When Kenyan-American Jacob Maaga moved to the United States, he realized he arrived with a unique and valuable gift: the knowledge of his homeland that could one day make him a successful entrepreneur.

You see, Maaga knows a lot about Kenya, and about his new home, the United States. Crucially, he also knows about coffee.

Maaga began to notice important trends in the global coffee trade. The world drinks over 2.25 billion cups daily. This means farmers need to sell a lot of beans, and roasters in turn need to buy them. How can a farmer access buyers all over the world and know she’s getting a fair price? And how can buyers find the right farmer to get the beans they need?

From this unique vantage point, Maaga proposed a solution: He founded Pan Africa Exchange (PANEX), which helps East African farmers and U.S. buyers exchange the information they need to negotiate an agreeable price for coffee beans and other commodities.

Maaga believes his experience as part of a diaspora gave him an edge.

“For me, being from Kenya, it’s easy to talk to the local farmers in Kenya, Uganda and Ethiopia and also talk to the U.S. counterparts here because they do not know who to talk to. Maybe there is sometimes a language barrier. So we facilitate that and we make it transparent in such a way that everyone can see the pricing, they can get information,” he says, adding that PANEX can also arrange for the transportation of the coffee.

With global demand for coffee expected to rise 25 percent over the next five years, diaspora groups like PANEX can help fill the need to connect growers and buyers. (© AP Images)

Like many who have rebuilt their lives in a new land, Maaga understands how to communicate and do business with strangers from a different culture. And the relationships he’s built along the way — whether with African coffee farmers or members of the African diaspora in the U.S.  who want to build a coffee bar — are valuable to him, and to the people he connects with one another.

“I think one of the biggest things that we are looking to create is transparency in trade,” Maaga adds. “Every person will want to be paid a fair price, and no one can determine that other than an open market system.”

Immigrants like Maaga often carry an important, if sometimes overlooked, asset: Diaspora populations like his may need to adjust to their new communities, but they know a lot about their old ones. And that knowledge can translate into opportunity.

In the end, businessmen like Maaga promote trade while they build trust and personal connections around the world by building the original social — and business — network!