I am a Stanford MBA, retired commercial banker and award-winning author who is very interested in Africa and its future. I grew up in Harlem for the first ten years of my life – three blocks from The Apollo Theater. I came of age during the Civil Rights Movement and was a black student leader at Swarthmore College in the late 1960s.
Between Swarthmore and Stanford Business School, I became the first black Peace Corps Volunteer in Gambia, West Africa from 1970 -1972 – as a secondary school math teacher. This is where I began my lifelong love affair with Africa.
With my Stanford MBA in hand, in 1974 I embarked on a career in commercial banking with Chase Manhattan Bank in New York and London, and later with Citicorp in San Francisco and Los Angeles.
During the last fifteen years of my banking career, I was an entrepreneurial founding father of CEDLI (California Economic Development Lending Initiative). CEDLI was conceived to address the issues that small- and medium-sized businesses face in accessing capital. At CEDLI, I advised and helped over 200 entrepreneurs finance and build small- and medium-sized businesses throughout California.
Yet I yearned to “go back to Africa.” And I finally did so in July 2011, right after I retired from CEDLI and three years after the August 2008 death of my wife of thirty-four years, Deidria Martin Etheridge, who passed away from a sudden stroke. As a widower father, I took my three adult children and four-year old granddaughter on a family pilgrimage back to Gambia, some forty years after my Peace Corps service.
I chronicled my family’s Gambia pilgrimage in a January 2012 article in my Swarthmore College alumni magazine, “What is Africa to me?” For this Swarthmore article, I won the 2012 Lowell Thomas Award from the Society of American Travel Writers Foundation for the year’s “Best Special-Purpose Travel Article.”
When I was leaving Peace Corps and Gambia for Stanford in 1972, I told myself, “The first time around I saw Africa from the bottom up as a Peace Corps Volunteer and math teacher.” “The next time around, I want to see Africa from a different perspective as a businessman.” Yet that didn’t happen over the course of my banking career for a number of reasons.
To be sure, my family’s Gambia pilgrimage and my Lowell Thomas Award were extremely gratifying and rewarding. Yet, my dream remained unfulfilled of seeing Africa again as a businessman. But then along came the Stanford Institute for Innovation in Developing Economies (SEED).
From June 2013 to March 2014, I was one of the first five pioneer Stanford alumni volunteer business coaches in SEED, mentoring six high potential West African small and medium enterprises (SMEs) –four from Ghana, one from Nigeria, and one from Sierra Leone. SEED seeks to reduce poverty in the developing world by transforming high potential SMEs into market leaders and world-class companies through an innovative process of entrepreneurship and scaled up growth that creates jobs and promotes economic development.
Stanford SEED allowed me not only to fulfill my lifelong dream of going back to Africa as a businessman but also to leverage my business skills as a banker to make a different kind of contribution than I made as a Peace Corps math teacher decades before.
Most of the SEED customers were looking for some sort of financing in order to grow. As a very experienced banker, I had a perspective on how to make the customers “lender-ready” and how to talk to investors.
In retirement, I am expanding my award-winning article into a book-length memoir. In the memoir, I’m exploring what I learned through these three significant engagements with Africa – about both the Continent and being an African-American in “The Motherland.”