A shared curiosity about countries and cultures outside the United States has drawn Plainfield/Aurora REALTOR® Vicky Sampah and Naperville REALTOR® Andy Velkme into the Illinois REALTORS® Consulate General Liaison Program.
The program, which is still accepting applications, serves as an important way for REALTORS® to work with foreign nationals interested in living and investing in Illinois.
Vicky Sampah (center) and Jim Kinney (right) welcomed a visitor from Ghana (left).
The countries they’re matched with are in two continents about 4,000 miles apart. Sampah, managing broker and CEO of L’Abri Realty & Management in Aurora, is matched with Rwanda, a country in East Africa, bordered by Congo, Uganda, Tanzania and Burundi. Velkme, a broker for Caton Commercial Real Estate, is matched with Latvia, a European country bordered by the Baltic Sea, Estonia, Russia and Lithuania.
Sampah, who became a REALTOR® in 2003, says, “I’ve always had an interest in Africa and its real estate industry development. After looking into Rwanda and its resources, I became intrigued and my interest in the country grew vastly. I believe that Costco and Starbucks have set the foundations for us to build relationships with Rwanda and this is going to be an exciting journey.
Rwanda flag (Bigstock Images)
“I am originally from Ghana, West Africa with 15 years of combined real estate experience,” she says. “I worked with the government of Ghana in public service and gained policymaking and legislative experience. I always had passion for global real estate and institutional development, especially for the African Continent where real estate regulation is almost absent. My experience with real estate practice in Illinois, coupled with great opportunities to engage in Capitol Conferences with Illinois REALTORS® has made my vision even clearer.
“Since 2011, I have supported the Ghana Real Estate Professionals Association (GREPA) with its formation and development as well as consulting Ghana’s government in developing the Ghanaian Real Estate Bill. I felt the African continent was disconnected as far as real estate and saw the need to connect.”
Andy Velkme holds Latvian flag and stands with his family in Chicago’s Daley Plaza in a celebration of the Baltic Way in 2014.
Velkme says joining the Consulate General Liaison Program is the “perfect way to blend his professional and social life together.” Velkme and his wife (Indra) take their children to K-12 Latvian school on Saturdays to learn about geography, literature, language and more. He says Chicago boasts the most active Latvian community outside of Latvia itself.
“Through the Consulate General Liaison Program, I hope to promote real estate opportunities in Illinois to Latvian citizens and to show that real estate here is a safe investment,” says Velkme, “an even better value than real estate on the east or west coast.”
Sampah echoes Velkme’s sentiment, saying, “I have learned how coffee has helped forge relationships between Rwanda and American corporations such as Costco and Starbucks, and I foresee a great opportunity for expansion of real estate business between both countries. As a Consulate Liaison, I can educate Americans about Rwanda and eliminate preconceived ideas they have about each other, thus opening more opportunities for business.”
Latvia flag (Bigstock)
Background of liaison program
Earlier this year, Illinois REALTORS® launched the Consulate General Liaison Program, matching REALTORS® with international real estate interests and/or connections to countries represented in the diplomatic community in Illinois.
Originally, Illinois REALTORS® forged ties with eight countries, modeling the program after the NAR Federal Political Coordinator program and the Illinois REALTORS® State Legislative Contact Program. But since May, the size of the program has more than doubled.
More REALTORS® are welcome to apply so the program can continue to grow. See the list of current liaisons here.
Previous stories about the Consulate General Liaison Program include: