'Afrika kommt!'

Africa’s coming! to Germany

Under the ‘Afrika kommt!’ (Africa’s coming!) training initiative, 17 young executives from sub-Saharan Africa are spending a year honing their professional skills with some of Germany’s blue-chip companies.

The application phase lasted more than a year and the successful candidates had to prove themselves in a field of around 1,600 applicants. Then in mid-2011, the hopes of 17 of these young executives were fulfilled at last and their journey to Germany began. The eight women and nine men come from various sub-Saharan African countries, from Côte d'Ivoire to Zimbabwe. They are all participants in ‘Afrika kommt!’, a joint initiative which currently involves 17 of Germany’s leading companies, including Daimler, SAP and Siemens.

The scholarship holders spend a year with the companies, gaining practical experience, honing their skills, networking with other professionals, and learning about the German working world. As part of the programme, they take leadership and management training courses, attend language classes, and learn about German culture. All the costs of the programme are met by the corporate sponsors. The participants receive an allowance for the duration of their stay in Germany, which covers their living costs.

Industry promotes development

‘The programme is surely a right step in the direction of my career objective and vision of becoming a professional who is able to contribute to solutions to the multi-layered problems in Africa,’ says Opeyemi Anthony Amusan, who is currently on placement with Bosch. ‘The programme will inculcate in me skills to foster further cooperation between my home country and Germany,’ says Lillian Kegera Mong’osi, an intern with Deutsche Bahn during the 2011/2012 programme cycle. And Orezi Ajopaoghene Emeotu, currently on placement with Ruhrgas, says: ‘For us [Africans], there is no end to building capacity for innovation; for me, ‘Afrika kommt!’ is another opportunity for that.’

The ‘Afrika kommt!’ concept was initiated during a meeting between former German Federal President Horst Köhler and Tilman Todenhöfer, managing partner of Robert Bosch Industrietreuhand KG. Their conviction that German industry should be reaching out to Africa met with a positive response from a number of German companies, which joined forces and set up the capacity building initiative, targeted specifically at young professionals and junior executives.

‘It’s a win-win situation for both sides: the participants benefit from the employers’ knowledge and experience, and industry benefits from the contacts with Africa,’ says Heiner Boeker, Human Resources Manager at Bosch and the company’s main point of contact for ‘Afrika kommt!’. In his view, the programme lays the foundation stone for sustainable economic cooperation between African future leaders and German industry. ‘German-African dialogue is important, also in a business context, if we are to learn from each other and develop and implement new market-based activities.’

Back to Africa

The first cycle of ‘Afrika kommt!’ in 2008 brought 20 young African executives to Germany. ‘The experience with the participants during the first programme cycle was positive in every respect,’ says Heiner Boeker. After the programme ended, 11 of the participants returned to their previous employers and in some cases took on positions with more responsibility. Nine participants switched to a different career path. ‘We are still in contact with the Kenyan participant who was placed with us,’ Heiner Boeker continues. She is now working for the UN in Haiti.

‘Without question, my stay in Germany changed my life in countless ways,’ Lucy Wanjiku Mutinda writes in an alumni newsletter. She was placed with Continental; professionally, she says, the experience gained in Germany has offered her endless benefits, as she easily found a new job upon returning home.

In Germany, too, there was general satisfaction with the outcomes. ‘Because our experience was so positive, Bosch and the other companies decided to take the programme forward into a second year,’ says Heiner Boeker. The second cycle began in mid-2011 and involves 17 companies. This time, it seems that some of the African participants may have a future with the German corporate sponsors. ‘In the current cycle, one of the participants was hired by the German sponsor, even before the end of the programme,’ says Lydia Jebauer-Nirschl of the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH, which is responsible for the organisational aspects of the programme. And two other companies are apparently considering employing their current interns on a more permanent basis as well.

The alumni network

Whether they appoint their interns or not, the corporate sponsors are keen to maintain their contacts with the alumni. As part of this process, the young Africans are invited back for a follow-up session in Germany around six months after the programme ends. ‘We also arrange a monthly chat and involve former participants in the process to select the new scholarship holders,’ Lydia Jebauer-Nirschl explains. For example, the alumni report on their experience in Germany during the assessments.

As the current scholarship holders return to Africa, Tillmann Todenhöfer is again approaching German companies and encouraging them to host the next round of young African executives. ‘As sponsors, we believe in positive change in Africa. We believe in the continent’s future and its great potential,’ says Heiner Boeker. Contacts within Europe and with America, Asia and Australia are already well-established. ‘We can see that there is an urgent need for support and close cooperation with sub-Saharan Africa in particular. At the same time, there are more prospects for its positive development today than in the past.’


Author: Insa Wrede.
The article was first published in the Deutsche Welle on 23rd October 2012.