In a previous post, “Hire for Fit, Invest in Growth”, I described the ingenious methods used by two Africa CEOs to fill their talent pipelines. This time I would like to explore a different approach; namely, hiring members of the Diaspora. As the story of Africa’s ascendance continues to unfold, the number of Africans returning “home” to build and create is likely to increase. If you’re in the market for talent, you may be wondering how to tap this resource, or whether you should do so at all. If that’s the case, please read on.
Why the Diaspora?
In my view, there are at least four benefits to hiring from the Diaspora: educational background, work experience, networks and motivation. Let’s take these one by one.
The first is a bit of a no-brainer, no pun intended. It’s no mystery that Africans who travel outside their countries of origin often gain access to diverse, robust educational opportunities that may be harder to acquire at home. Not surprisingly, a high-caliber education can be the gateway to choice jobs that offer training, mentorship, breadth as well as depth of experience, and international exposure. And what emerges from exclusive opportunities like these? Powerful networks do, of course. These connections matter because it is far easier to court an international client, close a funding round with an American VC, or learn how to incorporate in the British Virgin Islands when you have the expertise of former classmates and colleagues to tap. Not surprisingly, this combination of quality education, a robust professional background, and strong networks makes for an attractive package to an entrepreneur eager to build his management team.
However, an equally important variable in this equation is motivation, or the reason why a member of the Diaspora returns to Africa. Although the “coming home” stories are diverse, I’d wager that many are driven by the tantalizing scent of opportunity—the chance to build something from the ground up.
A reverse emigrant who has benefitted from an excellent education and abundant career success may find herself at a crossroads. She can continue to enjoy the rewards of her current path or carve a new one that is riskier, but potentially equally rewarding. Stumbling upon someone who is willing to make the leap and searching for an opportunity to do so may be a rare find for the startup founder. And perhaps it is. But there are a few things to keep in mind before inviting a member of the Diaspora to join your team.
All That Glitters Isn’t Gold: Expectations and Communication
For an entrepreneur with a leadership gap to fill, or a “Diasporan” searching for a compelling opportunity in Africa, it may be difficult to anticipate the difficulties that could arise from joining forces. After all, each fulfills a deep need within the other. However, as with any new partnership, it is absolutely critical for each party to understand the context, motivation, requirements, constraints, strengths and weaknesses of the other. In other words, expectations must be clearly stated and actively managed. For example, an entrepreneur hiring from abroad should be acutely aware of the re-entry challenges faced by her new recruit. This includes coordinating relocation logistics (i.e. work permits, relocation services, house hunt, etc.), re-adjusting to cultural and work norms, and re-building a life in what may have become an unfamiliar setting. She should also be brutally honest with herself (and any potential hire) about the level of orientation support, financial or otherwise, she is willing to offer.
Not only is it important to be clear on the terms of any employment contract or compensation and benefits package, but it is equally critical to assess the candidate’s fit to the organization’s culture as well as the company’s willingness to adjust to a new type of employee. For example, tension can build between “local” employees and their expatriate peers due to questionable assumptions made on both sides. A savvy entrepreneur will evaluate the “adaptation factor” of all parties concerned—current employees, the management team, and the new recruit, and put a plan in place to manage any challenges that arise.
Finally, fostering trust, particularly in the early stages of relationship-building, is important given the risk assumed by everyone involved. As such, the entrepreneur should resolve to communicate as openly, honestly, and regularly as possible in all matters concerning the recruit. If you’re not sure you can afford to subsidize a new flat, ensure a rapid ascent from Senior Manager to Managing Director or hedge currency risk in a compensation package, say so. You’re better off losing a candidate whose priorities don’t align with yours than hiring someone one who is a poor fit for your organization. But do set a reasonable timeline to confirm details that are critical to the success and well-being of your new employee; questions about housing, basic compensation, and role definition should be answered promptly and comprehensively whenever possible.
Connecting with the Diaspora
Assuming you’d like to hire a member of the Diaspora, where do you go to find great candidates?
That, unfortunately, is the difficult part. The best hires are often made by tapping one’s networks, but what you need might be beyond your reach. Of course, nothing beats an on-the-ground search, but it may not be feasible to launch a recruiting trip to the US, the UK, Europe or your neighboring African country. In the best case scenario, serious candidates will be in-country searching high and low for quality opportunities. However, if you’re not lucky enough to run into one of them, you might try taking your search online. For example, networks like LinkedIn have countless affinity groups for folks trying to do business in Africa. VC4Africa, Silk Investing, and Invest in Africa are just a few. These groups often have geography-specific meet-ups that will help you connect with like-minded people, one of whom might be your next hire!
Another resource to consider if you’re planning ahead (and would like to see talent in action before hiring), is enlisting the consulting services of MBA students. Many top-ranked programs require students to complete practicum projects (and many student clubs, African Business Clubs for example, provide consulting services independently). Additionally, new programs such as the Tony Elumelu Foundation’s African Markets Program (AMIP) are providing opportunities to connect talented professionals with job opportunities in Africa. AMIP in particular places MBAs from Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, South Arica, and the US in internships with African companies.
Finally, you can reach out to Diaspora-focused associations such as Project Diaspora, Africa Gathering , the Young Africa Professionals Network or the African Diaspora for Change to expand your network and build relationships.
Well, that’s it from me. Come back next week for my thoughts on how intrepid members of the Diaspora can assess startup opportunities in Africa.