Clarence Early is a Year Up 2016 graduate who, after 5+ years working in the IT field, founded the online platform Afrikwave, with the goal to empower and uplift those in Africa by creating career opportunities. Hear more about Clarence's Year Up experience, career trajectory, and plans for his business, in his own words.
What was your life like before Year Up, and why did you decide to apply?
I was born and raised in Liberia, in West Africa, and moved to Rhode Island in 2009.
Before Year Up, I played soccer, and when I lost my scholarship, I didn't know where else to turn. I started working in a group home and enjoyed helping people there, but it was monotonous. I always knew there was more to life. A family member told me about Year Up and that it could help me in tech and customer service. Year Up was everything that I needed at that point in time in my life.
Coming to this country, my goal was to gain all the knowledge that I could and take that back to Africa. The Year Up program aligned directly with what I wanted to accomplish.
Year Up helped me shift my mindset... I had the tools and skill sets to really succeed in Corporate America.Founder, Afrikwave
What skills did you acquire at Year Up that set you up for success?
The Year Up program is structured for the everyday life that we live. When it comes to time, Year Up doesn't joke around. Punctuality was a focus. Before, I didn't really understand the value of time management.
The technical training opened my eyes to the tech world to see the many possibilities available for an IT professional. This business communication training strengthened my writing, helped me express myself in meetings and interactions with various people, and taught me proper communication etiquette. I still apply these skills in my day-to-day life; they helped set me off on the path I'm on now.
Year Up helped me shift my mindset. By the time I left Year Up, I could show up to any interview and just do amazing. I didn't fear interviews anymore. I had the tools and skill sets to really succeed in Corporate America.
What did you do after you graduated from Year Up, and why did you start Afrikwave?
Upon graduation, I began working in a tech support role, and after a while there, I got offered an opportunity to manage day-to-day IT in California, so I moved.
After moving to California, I realized that people outside of certain U.S. cities didn't have much access to African food products and goods. At the same time, I was getting calls from family and friends in Africa asking for financial assistance. I decided to test out creating a marketplace. I started doing research of what was happening in the African community and narrowed the key factors down to technology, exposure, and logistics. I decided to step into that space to help my people solve those three problems, so they can build revenue.
Africans in the diaspora are in need of products, and Africans on the continent are producing high quality goods. I made it my mission to connect them and support local African businesses. Afrikwave has sellers in Africa and the U.S. who sell products to customers (5,000 currently registered on the platform) all over the world. In addition to maintaining this platform, we onboard the sellers and teach them the tech processes to help them succeed at selling their products, and in some cases, we even sell the products for them.
What is the current state of Afrikwave, and can you share some success stories?
Customers really miss their culture, and Afrikwave makes it so easy to have African goods be accessible to anybody, anywhere. Afrikwave recently rebranded, and our new platform came out a few months ago.
One story I love to share: A seller of an African snack, which was selling for $3-4 in Liberia, sells for $13/pack on Afrikwave. The seller uses the funds to support a program in Africa called Kids Educational Engagement Project that helps kids read and learn technology. I love that the money is going back into the community to help the younger generation succeed.
Also, there’s a couple in South Africa who make fashion handbags from scratch, but they didn't have the platform to get their products out there. Since joining Afrikwave, many people have been buying from them, and they received their first wholesale order of 1,500 bags!
I am strict on integrity and being honest about what you do, which I learned at Year Up. I want to change the stereotype within the African community of not being able to trust one another.
If I can provide a job for even one person in a household in Africa, for me my purpose in this life is done.Founder, Afrikwave
How does your work uplift the African community? Why is this important to you?
Because Year Up gave me a chance, I've decided to come up with Afrikwave to give others a chance as well. I want to reach my hand back to help others in Africa and create job opportunities. One of my goals is to create scholarships for customer service and tech training, which will help students and their families as well.
In Africa, there aren’t as many opportunities compared to what we have here in the United States today. Many kids are caught up in drugs and gang-related activities; there’s not much to do or look forward to. I know I can influence a lot without going into politics.
I’m working to get Afrikwave to a place where it's generating more revenue to uplift the African community. I want to help Africa as a whole through this business. We're looking to raise $150,000 in investment that will go toward employment, logistics, and more production of high demand African products—it's about having the right people and products.
We know what's selling, and we're at the stage where we're about to take off.
What are your future plans & goals?
I hope to set up warehouse centers, data centers, and call centers in Africa that hire youth. For children in families who don't think they would ever set foot in school, I want to provide scholarships so that they can reach their potential.
We just launched an app for our users and sellers, and we are working on a delivery app. Many young people in Africa drive motorcycles, so they could use the delivery app to earn money.
If I can provide a job for even one person in a household in Africa, for me my purpose in this life is done. With that, they'll be able to sustain their family. What we do going forward really plays a huge role in the generations to come in Africa.