OPEN FOR BUSINESS: Attendees at the Speed Meet Africa event discuss new opportunities
WHEN ERNESTINA Ellen Boadi resigned from her job as an Events Management Executive in London, it wasn’t because she planned to switch to a better job in the city.
Instead, the 30 year-old Marketing graduate bought a ticket and flew to Accra, Ghana in search of her next career opportunity.
In doing so, Boadi joined a growing number of African professionals educated abroad in cities like London, New York, Paris and Lisbon who now see their countries of origin as the launchpad for successful careers rather than the Western countries they have made their home.
Boadi is part of a wave of people who have been dubbed ‘Afropolitans’ – a term used to describe urban, culturally agile, multilingual professionals of African heritage living around the globe – who have been emerging over the past decade, mirroring the shift from the usual narrative of Africa as the ultimate hopeless continent to one of a region with rising fortunes.
These global professionals, equally comfortable functioning in Africa and in the West, earn their living in London, New York, Paris and the like, but continue to have a strong interest in and a desire to contribute to Africa’s development.
In a survey by the online careers and business publication ReConnect Africa, 98 per cent of respondents from its subscriber base, made up predominantly of African professionals in the diaspora, admitted actively planning to work in Africa.
When private equity firm Jacana recently surveyed ten US and European business schools, 75 per cent of African students revealed their hopes of working in Africa after graduating.
One might wonder why African professionals, who have invested thousands of hard-earned pounds and dollars into their education - often acquiring citizenship in some of the world’s most advanced countries along the way - would be attracted to the challenges of working in Africa.
For Boadi, born in Nigeria to Ghanaian parents and educated in Botswana and the UK, the decision to leave Britain to find a job in Ghana was a logical move in her career development.
“Having foreign experience often puts you a cut above the rest,” she says. “Employers in Africa appreciate your international experience and see your different mindset as an advantage for their business and one which could elevate them above their competitors.”
Other motives drawing people like her homewards include slow job markets and hiring freezes in the West leaving fewer openings for recent graduates and mid-level professionals. The financial services sector alone saw almost 100,000 job cuts announced in 2015, and banks such as Barclays, HSBC and Morgan Stanley are predicted to continue their spate of widespread headcount reductions across Europe and the US in 2016.
There’s also the fact that there is a sizeable number of African professionals who strongly believe they have hit a glass ceiling in their careers and see no immediate prospect of progression.
AMBITION: Marketing professional Ernestina Ellen Boadi is one of thousands who are eyeing successful careers on the continent
Others, despite having studied at some of the West’s leading higher education institutions, often to post-graduate levels, are prevented from developing their careers by increasingly draconian immigration rules which prevent them finding the work they are qualified for.
But while the reasons for returning to Africa can be varied it is clear that what the first and second-generation expatriates identified by the Jacana survey have in common is a strong desire to reconnect with their home continent.
Afropolitans moving to Africa are not always driven by negative or ‘push’ factors. In the past, where choosing to work in Africa would have been seen as a regressive step, rapid advances in technology and innovation are creating exciting corporate and entrepreneurial challenges.
Nigerian IT professional Bernie Akporiaye, who returned to Africa after 15 years in London and now runs a software consultancy in Dakar, Senegal, acknowledges that misconceptions about opportunities in Africa still persist. “People often assume that there is an uneducated, unsophisticated market here, or that everyone is poor, corrupt or starving. That is just not true.”
Even second-generation African professionals, born in the UK, who have fewer immediate ties to the continent and have seemingly every opportunity to progress in the West are joining the movement to work in Africa, embracing the continent as the destination where they can experience significant career advancement, and far sooner than in Europe or the USA.
James Nartey, an experienced banking professional born and raised in London and of Ghanaian parentage, is intent on securing his next job opportunity in Nigeria. For Nartey, moving to Africa is not a matter of sentiment, but the chance to acquire the kind of experience only available within its developing ‘frontier’ economies, also allowing him to leapfrog the traditional investment banking hierarchy of the City.
“If you compare the maturity of banking in West Africa to that of the leading institutions globally, there’s a gap to be closed in terms of the capabilities on the ground. This offers a unique opportunity for people like me to be more hands-on, helping to steer the ship,” he says. “Working in Africa is almost like putting your fingerprint on the future of banking.
It’s like being given the ultimate test, and where you have to engage every faculty to overcome the dynamic challenges you face in building a business. In the West, where the infrastructure is already in place, you don’t have to think laterally; whereas here, you need to be a jack of all trades, highly resourceful, and have a toolkit of skills. I relish that challenge.”
HUNGER FOR SUCCESS: Angel Jones whose company was behind the recent Speed Meet Africa event says cities like New York and London are no longer exclusively seen by Africans as the best places to make their mark
Angel Jones, CEO of executive recruitment firm Homecoming Revolution, which recently held a careers event in New York called Speed Meet Africa welcomes the emerging trend of African professionals returning home to work on the continent.
Referring to the recent event she says: “It was encouraging to see how hungry candidates were to make a name for themselves back on the continent.
“No longer is New York seen by Africans as a place to make their mark; instead, the likes of Johannesburg, Nairobi and Lagos are now regarded as the key cities to drive your career. People are no longer pulled home just by family and emotional ties. Ambition and drive are key factors that are drawing Africans home.”
Faye Condy, Director of Homecoming Revolution agrees.
“We have noticed a substantial shift in people wanting to do transactions and deals that contribute tangibly to their home countries, as opposed to working on deals in first world countries,” she says.
For Sneha Shah, Managing Director of Thomson Reuters Africa, now is the time for Africans to come home. “You are meeting people with ideas and solutions in Africa all the time. There’s a sense of purpose and belonging; it’s a fantastic adventure.”
Frances Mensah Williams is Managing Editor of ReConnect Africa.com. She is the author of the careers guide ‘I Want to Work in… Africa: How to Move Your Career to the World’s Most Exciting Continent’ (www.IWanttoWorkinAfrica.com) and the novel From Pasta to Pigfoot