Nina Oduro and Maame Boakye have always been passionate about cultivating meaningful connections within their communities. So when they reconnected in Washington D.C., years after first meeting at a networking event in their native Ghana, they lamented the transactional nature of relationships in the politically driven capital.
“I think the challenge that we were facing was [the difficulty in] forming deeper connections with people beyond professional life and ‘let’s grab lunch for an objective,’” says Oduro.
But D.C., in her words, is also a transient city with a very diverse population from the African diaspora and beyond. There had to be a way to bring people from these many cultures together.
“Food,” says Boakye, “was the answer.”
The two women created Dine Diaspora, a Black-women owned and operated agency based in D.C., through which they have since created events connecting people through African diaspora food culture. The company launched in 2014 with a Signature Dinner featuring Ghanaian-American Eric Adjepong, a finalist on season sixteen of Bravo’s Top Chef. Over a three-course meal of jollof rice paella with scallops and chicken, beef ribs and cornbread with honey butter confit, and bofrot with peanut butter ice cream, brûlée banana, and strawberry paper, Adjepong took the small gathering of 20 guests through the backstory of every dish served. That storytelling aspect was critical, Oduro says, as chefs are so often tasked with executing someone else’s vision when hired for private events—but in this format, there was an intimate connection between diners and everything on the table.
The initial dinner series ended in 2018 but the pair have expanded to hosting events like Chop Bar, an annual pop-up food festival infusing art and music (keep an eye on their IG for the next date), which takes its name from makeshift restaurants found in Ghana. They have also teamed up with Facebook to present Digital Diasporas, a virtual series showcasing creatives from the African diaspora at the intersection of food, travel, and lifestyle. Their Dish and Sip speaker series, which runs throughout the year in New York and D.C., provides a platform for food industry leaders to discuss issues and experiences like the lack of diversity and disparity in compensation.
But as Oduro and Boakye have sourced chefs for their growing roster of events, they've noticed a scarcity of women in the talent pool—an issue they have now incorporated into their mission.
“We did not want to be reinforcing structures in which women have not been able to be centered, selected, or positioned in spaces to compete with anyone, particularly Black women,” says Oduro.
They addressed the imbalance with Black Women in Food (BWIF), an initiative launched in 2018 that “identifies, amplifies, and supports Black women in the food and beverage industry to advance their work and contribute to a more equitable and sustainable food system,” according to their site. Every March, BWIF honors over 30 women globally as part of Women’s History Month, across categories including game-changer, innovator, trailblazer, creator, culinarian, and amplifier. The selected honorees are celebrated throughout the month and beyond with networking and development opportunities.
One of this year’s honorees is Janique Edwards, the COO and Co-Founder of EatOkra, an app that connects food lovers to more than 11,000 Black-owned restaurants, eateries, bars, wineries, and food trucks across the U.S. Edwards admits that earning the award has helped with the imposter syndrome she regularly combats as a woman in food and tech.