 Legal, which is my law firm which I started in 2011,” she said. “After I started the firm, I needed a group that would support me and help me network so I could grow my firm.
“I turned to the Midlands Bar Association and they were really helpful and I was able to gain really good mentors through that. And that got me to thinking, I’m a lawyer so I have access to that network. What about workers that are not lawyers who are starting a business, what kind of network do they have?”
Right Place, Right Time
Along the way, Sokpoh became involved with the Nebraska Hispanic Chamber and was impressed by the good it was doing in the community. She used that as a blueprint to create her organization, targeting African-born immigrants and African Americans.
She was so sure of the need for the organization, even a global pandemic didn’t slow her down.
“When I started looking into it, I found out that there was no Black chamber, period, in Nebraska,” she said. “So, during the pandemic, we decided to just go ahead and do it and we created the Midlands African Chamber, which focuses on helping Africans whether they were born stateside or African-born or island-born.”
In the three years since, membership in the group has grown briskly. From its original seven members, the stand-alone Midlands African Chamber now lists more than 200 in Nebraska, Iowa, Kansas City, and Minnesota. Sokpoh said growing membership, which is open to all regardless of race or ethnicity, has been a grassroots effort.
“Most of our growth has been organic, word of mouth and also through events that we put together,” Sokpoh said. “One of the big events that we do is the Pitch Black conference and a pitch competition. We also have a social media marketing campaign that we did around that and we recruit through our Roll Call, which is a Chamber meet and greet.”
The organization’s growth hasn’t gone unnoticed by other business-oriented groups, which have begun to reach out to Midlands African Chamber as a resource for suggestions on improving their own programming to suit Black and African entrepreneurs.
“I will tell you the response to the creation of MAC has been overwhelmingly positive from all parts of the business ecosystem,” she said. “When it comes to bigger organizations like the Sarpy County Chamber, the Omaha Chamber, we’ve got good working relationships with both of those chambers.”
Programming has increased along with the group’s headcount. Two years ago, Sokpoh launched the MAC Foundation as the fundraising arm of the Chamber and for doing more programming for youth. Through the foundation, teens are provided mentorship, headshots and mock interviews to prepare them for the business world. The youth program also includes Suit Up, which provides youth with business attire, and Rising CEOs, a 10-week program that educates youth on personal and business finance. And, Sokpoh said, there’s more on the horizon.
“We have the MAC Foundation scholarships, and those are for students of color going into finance, law, STEM,” Sokpoh said. “Those are scholarships that we are awarding for the first time at our annual Gratitude Gala in November.”
Individuals interested in supporting the work of the MAC Foundation can learn more by visiting FundMac.org.