The Future of Work is Remote
We know that local economies are not going to create enough jobs or income-generating opportunities for such a rapidly growing African population. But at the same time, for countries in the global north whose working-age population is shrinking, where's the labor going to come from?
The solution to both of these problems might be the same: remote work.
In this episode, we're going to explore three buckets of remote work: the sexy, high-skilled remote work for product-led technology companies, the services-based IT work and business process outsourcing, and lastly, the increase of non-technical work that's delivered or fulfilled through digital means.
4:39 - Exploring high-skilled remote work for product-led technology companies, with Andela's Jeremy Johnson.
10:18 - Andela's model, and the type of talent they've worked with, has evolved since its founding in 2014.
12:30 - Product companies are looking for a specific caliber of talent from an experience level. What does this mean for the future of work in Africa if experience level is such an important requirement? This is where Fred Swaniker and the African Leadership Group come in, which is focused on connecting talent to global services companies.
19:28 - Whereas there's an ever-increasing demand for software developers, it takes a long time to train developer talent. So what about roles that aren't technical, but that can still be fulfilled with technology? We discuss with Shortlist's Paul Breloff.
23:11 - The talent networks are going to play an increasingly important role in bridging supply with demand, with a sector-specific focus. Consider the model "Andela for X".
25:03 - One vertical platform creating opportunities for non-technical talent is Caret, the Nigerian-based platform focused on customer success. We speak to its founder, Tolu Agunbiade.
28:22 - A retrospective conversation between The Flip's b-mic Sayo Folawiyo and Justin Norman.
Justin Norman: Since 2000, approximately 9 million jobs have been added to the economy each year in Africa, compared to 20 million-plus people joining the workforce each year. African markets aren't creating enough jobs for such a fast-growing population, so it'll need to turn to the global economy, particularly digital and remote work.
There's an ever-increasing demand for remote work - the opportunity to earn in foreign currency, often for higher-paying employers, and in a global environment where more employers are looking to hire their workforce from abroad, where jobs exist for African talent without the constraints of the domestic markets in question.
And the opportunity is related to this huge macro reality of course, if you've listened to prior episodes of this season, you've heard these statistics - they're certainly worth repeating. Africa's population is 1.4 billion people. It's not only huge, but it's the youngest and fastest-growing continent.Its population will double by 2050. Its urban population will triple. In the next 80 years, the global population will grow by 3 billion people. 2.7 billion, or 87% of the global population growth, will come from sub-Saharan Africa.
Meanwhile, the median age on the continent is 19.7 years old. In the UK it's 40. In the US, it's 38. In Germany, it's 46. In Japan, it's 49. Even in China, it's 38, and in India, it's 28. As a result, African countries will be adding more people to the workforce in the next 10 years than the rest of the world combined.
So through our African-centric lens, we know that the local economy is not going to create enough jobs or income-generating opportunities for such a rapidly growing African population. But at the same time, for countries in the global north whose working-age population is shrinking, where's the labor going to come from? The solution to both of these problems might be the same: remote work.
So in this episode, let's talk to some founders connecting supply and demand across the world.
Justin Norman: Before we start, we'd like to thank MFS Africa for their sponsorship of the entirety of season four of The Flip. In a globalized world, there's an increasing need for global payments across borders. The MFS Africa hub is not only making connections regionally on the continent, but now with their acquisition of GTP, they're connecting Africans to global merchants with prepaid debit cards. So I spoke to GTP’s CEO, Christian Bwakira, about that opportunity.
Christian Bwakira: So GTP is what you would typically call in our industry jargon a third-party processor, specifically focused on prepaid card processing, Visa and MasterCard certified. We've been in operations for about 15 years or so. Interestingly enough, based out of Tulsa, Oklahoma. Nonetheless, 80% of its commercial footprint is actually in Africa and it's been covering about a good 40 countries, interconnecting about 80 financial institutions.
There are strong points of convergence between MFS Africa and GTP. And we've seen tremendous growth. So just to put a little bit of perspective, when you look at the global prepaid market, we are seeing that market based on research move to $6.8 trillion, that is, by 2030. Now, specific to the Middle East and Africa, we are seeing a market that is going to evolve to about a $100 billion by 2026.
