Africa’s strong economic growth outlook and new business opportunities have attracted not only the attention of multinational companies and investors to the continent, but they have also enticed the African diaspora. Commonly referred to as “returnees,” skilled professionals recognizing the tremendous opportunities existing in the continent are repatriating home in greater numbers to fill top positions at home-grown organizations and multinationals operating on the continent. They are also investing in emerging markets across Africa and launching African-led businesses to create jobs and drive the continent’s growth story.
While the repatriating African Diaspora can and are bolstering Africa’s workforce development, launching or transitioning into a career in Africa comes with its own set of challenges. A smooth transition to one’s home country or to another country in Africa requires advanced planning.
Some of the key things to consider before taking the leap include:
- Evaluating the job: For professionals repatriating for a specific job opportunity, it is essential to weigh the pros and cons of the new position. Is it a position that will allow you to leverage the skills and experiences you have already developed? Will it provide meaningful learning and growth opportunities? If you have a clear long-term aspiration, how well will the role position you to pursue your ultimate career goal? It is also helpful to have a sense of the future of the company within its sector and the strategic importance of the position you will be assuming. How does your group or function contribute to the company? How will performance be measured and how will you personally be expected to add value?
- Evaluating your move: Outside of a specific role, it’s important to consider if the timing is right to move and if the environment is right for you. Speaking to professionals or contacts who’ve repatriated to the market you are considering can help you set realistic expectations for yourself prior to relocating. Gathering these insights can also help you assess the potential benefits of repatriating to see if they outweigh the likely obstacles and challenges. Keep in mind, however, that your personal situation might be markedly different from other people who have made a similar transition. Your financial circumstances, relationship status, level of work experience, and motivation for making the move will all factor into your expectations and your ultimate decision.
- Understanding the market: While there is no “typical” work environment in Africa, there are a number of qualities that are likely to be significantly different from your experiences outside the continent. The flip side to the exciting job or market opportunity one takes up may include a lack of structure within the frameworks of your field. The opportunity may very well exist because of the lack of these structures in which case you can help shape them. At the same time, expecting things to work perfectly or expecting to encounter the same challenges you previously faced in your sector when working elsewhere is not realistic. African markets are growing and changing very fast and one needs to have an understanding of the dynamics that shape these changes. Prior research will help you decide if the trade-offs presented by the opportunity are right for you.
- Networking: You’re only as strong as your networks. Establishing and nurturing these networks prior to your move will help you navigate some of the bureaucracy and opacity inherent in new markets. For senior executives taking up leadership positions in multinational corporations, it is important to build the right relationships both within the team in Africa and with your future counterparts in other relevant markets and functions. Knowing the company culture beforehand can determine if the organization will be a good fit. Outside of your new organization, it will be critical to establish relationships with individuals who can serve as professional mentors, business partners, and a social support system. Many major cities have vibrant communities of returnees who provide a familiar reminder of the experience of living abroad. For individuals repatriating to countries where they have family ties or prior experience, reconnecting with past contacts can often provide nuanced insights into the local context and curtail the process of acting and thinking like a foreigner.
- Will I love my new job? Is the job one in which I can definitely envision myself learning and advancing my career?
- What does the future of this company or position look like?
- Is the culture of the new company and new country a good match for me?
- Will living and working in the new country provide me with better opportunities than my current situation?
- What are the benefits of repatriation? Do they outweigh the obstacles?
- School for kids? Family implications?
- Dealing with change from simple things like weather to re-learning a new or changed culture?
- What’s my backup plan if things don’t work out?