From a scholarship holder to an employee: Steve Ngatia Maina from Kenya spent nine months at Merck in Darmstadt thanks to the ‘Afrika kommt!’ (Africa is coming!) programme, before subsequently being taken on as an employee. As part of the ‘Afrika kommt!’ initiative, 19 of Germany’s leading companies are offering African managers the chance to gain an insight into their operations and management methods. GIZ plans, organises and evaluates the programme on the businesses’ behalf.
This one-year programme has changed my life. I’d never been to a foreign country before. I did attend a three-month language course before leaving home though, so I was able to get by when I arrived in Germany. I then spent nine months at Merck and I’ve learned a great deal about German culture and the way things are done here.
Here when someone says ‘no’ they really mean it. In Kenya a ‘no’ can turn into a ‘yes’ by the next morning. The supermarket was something of a small-scale culture shock, too. In Nairobi we have someone at the checkout to put your groceries into a bag for you. It’s standard practice. But in Germany a lot of processes have been optimised, so you don’t find so many people working on one and the same thing.
At Merck I’m currently developing business strategies for markets in the Middle East, the Gulf Region and in North-West Africa. It goes without saying that these experiences will serve me well back in Kenya. I want to put the knowledge I acquire here to further use. My contract ends in a year’s time and I’d like to go back to Nairobi – or somewhere else in the world. I like to keep my options open.
In addition to learning about operations at Merck, I have been on several courses to upgrade my management skills. That’s all part of the programme. I often go to Bonn to meet up with fellow alumni and scholarship holders from the ‘Afrika kommt!’ network. I frequently take part in these meetings in Kenya, too.
You have to embrace change and understand that nothing ever stays the same. Young people in Africa have a lot of opportunities to shape the process of change. In Africa today it’s really important to look to the future and not to get too tied up with the past.