So one of the areas that have significantly grown over the past couple of years is strong demand by fintechs of virtual cards. And you're able to do that simply by tokenizing, for example, a card whereby the user a mobile phone subscriber would simply use their mobile wallet to still be able to transact, but now broadening the scope of services that they have access to. You would talk about perhaps Spotify or Netflix who would have to have multiple entry points and integration points with MNOs and others. Whereas by coming to MFS Africa and thereby interconnecting on the GTP platform, it is a single point of entry that gives them access to all of these use cases. So it's really from any to many.
Justin Norman: You're listening to The Flip, the podcast exploring contextually relevant stories from entrepreneurs around Africa.
Welcome back to The Flip. I'm your host, Justin Norman. In today's episode, we're going to explore three buckets of remote work: the sexy, high-skilled remote work for product-led technology companies; the services-based IT work and business process outsourcing; and lastly, the increase of non-technical work that's delivered or fulfilled through digital means.
When we think of the first category, high-skilled remote work for product-led technology companies, the poster child in the African context is Andela. So I sat down with Andela’s Co-founder and CEO, Jeremy Johnson.
Jeremy Johnson: We started in 2014, with the core premise that brilliance is evenly distributed, opportunity isn't. We had this common passion for how do you both connect people through work, but also bring more people into the world of technology and make it easier to build careers, regardless of where someone was from or who their parents were, as well as make it easier for companies thinking about how do you get access to a broader pool of talent to do that without the complexity of international hiring.
Justin Norman: Andela started with a coding bootcamp in Lagos, back in 2014, and ended up with 750 applicants.
Jeremy Johnson: And we looked around and thought like, what on earth is going on here? Why are people applying and in these numbers? So we did it again just to see if it was a fluke. And this time, we got 2,400 applicants. And it turned out that in the aptitude test that we were using at that point, 42 were in the top 2% aptitude and problem-solving of all humans on the planet, and applying for a job to a company that had no website and online presence at all in a relatively low trust society. We realized pretty quickly that there was something really powerful going on here.
Justin Norman: So the supply side was robust. To hire and train tech talent, Andela built physical campuses in cities across the continent, developed its Andela Learning Community, and began to scale its offering to its customers. And in doing so, they became a big employer of junior engineers growing their bench of talent, waiting to be connected to opportunities with global employers. And their pitch to global employers was: there are benefits to hiring more of your workforce overseas.
Jeremy Johnson: The reasons that they do it and the reasons to do it is because you can increase quality by increasing the size of your available talent pool. If you're looking at hiring someone for a specific role and your talent pool is your block, you're highly unlikely to end up with a good result. But if it's your city, it gets a bit better; if it's your country, a bit better still; if it's the world, you have a dramatically higher chance if you have the means to distribute your message and actually figure out how to navigate that pool of talent, your probability of success goes up dramatically that there's someone who is going to be an amazing candidate for you. And so there's always been a mathematical advantage in increasing the size of your talent pool. The question is, what are the costs that come with that?
Justin Norman: And in 2014, when Andela was starting, despite robust BPO industries and despite a general trend towards remote work and workplace flexibility, the costs were always still pretty high. But COVID, of course, then hugely accelerated these trends.
Jeremy Johnson: What's happened over the past couple of years is that the world's gotten really comfortable with remote really quickly. So that shift has realigned people's thinking around what are the actual costs of international and of globalizing their workforce. Because if everyone's working remotely already, which was the biggest impediment, the single biggest before, all of a sudden the downside becomes much more manageable because the thing that you're most worried about is kind of happening regardless. And as a result of that, you just have a very different point of view from companies around what the risks are for doing remote because we're already doing it.
Justin Norman: But this raises a question about the role Andela plays in the equation today, as more global employers become comfortable with remote hiring.
Jeremy Johnson: One thing I think I missed, or at least underestimated, at the beginning of this journey was just how complicated it is to hire internationally and how complicated it is to get jobs internationally. People look at it as like, oh, if someone has the skills, they're automatically going to get the best job possible in the world for them. And it's just not even remotely true.
You could be an extraordinarily talented human who has the exact right skill set and if you don't have exposure to the right people, experience in the right environments, if you don't have part of what the traditional tech world would look at as the obvious markers of quality to de-risk, then you combine that with international and people are really reluctant to hire.
Justin Norman: While Andela may be democratizing access to opportunity, it still isn't evenly distributed.
