Candidates have to be passionate
Beate Hunzinger, Head of HR, and Dr Michael Rabbow, from the Communications department at the pharmaceuticals company Boehringer Ingelheim, have been involved in the Afrika kommt! programme for over two years now.
This year the company has once again decided to offer a place to a trainee from Africa. Both Hunzinger and Rabbow are convinced that the programme has had a considerable positive impact on German-African relations within the organisation.
Rzepka: In your opinion, Ms Hunzinger, what are the most important criteria an applicant for the Afrika kommt! programme should meet?
Hunzinger: They need to be tolerant, communicative, interested, curious about the world and eager to learn. To me, those are the most important characteristics a candidate should have. They have to be passionate about getting to know a new company and a completely new culture. When I say that, I think I’m speaking for all of the companies involved in Afrika kommt! as we’re all more or less on the same page.
So far the first two participants have completed the programme. Do you know whether their stay here in Germany has benefited them professionally?
Rabbow: Upon returning to Botswana, Ms Bolen was offered an excellent position with a PR agency. She had worked with us in Product Communications so she’s now able to make good use of that experience in her new job. Mr Kanamugire, a Rwandan national, is currently working for an IT firm in London and plans to return to Rwanda in two years’ time. He was offered the London job mostly on the strength of the experience he gathered here in Germany.
While they were in Germany, did Ms Bolen and Mr Kanamugire take the opportunity to introduce their coworkers to their culture?
Hunzinger: Definitely! Both of them organised an African evening and cooked for their respective colleagues. They also told their German fellow trainees about their home countries and what it’s like to live there, which has helped those young people understand what difficulties people face in Botswana and Rwanda.
And, the two participants who have already been through the programme, did they meet your expectations?
Rabbow: Absolutely, no doubt about it. Various company divisions, myself included, are still in touch with both of them because they were able to fully open up to Germany and their German colleagues. Not only did they work together with us, they also became good friends with some of us. These friendships will last beyond their stay here.
What other qualities do you look for in a candidate besides their personality?
Hunzinger: Of course their personal profile has to match the specific trainee places that the participating companies offer, so work experience and technical knowledge are important. Their profiles don’t always fully correspond to the jobs in question. That said, if we interview such an applicant in Nairobi and feel that their character is very well suited to the programme, we then talk to the management and try to reach a compromise. Usually, our suggestions are accepted.
How does Boehringer Ingelheim benefit from its involvement in the programme?
Rabbow: We have strong business contacts in Africa and know the key players for our business in some of these countries. For the third round of the programme we’re looking for a candidate who will work in our growth markets division, which deals with developing and emerging countries. We hope that our third participant will be able to support us in opening up these markets as soon as they join us.
Gabriele Rzepka conducted the interview. She is s a freelance journalist, specialising in development policy and technology.