Emigration from Africa in the ’80s and ’90s meant a depletion of interest in and the exodus of viable talent from the continent. That translated to nonexistent economic growth. Today, the tradition of Africans leaving to obtain MBAs and never returning is changing. Expatriate entrepreneurs are flocking back to Africa because of what they can offer the region—and what the region can offer them.
“Post MBA Careers in Africa: Brain Drain Reversal Or Enduring Exile” was one panel at November’s Wharton Africa Business Forum featuring African business professionals in consulting and investment banking who encouraged Wharton students and entrepreneurs to return to the huge continent.
Sandra Idehen, consultant with the Boston Consulting Group, explained that she left South Africa “at a time when no one had any intentions of returning.” Now, innovations in travel and technology have facilitated easier access to Africa, making residency and management more flexible. In the past, African students in the United States grew accustomed to a lifestyle that Africa could not offer. But now, says South African resident Idehen, that is changing too.
“We think Africa is at a 10-year gap right now [economically],” said Angel Jones, founder and CEO of Homecoming Revolution, in discussing how Africa is gearing up for a large-scale economic boom.
Investment banks and consulting groups are offering potential employees desirable packages to lure them back to the Nigeria, South Africa, Uganda and other countries in the region. There is an incredible opening—allowing individuals with advanced business education to go further, build higher and move faster than is possible in the U.S.
One of the benefits of a career track in Africa for a young professional is direct access to presidents, CEOs and top-level professionals. The lack of labor infrastructure works to the advantage of new career seekers because networks are open and more accessible. Mentorship and advisement is commonplace, as business connections are essential in Africa, Idehen emphasized
“The median age [of our associates] is 27. That’s the group taking us to Mozambique. Those will be the presidents [of the company] later on,” said Ebenezer Essoka, CEO of the South Africa subsidiary of Standard Chartered Bank.
African opportunities present unique challenges as well.
“The hardships in Africa are why we need passion,” Idehen explained. Governmental instability, corruption and lack of a firm economic foundation can all be stumbling blocks in setting up businesses and pursuing new endeavors. To succeed there, business leaders need strong, invested ties to African growth. Otherwise, Idehen emphasized, entrepreneurs will not have the tenacity and desire to weather the hardships.
Despite these challenges, all of the panelists emphasized this: Once MBAs have invested in the continent, they can expect to see high returns monetarily, experientially, and in the everyday lives of millions of people.
“Here [in the U.S.] you read about it. There, you do it,” Essoka said.