Jeremy Johnson: And so once you realize that, you realize that that notion of ready-made talent that people can get to go out and hire doesn't actually exist. There are lots of things that make it complicated. How do you figure out payroll? How do you figure out global compliance? How do you figure out the assessment process in a world where you've never heard of the university someone attended or the previous three jobs they worked on? There are lots of little components of the hiring process that in totality make international hiring much more complicated.
Justin Norman: This is where Andela, as a talent network, serves as a trusted filter and resource for those looking to connect to talent across the world.
Jeremy Johnson: And so what talent needs is an opportunity. It's really simple. And by doing really meaningful assessments, by creating a filtering mechanism to find that extraordinary talent and help show just how capable he or she is, we're able to help people meaningfully accelerate their careers and just get better jobs than they otherwise would be able to.
Justin Norman: And for talent going through Andela, the outcomes are self-evident.
Jeremy Johnson: The average engineer that gets a job through Andela, their first job increases their take-home pay 87 percent. It nearly doubles their salary. So what does talent need? I think people like that. It's that, and it's a harder, more interesting challenge. It's the opportunity to solve bigger problems with companies that are more on the cutting edge while maintaining the flexibility of the remote working world without having to leave their home country. That's what talent wants, and that's what we're enabling.
Justin Norman: Now let's take a step back to focus a bit more on the supply side, because how Andela works with talent and the types of talent Andela works with has evolved a bit since their start in 2014. As we spoke about earlier, Andela started with a coding bootcamp targeting junior developers, and they built physical campuses to train developers through the Andela Learning Community.
But then in 2019 and even after a $100 million Series D, the company announced it was laying off hundreds of junior engineers. It was ultimately a reflection of the wants and needs of the demand side.
Jeremy Johnson: A lot of it was demand. As we moved up-market, it became more and more clear that companies needed and expected a broader diversity of talent, and in particular from an experience level. It just became really clear that we also needed to diversify that talent base because we were seeing more and more demand for more experienced talent.
Justin Norman: As Andela grew, it enabled them to reach for and service bigger customers, which impacted the type of talent they needed.
Jeremy Johnson: Every B2B company when they're small, the vast majority sell to other small companies. It's generally pretty tough for a tiny startup to do business with a Fortune 100 company. But as you get bigger, it becomes a more natural progression. Enterprise is the fastest-growing segment of the business at this point.
Justin Norman: And so what these Fortune 100 companies are looking for is a talent partner.
Jeremy Johnson: In general, one person, one team, one group wants to have a talent partner. They want to have someone who they can just count on.
Justin Norman: While Andela still trains tens of thousands of software developers, due to the needs of the demand side, the company has evolved to be more of a talent network.
Jeremy Johnson: We train more total people right now through the Andela Learning Community. At any given point, we're training 15 to 20,000 people to be software developers. That's still a pretty meaningful percentage of overall placements that we make. But the majority come through Andela as talent network.
Justin Norman: So why do employers tap into Andela’s talent network? It has to do with the specialist nature of the roles in question and the types of companies Andela is working with.
Jeremy Johnson: Our customers are generally building great digital products. That's what they're focused on. And so when it comes to building great digital products, we want to be able to support that journey with the best, most effective talent in the world.
Justin Norman: See, Andela is hiring for a specific type of organization: companies that are building great digital products. Product companies. And as we heard earlier from Jeremy, product companies are looking for a specific caliber of talent from an experience level, in particular.
So that raises another question: what does this mean for the future of work in Africa if experience level is such an important requirement? And how do we get experience for such a huge population that is becoming working age?
This is where another entrepreneur is focused on a similar type of talent - software engineers - but with a different target customer.
Fred Swaniker: The work I've done over the last 20 years is really trying to unlock the potential of Africa by solving its biggest problems. And the way that I've chosen to do this is through selecting exceptional people, developing that talent, and then connecting them to opportunities.
Justin Norman: That's Fred Swaniker, the CEO of the African Leadership Group, whose network of companies includes the African Leadership Academy, African Leadership University, ALX, and The Room. Fred and I sat down to discuss his experience building an African talent network.
Fred Swaniker: When I began this journey of developing tech talent, we thought that the people who would take our talent would be product companies like Google and Facebook and Microsoft and Amazon. But I started looking at the issue a bit more nuanced and looking at ecosystems that have developed in Israel and Eastern Europe and Latin America, and what I found is that the people who are actually gonna employ this talent at scale are not the Googles and the Facebooks and Microsofts, the so-called product companies.
