Future of Work in 21st Century Africa: Changing Trends in Talent
In March, the Legatum Center for Development and Entrepreneurship teamed up with the Lauder Institute at The Wharton School to host the 2021 Lauder Africa Symposium. The Symposium focused on understanding the world of work in a rapidly changing Africa. Over the next few weeks, we will publish reflections and insights from the conversations held during the event.
The Legatum Center hosted a panel discussion on the “Changing Trends in Talent in Africa.” Geetha Tharmaratnam, CEO and founding partner of Aequalitas Capital Partners, led entrepreneurs Kenfield Griffith, Ndidi Nwuneli, Quadri Oguntade, and Meghan McCormick through a reflection of their experiences sourcing talent and scaling ventures on the continent. The panelists discussed the challenges in attracting and retaining the right talent for a business and how opportunities often overlook the potential of youth and women. Though the issues the panelists tackled are complex, they were overall hopeful for the future of work in Africa even in light of COVID-19. Below are a few highlights from the discussion:
The Power of Local Recruitment in a Digitized Market
Companies are facing a new challenge brought by the accelerated digitization of working life made normal by the pandemic. For tech companies in particular, local developers who previously had access to mostly local work are now being more aggressively recruited by firms abroad. As COVID-19 has normalized remote work, remote recruitment has become more common.
As talent acquisition trends shift, Kenfield Griffith – founder of Ajua, a customer experience technology platform based in Kenya – emphasized the power of working with locally embedded talent who understand and are invested in the problem that an enterprise is working to solve. Complementing a more digitized approach with a human touch is still important to making sure that companies are choosing the right people who fit their company culture. Griffith discussed the power of using local networks and person-to-person connection:
“Very early on we made sure we were building a tech company within Africa. Meaning that we have support infrastructure from advisors and investors from Africa. Something we did early on, was to have investors and advisors in Nigeria, who could guide us on making sure that we were getting the right talent to help us grow.”
Entrepreneurship and Shifting the Narrative of Youth Unemployment
Youth represent 60% of unemployed people in Africa. This is stretching family resources thin, incentivizing hardship economic activities, and affecting the sense of self-worth for generations of young people.
Meghan McCormick, founder of OZE a mobile and software company based in Ghana that builds products for SME management and growth, noted how most youth On the continent become entrepreneurs not by choice but by necessity. Young entrepreneurs, in particular, are quick to adopt tech and access digital marketplaces to scale their businesses. The MSMEs form the backbone of economies across Africa and are the largest contributor to GDP. However, despite their economic power, youth do not have a seat at the table in decision-making positions. On the panel, Megan discussed the potential for youth entrepreneurs to transform economies in Africa:
“I would say both the work that we’re doing at Dare to Innovate and at OZE are focused on youth development, because the reality is, there are entrepreneurs like those of us on this panel who are highly privileged to choose this work because we feel passionate about solving a problem. But most entrepreneurs on this continent are entrepreneurs because they have no other choice. They are entrepreneurs because while unemployment rates are terrible, youth unemployment rates are catastrophic. And so the more we get small business owners to thrive, especially digitally-enabled ones, the more we’re having young people employ other young people.”
A Call for Gender Equity in Investment
Women entrepreneurs have been under-compensated in Africa and across the world. Female-led enterprises are systematically overlooked by investment firms despite data that shows that.
Ndidi Nwuneli, managing partner at Sahel Consulting and founder of LEAP Africa, a mission-driven youth leadership organization, challenged the finance community to take bold steps in addressing the gender gap. On the panel, she shared what her company is doing to eliminate inequality:
“A recent World Bank report said that women produce 30% less output than their male counterparts and in production, and women entrepreneurs in Africa makes 60% less profit than their male counterparts. This is unacceptable. McKinsey also said it’s going to take 140 years for Africa to close the gender gap, and I do not want to embrace that reality. I am challenging the finance community, wherever you make an investment, make sure that 50% of the board is made up of women, 50% of the management team is made up of women. By closing that gender gap, we’re going to see increased productivity, profitability, and growth in our country.”
COVID-19 as an Equalizer
Despite the challenges faced on the continent, panelists were hopeful about the future of work in Africa. Quadri Ogutande, CEO and founder of Novustack noted that the pandemic’s pressures have created opportunities to reimagine and rebuild systems for recruiting talent that can be more accessible and equitable:
“I [would] say that COVID has actually been a great equalizer for talent in Africa. I think one thing is that a lot of startups in Africa, even outside of Africa, because of COVID are more open to remote work and decentralized work. COVID has been a really great you know equalizer for us as to talent.”
Looking to the future, talent in Africa faces significant challenges and opportunities. In particular, women and youth across the continent are working to transform economies by turning necessity into innovation. It will take more than their efforts to dismantle the systems of inequality that hinder their potential. However, in the wake of the pandemic, there is hope in the conviction of these entrepreneurs and the future of African talent.
The Lauder Africa Symposium on the Future of Work in 21st Century Africa was held March 19th-20th, 2021 as a new setting for in-depth conversations among a diverse gathering of business leaders, practitioners, policymakers, and academics who are at the forefront of a dynamically changing continent. Watch videos of this conversation and others from the symposium.
This article was written by Regie Mauricio of the Legatum Center for Development & Entrepreneurship at MIT.
Image Credit: Raissa Santos, Studio Alternativi