Sisters Create Cross-Cultural Organization Connecting U.S. and African Youth

Twin sisters and founders of Focal Point Global, Hassanatu and Hussainatu Blake (photo: black enterprise.com)

Twin sisters and founders of Focal Point Global, Hassanatu Blake and Hussainatu Blake are on a mission to provide a global experience that enlightens youths in Africa and the United States about different cultures, countries, and lifestyles. Using modern technology such as Skype and Google Hangout, Focal Point Global makes it possible for youths to connect, learn, and address social issues together, and become leaders in their communities.

As 2012 White House Champions of Change, the dynamic duo has accomplished a great deal since launching the organization in 2010. This includes creating The U.S.-Southern Africa HIV Education Initiative (2010), the US-Cameroon Child Trafficking Awareness Project (2012), the Gambia-Namibia HIV/Ebola Education Initiative (2014), preparing 150 global youth alumni, and serving as 2013 TEDxEmory Keynote Speakers.

BlackEnterprise.com caught up with the Cameroonian-American sisters to delve into their background and learn more about their plans for 2016.

BlackEnterprise.com: Tell us a bit about your background.
Hussainatu:
 I have a Bachelor of Arts degree from Tufts University, a Masters degree from Middlebury Institute of International Studies, and a law degree from Atlanta’s John Marshall Law School. I have lived and worked in Germany, South Africa, Namibia, and The Gambia. While living in Germany, I assisted the NAACP with educating Africans about their legal rights. I also worked for the International Organization for Migration’s Counter-Trafficking Department in South Africa, aiding trafficked Africans. I have published articles about slavery in Mauritania for International Affairs Forum, a publication of the Center for International Relations in Washington, D.C.

Hassanatu: I have a Bachelor of Arts degree from Tufts University, a Master of Public Health degree from Emory University Rollins School of Public Health, and a Master of Business Administration degree from Plymouth State University. I’ve also lived, worked, and studied in Germany, Jamaica, Namibia, Zambia, Antigua, St. Lucia, Cameroon, The Gambia, and South Africa. I have focused on improving health issues globally. Recently I worked with BroadReach Healthcare to implement a national management and leadership training program for health professionals in Zambia. I also conducted maternal/child health research with the National Institutes of Health and University of Alabama in Jamaica, worked with the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Namibia to support Namibia’s national fight against HIV/AIDS, and managed technical assistance projects in Africa and Asia with USAID Global Health Technical Project in Washington, D.C. I’ve also written on a variety of health topics for the African American online health resource, BlackDoctor.org.

Tell us about the defining moment that inspired you to launch Focal Point Global.
Seven years ago, Focal Point Global started as an idea while we were sitting in our parents’ living room. We had just returned from working overseas and we read a New York Times article about the HIV/AIDS prevalence rate in the D.C. metro area being as high as 3%. Although 3% may not seem high for many people, based on our global public health and international development backgrounds, we knew this prevalence rate was high for an industrialized country like the U.S., and also comparable to some prevalence rates in West African cities. What makes it more alarming is that many who are impacted are youths between the ages of 15 and 25. After reading the article, we did research on how HIV was being addressed in the U.S., particularly in the youth population. We realized there was a critical gap that wasn’t being fully utilized — global peer education. Right then, we decided to create a project connecting youths in the U.S. and in Namibia (Southern Africa) so they could have a cross-cultural educational platform to discuss HIV and a space to create solutions to address this disease in their communities.

Focal Point Global logo

Why is it important to connect youths in underserved areas in the United States with underserved youths located in countries in Africa?
Many of the same global issues disproportionately affect youths in underserved communities in the U.S. and in African countries. These youths have very few opportunities to connect with their peers in other countries because of financial burdens or other extenuating circumstances. Youths learn from their peers about the differences and similarities they may share, which naturally fosters respect and fellowship among the youths with which we work.

Do you both work full-time? If so, please share tips on how you manage working full-time with the needs of your organization.
We both run Focal Point Global full-time. And we have a program coordinator, and an IT officer. In the past, we worked and studied while running Focal Point Global. What we found helpful was setting a timeline that was well suited to our lives and not the lives of others. Oftentimes we can overstretch ourselves, which can be to our detriment. We learned to focus on pacing ourselves by honestly evaluating what we could do on our own and what we could delegate or postpone.

Can you share 3 or 4 tips for fundraising or spreading awareness about your organization?

  • Maximize your network by cultivating a loyal base of followers who will be your advocates
  • Implement corporate matching programs
  • Invest in quality over quantity

In seven years, you’ve accomplished a great deal. What are your plans for 2016?
In 2016, we are launching a youth employment and entrepreneurship initiative, YEEI. This program will focus on preparing 50 teenagers in Chicago, Illinois; Baltimore, Maryland; Windhoek, Namibia; and Johannesburg South Africa to seize the opportunities of a 21st-century economy. In an increasingly competitive global economy, education, ingenuity, and collaboration are necessary to succeed. YEEI is a three-month-long program connecting teenagers between the ages of 15 and 19 with their peers, new mentors, new networks, and valuable job opportunities. For more information, please visit www.focalpointglobal.org or contact us at info@focalpointglobal.org.

article by Kandia Johnson via blackenterprise.com

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