Justin Norman: Instead, the employees that hire the most developers at scale are actually the service companies.
Fred Swaniker: What I came to learn is that there's basically two types of employers of tech talent. There are product companies, which are the ones that we all know about. Google, Microsoft, Amazon, and all the tech startups that we have. And then they're service companies, and the service companies are companies that customize products for companies and develop custom software.
Justin Norman: Notwithstanding the business model, the difference is important from a jobs perspective.
Fred Swaniker: The product route creates very few jobs. Service companies employ 100 to 300 times more people. And so Salesforce has 70,000 employees, but the ecosystem of people who do Salesforce implementation is going to have 9.3 million people by 2026. Amazon Web Services has 100,000. They predict that their ecosystem of people who implement AWS will be 30 million by 2030.
Justin Norman: And so for Fred, the focus is on service companies because of the scale of the jobs they create. And there are lessons here from other developing markets.
Fred Swaniker: So India went the services route because they also had a population problem similar to Africa, and today they have 6 million software engineers that work directly in the sector. They create 18 million jobs indirectly. And they don't have a lot of billionaires, but they've got lots of middle-class people that work in the tech sector. So when I look at the African context, if we're going create work for these young people we need to become service oriented, not product oriented.
Justin Norman: A service orientation can act as the foundation on top of which the ecosystem matures, and its talent develops requisite experience.
Fred Swaniker: The services companies are also the ones that tend to hire entry-level talent because the product companies want people with five years experience, 10 years experience, with PhDs, deep, deep knowledge. There's a chicken and egg problem. So people train a lot of young people and then they go to product companies and they're like, No, I need someone with 10 years experience. And they're like, how am I going to get experience?
Justin Norman: Perhaps service companies are the answer to the experience question.
Fred Swaniker: What the service companies do is they take on a project from a company like, we'll configure your Salesforce. They’re not giving you the talent, they're giving you the solution. And then that cloud migration project or Salesforce configuration might need only five senior people in it, but they'll staff it with 25 people. And on that are lots of juniors who are learning on the job intentionally, they’re apprentices. That's how they go from being a junior developer to mid-level developer to senior developer. And the client doesn't see the mistakes. The client doesn't see all the learning on the job. They just see the end result. And so that apprenticeship model is the vehicle that we need.
Our ambition is to employ several hundred thousand, maybe even a million engineers. And then you go to companies and you don't offer them talent. You offer them a solution. And then under that solution, you hide all the people that you're training and then they get work experience. And that's how we create jobs in Africa.
Justin Norman: And when it comes to demand, while the product companies get a lot of hype, and while they create outsize impact on the sectors they touch, particularly relative to their number of employees, in the African context, in an environment of rapid digitization, it's the service companies that are going to play an increasingly important role in moving sectors forward from a technology adoption and digital transformation perspective.
Fred Swaniker: The market for services is way bigger than the market for tech products because the number of people who can hire an engineer and actually know what to do with it are very few, because to effectively use an entry-level engineer or even an experienced person, you need a whole management system. To deliver a technology project, you need all these specialized skills. Post-pandemic, every company now has to become digitized but they have no clue how to do tech. And that's where then there's much, much more opportunity for work.
Justin Norman: And this demand and opportunity comes not only from companies across Africa but outside of it, as well.
Fred Swaniker: If Africa's going to really grow its economy, one is we have to go into services and not only products becausepurchasing power is very low. Don't sell in Africa, sell globally. And that's how we're going to get wealthy.
Justin Norman: When we come back, we'll move from high-skilled jobs like software engineering to the opportunity in non-tech, but still digitally delivered jobs across the continent.
Earlier in the show, we heard from Christian Bwakira, the CEO of GTP, MFS Africa's latest acquisition. GTP and MFS Africa are seeing a meaningful increase in demand for virtual card services across their network and from customers like fintechs. But while fintechs may be the obvious use case for virtual cards, there are indeed many more.
Christian Bwakira: For example, we signed a major strategic partnership with GIM-UEMOA. which is a regional switch, Central Bank-mandated in Francophone Africa, headquartered in Senegal. And they have a closed loop or interoperable solution within the region, but that does not allow their consumer base, which covers over a hundred banks, to pay for goods, let's say online, or simply do transfers from one institution to another. In today's world, when you do a transfer from one bank to another in the Francophone area, it could take as much as one to five days. So with this strategic partnership, for example, we are enabling card-to-card transfer. That's one use case. A second one is card-to-bank account transfer and bank account-to-card transfer. But we also understand and appreciate the predominance of cash and therefore what we've enabled is card-to-ATM, as well. And that goes back on the rails of GTP specifically, and that enables them to have an access to a wider ecosystem because our products are branded Visa and MasterCards specifically.
