Semhar Araia

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Native New Yorker and head of Diaspora Partnerships at UNICEF USA, Semhar Araia has been professionally uplifting, empowering and working with communities who want to make a difference around the world for the past 15 years. But her upbringing informed her career path well before she got her working papers. “My parents came to this country in 1967 as one of the first group of African students to arrive in the United States,” she recounts. “Like so many other international students, they were expected to return home after their studies to help our family and the country. But when Eritrea's war for independence from Ethiopia intensified, they couldn't return home and our lives became a blend of professional and academic rigor by day, and grassroots and community organizing for the cause by night.  Eventually, it all became one shared mission and way of life—the love of country and family from the diaspora.”

Araia’s love for diaspora engagement and partnerships runs deep, and her biggest goal last year was to create a new model of that engagement for UNICEF USA. She’s worked with Somali, Ethiopian, Pakistani, Bangladeshi, Haitian, Arab and African-American organizations and communities to help children in their homelands. Still, she acknowledges that there is much more work to be done. “We have so much to offer, we just need more pathways and partnerships to do so. I want the African Diaspora to own its social, economic and cultural power—including through policy, advocacy and philanthropy.” Luckily, she’s relentless. Right now she is revamping the Diaspora African Women's Network (DAWN), an organization she started in 2007, while exploring additional ways to support black professional women who work on international issues at all points of their careers. “It's clear that Africa's future lies in the hands of its leaders on the continent and in the Diaspora,” she says. “Whether we are recognized or not, we know women are at the helm of that process and deserve to be recognized, supported and elevated.” Thus, her work on building that community. “To me, building community is a way of life and for African women, sisterhood and solidarity is everything.”