by Jörg Kleis
“So what made you start AfricaWorks?”
It all began in 2013 with JournAfrica!, a communications agency hosting a media platform for afrocentric journalism in Germany founded by Philipp, Tammo and Raoul. Articles from African countries written by local journalists were translated and published in Germany to foster afrocentrism in media coverage and story-telling. JournAfrica! successfully managed to partner up with some of Germany’s largest media institutions to provide the public with a much needed perspective change on Africa. Like the rest of the team, Jörg had been travelling throughout and working on the continent since 2010. He had also written a book about his experiences addressing European misperceptions on Africa.
What followed in 2016 was the exchange of first ideas. They all revolved around entrepreneurship, doing business and jobs. Pooling our expertise and different foci on international relations, politics, law, economic integration, labour markets, development and migration allowed us a 360 degree view on African countries and the diaspora in Europe.
AfricaWorks is a spin-off from the University of Leipzig
We chose an institutional framework to take our ideas to the next level. For a long time the University of Leipzig has had a strong interdisciplinary focus on Africa. The local SEPT institute promotes the development of small enterprises in developing countries. Professors from Leipzig are often advisors to governments and take public stands on political developments in Africa. So we joined them, funded by the German Ministry of Economics under the EXIST program for startups in Germany.
Together we created a network of over 50 educational institutions in Germany, Switzerland and Austria, all with a focus on Africa. Our research was focused on identifying the various programs run by universities, faculties, federal states, foundations, churches and NGOs from business to politics, from engineering to natural sciences. Scholarship programs, exchange programs, you name it. For decades have students from Africa come to Germany. But we are proud to say we were the ones to connect the dots and reach out to them.
Our research was to put the diaspora under the microscope. We took a labour market-oriented perspective and then developed a business model
There are currently up to 30.000 African students enrolled at German-speaking universities The German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) alone has over more than 25.000 alumni in sub-Saharan Africa, and this is only Germany. For all of Europe, especially with France and the UK, we are estimating there must be over 150.000. What a gigantic pool of talented and skilled bridge-builders! More significantly, their mobility rate is twice as high as the global average. Hence, establishing the network is as important as it is to maintain it.
We remember the time reaching out to our target group for the first time to be one of the most insightful phases of our early venture. We met students and alumni at meetups, invited them over for coffee, did phone calls, conducted surveys, sent out questionnaires, gave presentations, did workshops. We heard their stories. Why did they come to Germany? What were their expectations when they left? And what are they doing today? We asked the questions and evaluated the answers. The data we got was intriguing. The most important finding was that a degree does not automatically translate into a job – neither in Europe nor in Africa and there are several reasons for that. (We will cover the reasons in future issues.)
Companies and candidates don’t find each other
Another finding was specifically related to the aspect of doing business by European companies in Africa. The problem as it stands today is that there exists what we call an information asymmetry, a knowledge gap between both the employer and the talent side, which is preventing both business growth and job opportunities.
Cameroon is a good example of this oddity. German companies doing business there have expressed said obstacles while at the same time a high number of African graduates from German universities have traditionally come from – guess what – Cameroon. In layman’s terms it is as if the parties involved were in the same room, but standing back to back instead of facing each other eye to eye. However, this does not only apply to European companies. The same applies to many African national entities, especially SMEs in East Africa we interviewed.
Ready to shape collaboration
Surveys show that half of the African academic diaspora – 3 million of them living in Europe – consider returning to their home countries to be a realistic option if this comes with an adequate job offer. If that is the case, we thought, it is time to reach out to them and ask – no matter if they eventually do return or intend to stay. Our own data shows that this is a bit of a generalization that needs to be put into perspective. Tendentially, the younger graduates are, the more they are willing to return. The older they get, the more likely they wish to remain. Many have found their loved ones in Germany or elsewhere or already moved to another region. In any case, our work disclosed specific evidence on strong links between the diaspora and their home countries. It proves there is a unique system of networks in place we make use of to come together, bring Europe and Africa closer to each other. Today we intend to foster just that – at the workplace, during lunch break, in our communities, our neighborhoods and through doing business. While politicians like to talk about the diaspora, we are actually trying to construct systematic linkages for the better of both our continents.
This is how AfricaWorks became a recruiting company. For us, it was the consequential conclusion from our findings. Sometimes we like calling it “recruiting company with a twist”. Because we are aware of the political context we are operating in. In that context employability and recruiting are part of the same coin, which means that we at AfricaWorks think, plan and implement education and profession, degree and job together. Through workshops, career coachings and trainings we are addressing the key questions of labor market access, skills development and professional perspectives (employability). By means of recruiting we source, evaluate and broker applicants for German, European and African companies. With these two mainstays, employability and recruiting, our team targets the needs of academically trained African students, graduates and alumni in the diaspora and Africa alike, connecting our continents and shaping collaboration.