Justin Norman: The Andela and African Leadership Group stories of impact and job creation have been meaningful stories for African markets, fulfilling demand for high-skilled technical talent with Africans across the continent who may not have otherwise had an opportunity to work in these types of roles. But whereas there is an ever-increasing demand for software developers, it's still a pretty hard skill set to develop, and it typically takes a large amount of training and a long time for the developer to be ready for the global organization in question.
But there are other job roles that are less technical, for which it is easier and quicker to train talent, but that can nonetheless take advantage of the trends in remote work in internationalizing workforces. Jobs that aren't technical, but still use technology to fulfill the work.
Paul Breloff: There's been a lot of attention paid to roles like software engineering, but in some ways, starting with software engineering is probably the hardest place we might start. To become a good software engineer, you have to school and work for probably a year plus before you really get to be truly valuable.
Justin Norman: That’s Paul Breloff, the Co-founder and CEO of Shortlist.
Paul Breloff: Shortlist is part executive search firm and part talent technology platform, focused on getting young Africans into great jobs across the continent.
Justin Norman: Through his own experience building Shortlist, Paul is particularly intrigued and excited by the remote work and training opportunities in non-technical roles.
Paul Breloff: What I think we're particularly interested in seeing and helping facilitate is the creation of more talent pools around the variety of jobs in the modern economy where you don't need to be physically situated, and that can include things like customer service and data augmentation.
Justin Norman: And in Shortlist’s case, sectors like recruiting.
Paul Breloff: We're even seeing it within recruiting where we run an executive search business where we're constantly hiring and training young professionals to be sophisticated global recruiters. And there's a worldwide shortage for those right now. We're seeing that in the US there's a greater demand for recruiters than for our software engineers, according to LinkedIn.
Justin Norman: And the key thing about a job like a recruiter is that it's comparably easy to train for.
Paul Breloff: And those are jobs that they're not techy exactly, but they can be done from anywhere as long as you've got a computer, LinkedIn, and you know how to email.
Justin Norman: So here's the opportunity.
Paul Breloff: What we'd like to see is a systematic review of the jobs and the job categories that exist in markets with big economies, but perhaps shrinking or flat workforces like the US and the UK, and go through those job types one by one and figure out what would it take to prepare a young African for this job and get them bridged and connected to the employment so that they can actually do this work.
Justin Norman: And what does that work look like?
Paul Breloff: One is a skilling issue, the other is a bridging issue.
Justin Norman: On the skilling side?
Paul Breloff: There's no question that we need to build up the machinery to identify raw potential. And then of course, we need to train people in the basic skills and competencies so that they can do these jobs. And I think that skilling often gets reduced to some form of classroom training. If only it was that easy. I think part of what we're realizing is to become a truly great recruiter, you need to actually be in situation, working with real clients on real topics and often in a quasi-apprenticeship model where you're getting coached along by someone who's been there, done that.
Justin Norman: Then on the bridging issue.
Paul Breloff: The bigger and more complicated issue might be the bridging issue of how do we get those people in front of the right employers. Because even though increasingly employers are looking globally for their talent needs, they're still going to be reluctance and friction if companies try to go one by one. So I think, what we'll be continuing to see are organizations that act as this quality control and intermediation layer connecting global employers to global talent pools.
Justin Norman: Enter the talent networks again.
Jeremy Johnson: Over the next decade, we're gonna see a massive shift in how global hiring happens.
Justin Norman: That's Jeremy Johnson, who we heard from earlier in the episode.
Jeremy Johnson: That shift is gonna move a giant chunk of overall hiring through talent networks because they will be better equipped to look at thousands of different candidates and find the right person for a given role, and to understand the ecosystem that person is coming from and how to help that person be successful in your company.
Justin Norman: What that may lead to is more so-called Andela for X companies. Those that are employing this model of hire-train-deploy to more sectors than just software development.
Jeremy Johnson: And that applies to anything where you can even start to quantify the output of a role. So the more obviously you can quantify something, the more obvious the Andela for X story becomes.
