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Dr. Lawson Fatima

Board Chairwoman of Minnesota Africans United

Dr. Fatima Lawson, a community member, school administrator and adjunct professor, has had a long, winding journey to education. She was born and raised in northern Nigeria, in a community where (Western) education was often discouraged, particularly for young women and girls. However, driven by her curiosity and thirst for knowledge, she first completed undergraduate and graduate degrees at the University of Ife in Nigeria, and then continued to complete another master's and a Ph.D. from the University of Minnesota, U.S.A.


Today, as a Minnesota-based educator, in addition to teaching at other Twin Cities institutions, Fatima keeps busy as a principal at Saint Paul Public Schools. She draws on her lived experiences, bringing her international perspectives from around the world into the classroom and other educational settings, and finding ways to connect with her students, staff, and community members. She embraces the multiple experiences that co-exist within her adopted community. Apart from administration and teaching a variety of courses at the tertiary level, she finds whatever she brings to any educational space is quickly reflected on and absorbed through students who “match it with their interests, enthusiasm, and thirst for knowledge!


When she takes off her professional mask, she enjoys reading, writing poetry, being with family and friends, eating with her fingers, traveling, and just being herself!

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Mr. Gabriel Mba
Chairperson, MAU’s Business and Economic Development Committee

A creative investment analyst and business developer, Gabriel Mba is founder and CEO of Massanga Group, a conglomerate with several business initiatives within its portfolios including the Transformational Africa Media Platform (TAMP). A Pan African to the core, Gabriel Mba initiated Massanga Group with a desire to improve Africa’s standing on the global economic stage.

Gabriel set up a strategy to intentionally attract new investors by simplifying the process of investing in Africa, while presenting a broad spectrum of investment resources and opportunities within Massanga Group to turn these opportunities into lucrative, thriving businesses for his partners and potential investors. Gabriel Mba designed Massanga Group, to provide new opportunities for investment in Africa. He put together a team of highly dedicated experts and specialists, teaming up to offer a complete suite of resources for international investors and entrepreneurs. His diverse team of experts do the ground work necessary to launch and sustain investment opportunities in Africa, while limiting the setbacks that often deter foreign investors. Massanga Group is your Africa investment partner, offering assistance and expert advice so that you can invest securely, safely, and successfully.

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Dr. Hans Mbangowah

Keynote, Assistant Vice President, Old National Bank

Dr. Hans Mbangowah, Keynote,  is currently Assistant Vice President, Old National Bank, and Visiting/Adjunct Professor at The University of Phoenix, Arizona. Dr. Hans N Mbangowah is American educated and holds a BA degree in Political Science/History at Winona State University, MS in Criminal Justice Studies at St Cloud State University, and a Doctorate in Educational Leadership at the University of Phoenix, Arizona. Through his passion for helping ordinary folks succeed financially and grow, he has embraced a community approach to serving everyone irrespective of financial status.

Banking: Areas of expertise include:

  • Consumer Banking and Capital Markets (22Years experience)

  • Bank Regulations and Compliance

  • Financial consultancy, Lectures and Seminars

  • Financial Planning and Literacy

  • Licensed Insurance Producer, State of Minnesota

  • Notary Public, State of Minnesota


Author of several scholarly articles and publications, his teaching experience and extensive research efforts in Minnesota have provided the opportunity to enhance public policy in juvenile delinquency and curb recidivism. Within the academic circle, his passion for sharing knowledge and helping others learn has led him to popularize the Socratic method of round table discussions, getting everyone involved in the subject matter in a high state of alertness, which is crucial to learning and the sharing of information.


A member of The American Society of Criminology, and The American Association of Leadership Educators, his scholarly work has made substantial contributions in the field of research.


Dr Hans N Mbangowah is originally from Cameroon, West Africa.


Areas of Expertise include:

  • Grant writing and Research

  • Curriculum Development and Instructional Leadership

  • Lectures and Seminars

  • Student Mentoring

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Ms. Beth Commers
Project Director, Federal Reserve Bank

Beth Commers, M.Ed., Ed.S, currently serves as a project director in the Community Development & Engagement department of the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis where she leads outreach and engagement around the Page Amendment. With nearly three decades of experience producing outcomes in education, human rights, government, and politics, she is a seeker of both obvious and innovative solutions to challenges of community life. She has dedicated both her professional and personal life to building coalition, achieving outcomes and strengthening lives and communities. Also, a small business owner, Beth lives in St. Paul with her husband and their three children.

