Interview by Visual Collaborative
May 2019 6 min read
Adey Haliu is an Event and Conference Producer based in New York City, she is the founder of African Symposium, which provides Africa focused event planning and conference management services. As a feature in our Voyager interview series, we discuss her company, diaspora partnerships, her Ethiopian heritage and insights related to the creative economy.
(VC) What does African cultural awareness in the diaspora mean to Adey Hailu?
(Adey) It is acknowledging and respecting our African roots while still recognizing the numerous cultures within Africa. African cultural awareness is very important in the diaspora and should be nurtured and emphasized because without this awareness it will easily be dismissed and not included in mainstream culture which in turn will result in future generations who will not know or care about their roots and origins. On the same token, if there is no African cultural awareness in the diaspora, the differences between the numerous cultures will be lumped as one African culture which is far from accurate and doesn’t represent all of Africa.
(VC) The African symposium has an impressive portfolio. What was the catalyst for it when you first started?
(Adey)The catalyst for launching African Symposium was the need for African events that meaningfully engage the diaspora, the African governments and friends of Africa in impactful conversations and projects. As a seasoned conference producer, I found that the African voice was usually missing from the profitable conferences/events on Africa. At the same time, the events that are put on by Africans and diaspora counterparts are usually focused on a country or region in Africa and not Africa as a whole continent, and these events tend to be more celebratory or networking driven as opposed to profitable businesses with a planned ROI. Through African Symposium,
I would like to bridge this gap by building a for profit events management business that produces socially responsible events with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals
I would like to bridge this gap by building a for profit events management business that produces socially responsible events with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals in mind. In addition to helping clients produce Africa focused events, African Symposium is launching its own inaugural African Symposium on Wildlife Conservation in Africa on October 4, 2019. This half day conference will take place in New York City with the aim to raise the profile of indigenous African conservationists and encourage a new generation of wildlife protectors to be more active in Africa.
(VC) Given the types of clients you work with, your projects require research and data to deliver services effectively and of course to the right demographics. Does data affect how you lead your team or partner with the public?
(Adey) Yes, indeed, research and data does affect the work I do because African Symposium’s main forte is to produce Africa focused content for its clients based on the outcome they are looking for. So we have to do research in order to produce accurate content and to identify the experts and speakers for the conference or event. We also perform audience focused research in order to identify and market to the right audience. For our larger conferences and networking events, we integrate data collection platforms to facilitate efficient connection among attendees. In the coming year, we are planning to integrate AI enabled registration platform to personalized attendee experiences and create more meaningful interactions.
(VC) Does your Ethiopian heritage play a significant part in your business decisions or would you consider yourself more of an Ethiopian American with a western outlook?
(Adey) My Ethiopian heritage does play a significant part in my business decisions as I gravitate towards projects that impact Ethiopia while I am still based in the US. The American part of me becomes more predominant when I am in Africa where I notice the difference in the way I think and behave from my colleagues in Ethiopia or in Africa.
(VC) In your quiet or noisy moments how do you get inspired. What makes you work the way you do? New York City is not the most quiet of places
(Adey) As a conference producer, I love the adrenaline that comes with producing an event. In New York City where there is so much going on at any given time, time becomes the most valuable commodity, so I try to spend it with the people that are most important to me doing things that I am passionate about. I get inspired by self-starters who follow their dream or passion with conviction. In more recent times, I found that having a routine helps me be more disciplined and produce more work.
Photo courtesy of Adey Haliu
(VC) Some mention the renaissance or the West African pan-African times as an art period they admire. If you can time-warp back to any era, what time would it be and why?
(Adey) I often fantasize what it would be like to live during the height Aksumite renaissance, an empire that lasted from 100 BC to around 1000 AD. Axum as a major center for trade between Africa, India and the Roman Empire among others would have been a very interesting place to live in with all the new ideas, religions and cultures. Based on the artifacts and towering obelisks that outlasted the Aksumite civilization, it is clear that it was a complex and evolved society and an African superpower.
Your experiences and cultural influences give you a special perspective. Take risks if it is something you feel passionate about and always remember you have a unique gift to bring to this world
(VC) At this stage of your professional career and accomplishments, If you could collaborate with any other artist or public figure who would it be and why?
(Adey) At this stage, I would love to have the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation as a partner because of the innovative ways the organization is working in Africa and its access to celebrities who can amplify the message of encouraging a new generation of African conservationists. The Dalai Lama, Oprah and Tony Robbins are public figures that I also admire and would love to collaborate with in the other SDG and Africa focused events produced by African Symposium.
(VC) As an African woman who is well traveled and exposed to quite a lot, considerably privileged, what do you tell the aspiring young woman or entrepreneur about success and business risk?
(Adey) I would encourage aspiring young women or entrepreneurs to follow their passion boldly but thoughtfully. By this, I advise entrepreneurs to keep their “day job” as they put in the ground work for their passion business or project. This will help build discipline and make resources available for the testing stage. The other important advice I want to give young women is to not let fear cripple you from achieving your potential. Your experiences and cultural influences give you a special perspective. Take risks if it is something you feel passionate about and always remember you have a unique gift to bring to this world. “Today you are you! That is truer than true! There is no one alive who is you-er than you! (Dr. Seuss)”
(VC) What kind of work can the world expect from Adey Hailu within the next 5 years?
(Adey) In the next 5 years, my goal is to make African Symposium the go-to company for results driven events/ conferences focused on Africa. On a more personal and passion note, I would like to be more active in African Wildlife conservation by raising awareness and putting together fundraising events to help stop the alarming extinction and depletion of the African flora and fauna.