Justin Norman: I often think we should see tens if not hundreds of Andela for X-style companies attempting to tackle this opportunity, especially in the macro context - the fast-growing working-age population in Africa, coupled with an increasing comfortability with remote work. And I think Jeremy agrees.
Jeremy Johnson: The international component of it makes it really obvious, but overall, we're going to see an Andela for everything pop up. It's essentially global talent marketplaces that do a better job of connecting talent that is looking for opportunities with opportunities that will enable them to have higher paying, more effective, and more interesting roles, and vice versa will make it easier for companies to navigate globalizing their teams.
Justin Norman: And while there are horizontal talent marketplaces where you can hire for any type of role from anywhere in the world, in this context, a vertical, sector-specific platform is an important component of the equation.
Jeremy Johnson: The verticalization is important because what the companies are counting on is that you are better at figuring out who's going to be successful in their environment than they are. And it turns out that's not the hardest thing in the world if you're able to look across lots of companies and lots of talent, and keep track of who's successful and why, and then keep iterating.
Justin Norman: And one vertical platform creating opportunities for non-technical talent, with a focus on customer success, is the Nigerian-based startup Caret.
Tolu Agunbiade: My name is Tolu Agunbiade and I'm the founder of Caret. We vet, hire, and manage non-tech talent for high-growth companies.
Justin Norman: Caret's origin story starts with Tolu seeing a disconnect between supply and demand in the labor marketplace.
Tolu Agunbiade: The problem statement in my head was how do you bridge the gap between what schools teach and what the world needs, cause I thought there was a gap there. And of course, you've heard it before, everybody says it's in some form that there are no jobs, but then employers are saying that there are not employable people out there. And I was just like, there is this disconnect.
Justin Norman: And this disconnect both inspired Tolu to explore this opportunity and to name the business Caret.
Tolu Agunbiade: I used to be a writer and a copy editor, and in writing the caret is that symbol you use to show that there's a gap in something and then you suggest what should fill the gap. So in our minds, we're filling the unemployment gap in the world. And it's also the symbol for exponential, it's like we're filling that gap exponentially.
Justin Norman: So while this idea for Caret percolated in Tolu’s mind, as she worked at CCHub followed by MEST and then in roles with ALU and ALX, the initial version of Caret and what we see today was based on employer demand.
Tolu Agunbiade: So when I think about the three main offerings that we have, there's one, the upscaling, there's one that's the connecting to talent and then there's one that's the managing the talent for you. And I thought based off of my experience and the things I've done before, I'm very geared towards things that are more product-led, that are scalable with tech. So the connecting to talent was the one that I thought would be the primary thing. You have this platform, you have people sign up, you do some magic, they match together in the end. That outsourcing model wasn't supposed to be the primary thing for us. The reason why outsourcing is the main thing is it was the one that was really available immediately. It was the one that had the most demand and the immediate willingness to pay from customers.
Justin Norman: And where there is existing demand, this role in question, customer success, has a shorter time to value when it comes to training and work readiness.
Tolu Agunbiade: What I was thinking of was, what's something that within four to six weeks of some kind of upskilling training, the average person coming out of even high school would still be able to good job at this. And I was very particular about non-tech. I needed it to be something that didn't take too long for people to be good at, but it was something that you get transferable skills for other roles as well.
Justin Norman: And lastly, customer success is a role that's critically important for businesses, but non-core, which means that certain types of employers aren't necessarily looking to hire for that role in-house. Take one of Caret’s customers, a fintech, for example, with a growing customer base.
Tolu Agunbiade: What's a role that's in demand that a lot of companies need, but would rarely ever build such a large team in-house? The main problem they had was, they're a fintech company and they have an in-house customer support team, but they get insane amounts of demand from customers. The department that has the most people in your company is indicative of where your resources go and the direction your company wants to be in. And for them, they’re a product company first, so product and engineering is where they want the bulk of their team to be out of, but they also need a lot of customer support help. So in their own case, they're like, we need this support, we don't want to have it directly. So how about we outsource this to a partner?
Justin Norman: Now, there are a lot of related questions here around why organizations may choose to hire African talent in a competitive global marketplace. Indeed, it's a question that we're going to explore next episode, in a case study on global business services in South Africa. And it's a question that lay at the heart of my retrospective conversation with The Flip’s b-mic Sayo Folawiyo. Take a listen.