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Ms. Khadija Ali, Somalia
Founder & CEO, Global Language Connections

  • Khadija has been an active leader and entrepreneur in the language service industry for the past 13 years. Through her extensive experience as a healthcare interpreter and trainer, medical assistant and former owner of an interpretation and translation services business, Khadija has helped many communities overcome linguistic barriers throughout Minnesota. A family experience where the proper healthcare was not obtained due to a language barrier led her to this exciting and important field.

    In Khadija’s last company as CEO and founder, she established a first-class reputation for herself and her company in the field of language services. Her passion is connecting emerging communities and established businesses, while creating winning solutions for all constituents. As a result, she became one of the most successful, well-respected and sought after cultural and language experts. In 2015, Khadija Ali founded Global Language Connections, a language services company on Lake Street in Minneapolis. Through this company, Khadija has been able to hire countless people from immigrant communities, as well as remove language barriers to improve equity in hospitals, schools, and businesses.

  • Khadija has received many awards including the 2013 International Immigrant Achievement Award from the Minnesota-based International Leadership Institute (ILI). Also, in June 2013, Khadija was awarded the International Immigrant Achievement by the City of Minneapolis, Mayor R.T. Rybak, Governor Dayton, and the Latino community for creating jobs in Minnesota and providing vital services to the minority community. 


Ms. Gladys Eta, Nigeria 
Owner, Glamaur African Kitchen 

Gladys Eta is the owner of Glamaur African Kitchen (GAK) located in Brooklyn Park Minnesota. GAK is a west African restaurant with an emphasis in Nigerian traditional delicacies. Gladys is originally from Nigeria, and migrated into the United States in 2007. She has always had passion for cooking from her youthful days, having lived with her parents most of her youthful life. Her interest in cooking grew as she began making dinner for the family and making meals from scratch with fresh, natural ingredients.

Gladys attended North Hennepin Community College for two years and transferred to a four-year degree course at Metropolitan State University where she graduated in Drug and Alcohol Counseling. Since her passion was in cooking, she started GAK in 2018 as a catering services which she still does. She has catered for many weddings and other events which cut across different race and cultures.

Gladys is a devoted Christian, a wife, and a mother of five beautiful children.


Mr. G. Trokon Richards, Liberia

CEO, Triumph Graphics 

Trokon is an entrepreneur and a founder of Triumph Graphics, a company devoted to helping small businesses, non-profit organizations, and houses of worship obtain and maintain an online presence. It provides web design, business app development, graphic design, marketing, and technological consultancy. Prior to starting Triumph Graphics, Trokon worked for Wells Fargo for five years.

Trokon has worked in the technology industry since 2003; he has seen and experienced the major changes and shifts in technology. Before moving to the United States, he served as the IT administrator for the Ministry of Transportation of Liberia, where he and his team designed the ministry's first automated motor vehicle database system for vehicle registration and driver license issuance, which in the first year of its implementation, the government was able to track 1.5 million USD in revenue.

He is a graduate of the Evangel Christian University of America, Monroe, Louisiana, with a Masters in Christian Education, and a bachelor in Christian Counseling. He also hosts an annual faith-based conference called “IGNITE” overseer, Liberia – where he facilitates and coaches youth and small business owners in business, innovation, and technology. His life vision is to provide training and technological business support for African businesses in Minnesota, and to develop a system that will support and strengthen educational integrity at every level in his country of nativity.

Trokon is a Christian, a husband with four beautiful daughters. They reside in the Twin Cities. 


Ms. Monia Bardoza, Togo

Owner, Monia Hair Salon & Beauty Supply 

Monia arrived in the USA from Togo in 2002. After a year in NY, she moved to MN where she worked for nine years with Sam’s Club corporation as an admin. Eventually, Monia decided to follow her passion by attending cosmetology training at Regency Beauty Institute where she obtained her license from the MN Board of Barbers and Cosmetology after which she opened her salon in 2014. Today, Monia serves a diverse clientele from local Minnesotans to immigrants from every part of Africa. Sharing her blessings in the community, she has established a foundation (FAPCA) to support deprived children in poor African villages. Every year, Monia and her like-minded friends collect clothes, shoes, and other necessities that they ship to Togo to equip the children for a good beginning of the school year. While the supplies have been distributed in West Africa, she is now planning to send the donations to East Africa starting with Ethiopia. Minnesota Africans United (MAU) is privileged to share a platform where entrepreneurs can learn from Monia.  

