The head of a high-profile organization working to lure Africans home says the time is right for governments and business to work together to encourage more skilled African workers abroad to come back to the continent.
Angel Jones, CEO of Homecoming Revolution, said African economies should be making it as easy as possible for expatriates to make the decision to return.
“Governments can provide fast-tracking policies and incentives for returnees to start a business, plus provide foreign spouses with working permits,” Jones said.
“In South Africa alone there are half a million vacancies for scarce skills, and we know that for every one skilled worker who returns home, five new jobs are created in the formal and informal sectors.”
Homecoming Revolution, which showcases career, property, investment and entrepreneurial opportunities for expatriates in sub-Saharan Africa, has helped almost 360,000 South Africans to return home in the past five years. It has an active database of another 34,000 professionals who are considering moving back.
The organization, which started as an aid agency in 2003 but has since commercialized its operations, has business networks throughout South Africa, Nigeria, Ghana, Uganda and Kenya, and will continue its expansion into other sub-Saharan countries this year.
Jones, a guest speaker at the recent Oxford Africa Conference in the UK, said her team actively targeted professional African expatriates who had at least 3-5 years’ work experience abroad.
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“Skilled diaspora are vital for Africa’s prosperity because they return home with global expertise and relationships, real tenacity and a burning passion to make a difference,” she said. “They also have an understanding of the cultural nuances of doing business in their home community – it’s a really powerful combination.”
She said it was important to provide young, skilled Africans with the support and opportunities they needed to help them succeed at home.
“The two factors which are vital for Africa’s success are great leadership and youth development,’ she said.
“While the bulk of our work is focused on physical repatriation, we are also developing programs for the temporary repatriation of skills, such as working holidays, plus virtual repatriation by way of digital mentoring.”
Jones said businesses needed to understand how to maximize their chances of luring first-rate employees from the Diaspora.
“The reasons people return home are family and friends, a sense of purpose and belonging, and lifestyle and career,” she said.
“The trigger points are marriage, and having a first or second child, although we are now also seeing more young graduates return home to a place where they can live a life of success and significance.”
Leading Kenyan investment banker and Rich Management Ltd CEO Aly-Khan Satchu is a case in point.
Born in Mombasa, he studied Law at the University of Durham before spending more than 15 years climbing the investment banking ladder in London.
He went on to run global trading desks for Credit Suisse First Boston, and work in the emerging Latin American markets before joining Sumitomo Bank as an MD in 1995, reporting directly to the Chairman Konishi San, and controlling a balance sheet of more than $17 billion.
He later moved to ANZ Investment Bank and then to Dresdner Kleinwort Wasserstein, where he oversaw emerging market financing and short-term interest rates.
In 2006, aged 40, he quit his high-flying international career to return home to Kenya, where he has furthered his wealth investing in local markets.
He says the desire to be part of something and to contribute to the growth and development of the continent proved overwhelming.
“This is a 10-year space – things are absolutely lifting off and one of the things I thought to myself is that the last thing I want is my children to say to me is, ‘Dad, where were you when all this was happening? Why were you sitting in London when it was just lifting off in Africa?'”
“That’s the question that I was scared my kids would ask me and I think, and I’m not wrong, [that] this is the time to be here, this is Africa’s moment in a way which is really exciting.”
He packed his bags and headed home, where he now spearheads Rich Management Ltd.
Angel Jones says Aly-Khan Satchu’s story – and dozens of others like it – can help encourage a new generation of talented, well-trained people to return home.
“Africans need to realize that there will never be a perfect time to come home – we need to keep sharing the stories of those who’ve returned to help inspire others to come,” she says.