I recently read a 2023 report headline that stated that “Nigeria, Cameroon and Zimbabwe lead the pack of African students studying overseas”.
It said that Europe has claimed the largest share (27%) of African students studying overseas, with students from Cameroon targeting France and Germany. This “new report” also noted that the US, UK, and Canada are the most popular destinations for Nigerians whilst Zimbabweans head for neighbouring South Africa. The only problem here is that this is in fact not a new trend.
Africans have been emigrating from their home countries to seek education abroad for decades! Both my parents left Zimbabwe on scholarships to the UK in the mid-70s and this was a common trend amongst their peers. In most cases, they were the first in their families to do so. They left Africa for better training and work opportunities, but nowadays many Africans who found those opportunities abroad think of a return to the continent.
The global north is a part of the world that monopolises the idea that this part of the world is where opportunity lies, more than anywhere else. The time spent on training in western universities followed by work experience can quickly disconnect the diaspora population from the African reality, both economically and socially.
That is where these recurring questions trouble the minds of those best placed to contribute to the continent of Africa. Questions such as:
Will I (re)adapt to a different environment?
Will I be able to adjust to not having the comforts and safety that I have become accustomed to in the west?
Is it this the right choice?
Perhaps I should stay a couple more years? Or…
Why should I go back?
Despite favourable environments for successful professional and social transition into Africa, uncertainties persist. This is mostly due to the lack of visibility of the abundant opportunities across Africa. Perhaps individual countries do not effectively communicate the development progress that is underway and their success stories.
At Gen A Consultancy, we are acutely aware of these opportunities because our clients operate in the Healthcare, Logistics, Infrastructure development, Education, NGO and Organic Oils sectors. In fact, we believe that Africa is the land of opportunity, both from the perspective of Entrepreneurship as well as with regards to the workforce of the future. With the global skills shortage, there is a critical need for recruiting qualified individuals across a plethora of sectors while approximately 10 - 12 million young Africans enter the labour market annually
Naturally, the professional diaspora population is a major asset to western businesses, but how can we strike a balance such that the diaspora population can be better oriented towards personal and professional projects in Africa? In other words, how can the diaspora population participate in Africa’s growth?
Firstly, you do not have to move to Africa to start working with the continent, just like people no longer need to leave the continent to access global education and work opportunities. You can contribute plenty from exactly where you are and who knows? For those living outside of the continent, you may surprise yourself a few years down the line and find that through incremental exposure, Africa is exactly where you want to be!
I recently met with the Senior Business Development Manager of the #Greenskills for Jobs and Entrepreneurship programme led by the University of the West of England (UWE), Bristol. This is a first of its kind 8-week programme open to minority ethnic groups and run in collaboration with #Natwest and the Black South West Network (#BSWN).
The programme aims to provide entry into green jobs, training and business opportunities to Black, Asian and minoritised young people between the ages of 18 and 28 and recent graduates based in the Southwest of England – the diaspora population. I have already attended the graduation ceremonies of their first two cohorts from 2022, during which time I had the chance to network with some of their participants. A common theme amongst these dynamic and impressive young people, many of whom are from Africa, is the strong desire to give back. They are determined to bridge the gaps between business and society by becoming the metaphorical bridge between their western education and experiences and their African communities.
As a metaphor, a bridge between people enables the passage of ideas; it connects people who are in different places, it opens up the opportunity for people to be supported, it reduces isolation, it is a more efficient way of getting to another point, it increases the range of options available and so on. Bridges are critical in the quest to eradicate extreme poverty, to address the global climate crisis, to afford every person, regardless of their background, access to education and skills that will enable personal agency, and for so many other reasons!
We all have something to contribute to our society and for many, that society extends beyond the physical boundaries of the place we live and into places such as Africa where we come from. So, let’s build bridges with purpose. And where possible, let’s direct our efforts into strengthening and even crossing the bridges established by others in order to make our interests and efforts all the more productive. So what kind of bridge are you?
We look forward to reading your comments on this week’s thought piece and remember, if you would like help and support in clarifying your business direction in Africa we would love to hear from you!
To your success!