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 Mr. Michou Kokodoko

Project Director, Federal Reserve Bank

Michou Kokodoko is a project director in the Minneapolis Fed’s Community Development and Engagement department. He leads the Bank’s efforts to promote effective community-bank partnerships by increasing awareness of community development trends and investment opportunities, especially those related to the Community Reinvestment Act.

He holds a Master of Science (MS) in Software Engineering from the University of St. Thomas, and a Master of Business Administration (MBA) in  Management Information Systems from Metropolitan State University.


Mr. Brian McDonald,

Director, Small Business Administration

Brian McDonald is the District Director for the U.S. Small Business Administration’s Minnesota District Office. Under his leadership, McDonald’s team facilitates SBA-backed loans, advocates and trains small businesses for federal government contracting opportunities, and works to improve entrepreneurial development to strengthen business growth across all 87 Minnesota counties. 


Before joining the Minnesota District Office in 2017, Brian worked in Washington, D.C. for the U.S. SBA Headquarters Office of Entrepreneurial Development and for the U.S. Treasury CDFI Fund. Prior to federal service, Brian worked in private banking.   


Originally from Upstate, N.Y., Brian went to Syracuse University for undergrad and Georgetown University for his Master’s degree, and currently resides in Minneapolis with his wife and two children.    


Mr. Harry Miller,

Co-Chair, SCORE Twin Cities,

Harry is the Co-Chair for SCORE Twin Cities, a resource partner of the SBA. Harry’s background is in sales, marketing and business development in digital publishing arena working in the corporate and start-up business environments.

For over 40 years, Score has provided mentoring, learning and business development services to the small business community here in the Twin Cities. We have over 130 volunteer mentors serving over 3,000 clients per year and will conduct over 200 workshops serving 8,000 plus attendees. Our mission is to foster a vibrant small business community through mentoring and education with the vision that every person has the support necessary to thrive as a small business owner. For more information, visit us at



Bruce H. Strong

State Director, Minnesota Small Business Development Center

Bruce Strong is State Director for the Minnesota Small Business Development Center (SBDC) Network. The SBDC is recognized as the state's pre-eminent, nationally accredited provider of professional business technical assistance, whose mission is to help entrepreneurs start and grow businesses that succeed. He has extensive experience in community and economic development, and in the mortgage lending and banking industries. He is an Air Force veteran and graduated summa cum laude from National College with a degree in Business Administration and Marketing.


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Ms. Jaylane Peters

Senior Loan Officer, Women Venture 

Jaylana always knew that she wanted to be an obstetrician, so in 2008, it was with great anticipation that she registered for her first semester of college courses that would line the pathway to accomplishing her ultimate goal. 2009, however, found her in a position which needed redirection; she was pregnant and a whole new set of goals took precedence. Jaylana and her husband, Kevin, gave birth to a beautiful baby girl on the 19th of May 2010. At the time, Kevin was working overnights at cub foods, and his salary (however modest), allowed Jaylana to stay home. In 2012, she decided that she was ready to re-enter the world of adult interaction.

Jaylana applied to Wells Fargo: she’d been banking with them for a number of years and was interested in learning skills that could benefit her personal financial knowledge. And of course – it wouldn’t be a long-term commitment – just long enough to finish her bachelors and apply to medical school. But soon, Jaylana fell in love with all things finance. She became attached to her customers, and she became engrossed in budgets, spreadsheets, interest rates, and credit information, but best of all, she felt fulfilled and fueled by the many success stories that she was a part of. Jaylana felt empowered, and she wanted that feeling to continue, so she kept seeking knowledge and opportunity in the world of finance.

In 2017, a friend presented Jaylana with an opportunity in commercial lending. While she enjoyed the exposure to new challenges, she quickly began to long for the opportunity to build and maintain relationships with external customers. She needed face-to-face interactions - something that her new position did not afford.

By grace, Jaylana has embarked on a new adventure here, at WomenVenture. She is beyond excited to contribute to the amazing team of individuals, and to be a part of many more success stories!

In her spare time, Jaylana likes to spend time with her family (camping, movies, board games, etc.), garden, read, and play volleyball. She and her husband hope to one day become business owners and work toward their joint goal of early retirement.

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