'Afrika kommt!'

German values and lots of Hausaufgaben

German companies are providing training for talented young Africans – and building bridges to the African continent.

With a combined turnover exceeding the GDP of all of sub-Saharan Africa, their spending on the training programme seems negligible by comparison. At a cost of around 60,000 euros, the corporate sponsors are laying the foundation for a network of German-African business contacts.

Under their training programme, known as ‘Afrika kommt!’ (Africa’s coming!), now in its second cycle, some of the leading DAX companies and major German family businesses are hosting 17 of Africa’s most promising young executives. For the successful candidates – male and female – who are hand-picked by the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH, the year in Germany is a steep learning curve.

Although there’s no guarantee of a job for the programme participants, there are already some notable success stories. Gift Mangozho, a young scholarship holder from Zimbabwe, is a good example. Mangozho, who is currently undertaking advanced professional training with tyre manufacturer Continental, will be going home with a contract of employment in his pocket. ‘I’ve been offered work at Continental’s Port Elizabeth plant in South Africa,’ he explains. The 30-year-old engineer will then be able to swap his dark suit, tie and white shirt for more practical attire. Mangozho was working for a fire protection installation company in South Africa when an old friend from college sent him the programme announcement. After attending German language classes in Kenya and Bonn, he started his on-site training in Continental’s Aachen plant before moving to head office in Hanover.

Gift, as his mentor Gerrit Boye calls him, soon had remarkable achievements to his credit. He developed a system to optimise manufacturing processes, which, in an unprecedented move, is being implemented in three European factories, ‘with the management’s full support’. His protégé has excellent people skills and ‘was the first African to visit our factory in India,’ says his mentor. In South Africa, Mangozho will undergo a six-month induction and then start to optimise processes there as well. This will strengthen his social and emotional commitment to his employer and boost his understanding of Continental’s business interests and its aim of achieving an above-average level of growth in the emerging (BRIC) countries. ‘The programme shows that German companies are certainly interested in the African market,’ says Doye. ‘It’s a win-win situation. Gift can continue to develop his skills and we’re gaining a good junior executive.’ What’s more, the company is gaining experience of working with African colleagues – useful when doing business in Africa. Germany’s culture of debate, transparency and long-term approach to project planning are new experiences for the participants, in turn. In Africa, project planning tends to focus much more on the short term.

The Walldorf-based software company SAP AG is benefiting from the exchange as well. After an internship with SAP’s Sustainability Operations Team, its candidate Sheila Kangberee is returning to her previous employer, Ghana’s Ministry of Trade and Industry in Accra – ‘with a promotion!’ as she’s keen to point out. Her expertise in international standards, particularly ISO 14001 certification, stood her in good stead during a SAP development project to support the marketing of cosmetic products. Sheila Kangberee has positive memories of her time in Germany, which, she recalls with enthusiasm, has involved ‘lots of Hausaufgaben’ (homework).

Sponsors SAP recognised that they needed to draw up a fairly detailed wish list for the ideal candidate for the second cycle of the programme, and Sheila was a perfect match. They are now compiling the new profiles for 2013.

This year, the participants and sponsor company mentors will mark the end of the year’s training with a steam-boat cruise on the River Spree. Last year, the group took a trip on the Rhine. After all, the programme wouldn’t be complete without some pleasant recollections of Germany’s idyllic landscapes for the returnees.

Author: Marina Zapf.
This article was first published in the Financial Times Deutschland on 9 July 2012.