Four Tips to Boost Economic Vitality in Des Moines

April 3, 2024

Folks gathered at One Voice DSM's 2023 holiday party

There’s truly no place quite like Des Moines. 

That was Jack Chimbetete’s impression when he first came to the area in 2018. A native of Zimbabwe, he spent time at Drake University as a member of the Mandela Washington Fellowship for Young African Leadership. 

Jack saw an incredible business ecosystem working in Des Moines, a community that fostered deep, personal connections between business leaders that support and encourage one another in whatever ways they can. He decided he wanted to call Des Moines home, too, and opened up a U.S. branch of his streaming and networking platform, 

In addition to building his business, Jack works as the Client Relations Consultant for CultureALL and volunteers as the Vice President of One Voice DSM. One Voice DSM is a nonprofit organization that gathers individuals and communities from African countries living in Iowa. The organization welcomes members of the Mandela Washington Fellowship every year, and it was this event that showed Jack the welcoming, inclusive African community thriving in Des Moines.

Jack continues the work of building a welcoming community for people who arrive in Des Moines from around the world. He is doing his part to ensure immigrants with brilliant, innovative ideas have the best chance to grow their businesses. 

What’s good for immigrants is good for Des Moines. Jack offers the following advice for boosting Central Iowa’s vitality and growing the region to a whole new level of expansion.

Jack’s 4 tips to support new Iowans and boost economic vitality in Des Moines

  1. Invite us to network

Businesses and organizations around Des Moines host a wide range of professional events that bring leaders from all over the community together. You get great connections at these events. At least one of these connections probably helped your career in some way.

New Iowans aren’t always aware these events are happening. Networking events allow us to share the story of our business and educate the community about our products and services. These opportunities are key for entrepreneurs to scale and grow. 

If you are a member of a club, like Rotary, invite a new Iowan to each meeting and guide us through your networking culture. When planning events, consider individuals and communities who don’t normally attend, and find ways to let them know they are welcome. Include these communities in your planning and ensure you are sharing your message where they can find it. 

  1. Vouch for us professionally
CultureALL Ambassador Josie Shaw presents to members of the Bankers Trust staff

Des Moines has a strong mentorship culture. Professionals like you generously provide valuable guidance and share your expertise, encouraging the next generation of leaders. 

It would be a huge help if you take time to get to know us, professionally, so that you can write letters of recommendation that help us get selected for competitive professional development programs. Organizations like Lead DSM and the West Des Moines Leadership Academy are well-known professional development programs. There are also opportunities for businesses to grow with incubators like the Drake Business Accelerator or Spark DSM. 

One thing you should know is that most immigrants are not accustomed to flat hierarchies and open doors. We tend to keep a healthy distance between superiors and subordinates, which means we won’t come ask you for help, recommendations, or advice - and if we do, please trust that we are feeling exceptionally awkward no matter how nice you are to invite us in.

CultureALL and One Voice are both eager to introduce you to immigrants, refugees, and other Iowans who are ready to receive your mentoring guidance. You would make a world of difference just by reaching out and letting us know you’re interested in meeting someone new. 

  1. Understand our financial barriers
Mamta Israni displays the Indian rupee

The United States financial system is complicated. 

Consider what it was like for us to navigate that system when we first moved to the United States. Many of us aren’t familiar with U.S. laws, or English isn’t our first language, or we haven’t been here long enough to build up credit or backing assets to secure a bank loan. 

We often face difficulties finding financial backing to scale our businesses that other Iowans might have easier access to. Some venture firms may not welcome us because of who we are or where we come from. We also likely don’t have as many family and friends in the United States who can support us financially.

Financial institutions, venture firms, and other organizations can help lift up our businesses by providing alternative pathways to financing. The U.S. systems are built for select groups of people that often exclude people like us. If these systems can open up to the wider population, anything is possible. 

  1. Know where to find us, and meet us there
Stacey Kimberlin, CultureALL Director of DEI Planning, Natasha Chimbetete (Jack's wife), and Jack Chimbetete at a CultureALL event

Immigrants do what they can to build communities of people who share their cultural heritage and language. Most likely you do this too, through church, work, neighborhood block parties, sports, or professional clubs. Gathering with people who feel familiar and supportive gives all of us a sense of safety and belonging when the rest of the world can be overwhelming. It’s why groups like One Voice DSM and CultureALL are created.

Even though you might not look like you belong at our gatherings because of the color of your skin, the way you speak, or the traditions you celebrate, you are very welcome to gather with us. If there is a certain group of people you are wanting to connect with, start by contacting me at CultureALL. Depending on what you are hoping for, I’ll put you in touch with friends at local organizations such as the Latina Leadership Initiative of Greater Des Moines, the Refugee Alliance of Central Iowa, the Vietnamese American Community of Iowa, the Iowa Interfaith Exchange, Iowa Asian Alliance, and, of course, One Voice DSM. 

CultureALL believes that sharing the cultural richness of our community with others will elevate our society and the quality of life for all.