Justin Norman: I think the more interesting question in the context of exports and we've talked about this a lot, how to position African markets, and the work that is involved in enabling African workers to capture that opportunity. Especially because it is globally competitive and there is a better perception around digital workers in the Philippines or whatever.
Sayo Folawiyo: For sure, there's a brand issue. Or a brand opportunity, I should say. I don't think it's an issue. I think there's a brand opportunity. One of the questions I had actually was just kind of like what does that look like on a more regional, national, countrywide.
Justin Norman: That's this idea about Africa, right?
Sayo Folawiyo: No, I mean, Africa is a monolith.
Justin Norman: Yeah.
Sayo Folawiyo: I don't really actually mind that as a concept. It kind of can be very useful, I think it's allowing us actually, in things like this podcast, it's allowing us to penetrate to some extent, the idea that if everybody's going together, you can penetrate a little bit of the global conversation. But sometimes it just is not that useful.
Justin Norman: And then when you get into the weeds in actually hiring…
Sayo Folawiyo: Like this is one of them, right? Like South Africa as a place has very precise things that make it a very good thing for X or Y. Ghana has precise things that make it very good for…
Justin Norman: And also just the infrastructure of paying people and local employment law…
Sayo Folawiyo: Yeah, exactly. So I think it's important to think about that, the powers that be should be also thinking about, okay, how do you think about what regions and what countries serve what purpose? So it's like thinking about what are the makeups of the countries and then what particular things might they be good at. You might find that, you know, Nigerians are too aggressive to be doing recruiting calls for Paul. You know what I mean? So I think there is an opportunity obviously to brand, there's like a global branding exercise that needs to happen.
Justin Norman: So, we need an advertising agency.
Sayo Folawiyo: A hundred percent.
Justin Norman: Yeah.
Sayo Folawiyo: Yeah. It's like, “Africa welcomes work.” But then it's like, if you are going for this kind of work, here's the kind of places you should be looking to find. And if this kind of work…
Justin Norman: Yeah, I guess that's the thing is there are established brands in some way, and I don't know, I mean, to some extent I think Andela probably has helped in particular, with that perception issue.
Sayo Folawiyo: A hundred percent, for sure. In a big way.
Justin Norman: So there's this idea about the role of these talent aggregators and these sort of models and being vertically specific and them actually playing a really important role of connecting supply and demand, and being that advocate for talent, kind of like the advertiser, that we need.
Sayo Folawiyo: Yeah, for sure.
Justin Norman: There's then taking it a step further, all of these other opportunities to take advantage of digitally-delivered work, that is not engineering.
Sayo Folawiyo: And what's the competitive advantage against like an India? Or rather, let me ask a question.
Justin Norman: That is the question. And you may say there is none.
Sayo Folawiyo: It's just cheaper...
Justin Norman: I mean, probably cheaper than India at this point, but the cost versus...
Sayo Folawiyo: Quality.
Justin Norman: …quality thing, right? I mean cheaper than the Philippines? Maybe not. I think that that's actually a real question and a real challenge is why would you outsource your IT work or your customer service or whatever African countries versus the alternative. People talked about English-speaking population, time zones, that kind of stuff, but then there's also the infrastructural challenges and skills challenges and all of that stuff that makes it really hard to make the decision to outsource your team to Nigeria versus the Philippines.
Sayo Folawiyo: Yeah, that's an interesting one.
Justin Norman: Yeah, you know, what's the advertising campaign?
Sayo Folawiyo: “Africa ready for work.”
Justin Norman: Yeah. But that's not good. I mean, if we're going to do this globally competitive game of exporting services, these markets are really competing against some other places where there's better infrastructure and where there's higher quality…
Sayo Folawiyo: They've been doing it a long time.
Justin Norman: And that's the thing that makes me nervous is like, we talked about this in the context of the traditional development playbook, like export-oriented services is really important, but it's not like in agriculture where you have crops that grow really well where you are and you actually have a competitive or comparative advantage because of geography.
Sayo Folawiyo: What about TikTok? Do we have more TikTokkers? Obviously, the youth population story, what does that mean in terms of what capabilities people will have? Obviously, there's something about capacity, which I think is a maths question, but then there's also about what capabilities does a 15-year-old have that a 30-year-old doesn't.
Justin Norman: This question about Africa's comparative advantages in this world of export-oriented services is one that we're going to explore next episode, in a case study on global business services in South Africa.
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