This article was contributed to TechCabal by Natasha Netha, Employee Experience (EX) Director, MFS Africa. MFS Africa is the largest mobile money hub in Africa, with over 170 million connected users.

The past few years have been pivotal for the African tech space thanks to substantial infrastructure investments and improved internet connectivity. 

The addressable market for technology-focused solutions has grown with millions of people going online and partaking in the digital age. 

Investors have taken note of this growth with startups across the continent attracting a record US$4 billion in funding in 2021. Despite ructions in other technology markets, things have yet to show significant slow down on the continent. In the first half of 2022 alone, more than US$3.5 billion was raised

With big tech companies like Meta and Google opening new offices on the continent, African tech startups are finding it difficult to attract and retain top talent. The global rise of remote and hybrid work also means that tech companies that take a mainly local approach to recruitment are often at a geographical disadvantage. 

A borderless approach 

The 2020 pandemic showed many companies that working from home does not negatively impact productivity at work. The aftermath of the global lockdown forced us to remove limitations around flexible and distributed work. At MFS Africa, we see distributed workforces as critical to our vision of making professional borders non-existent. 

Even then, we had to make adjustments. While we had a number of offices across the continent with some of our team members working remotely from Europe, India and other parts of the continent, we were still office-first. The pandemic challenged us to think differently. As we interviewed and onboarded people completely digitally, we also began to expand our own definition of borderless workplaces. Three years ago, we would have preferred for people to work in the office, today we encourage people to find the model that best works for them while ensuring that teams meet face-to-face often enough to encourage strong collaboration and psychological safety.

With remote and hybrid now the norm, especially in the tech sector, African companies would be foolhardy to geographically limit themselves when it comes to recruitment. The candidates you’re looking to attract aren’t limiting their options in the same way.

So, if you’re based in Cape Town and you find an ideal candidate who’s based in Nairobi, why would you close yourself off to hiring them or make them move countries to work for you? 

There are, of course, companies that will survive and perhaps even thrive with fully on-site workforces. I’m also not suggesting that anyone give up their offices (we have offices in certain locations that people can work from full time if they want to). But all companies need to understand that without embracing flexibility, they’re limiting the pool of tech talent available to them. 

Image source: MFS Africa

Working with purpose         

Of course, simply offering remote and hybrid work options is no guarantee that a tech company will be able to attract and retain the best possible talent. One of the biggest trends I’ve noticed post-pandemic is that people increasingly want to work for businesses that do meaningful work, and where their own purpose and values align with those of the business.

Research backs this up too.  As many as 42% of Gen Z workers, for example, would choose to work for a company that aligns with their values over one that offers a higher salary.   For purpose-led African business, that preference represents a significant potential advantage. It may even allow them to recruit from global technology players when they can’t compete with large tech companies on pay and benefits.

As such, the real differentiator for tech companies on the African continent is the ability to solve real problems. Of course, big tech players will always hold some appeal but they tend to deal with higher-order issues and typically aren’t able to solve specifically African problems. 

The same is true when it comes to retaining employees too. Organisations need to make them feel like they have a real sense of purpose and they’re helping solve some of the continent’s most pressing challenges. 

Tell your story effectively

But if African tech companies are to take full advantage of that point of differentiation, they need to be able to tell their story. That doesn’t always come naturally, especially for companies that don’t want to look like they’re boastful. But think about it from a prospective employee’s perspective. 

If you come across a role that looks great at a company that’s unfamiliar, the first thing you’ll do is google the company. That makes it critical that the company is to tell its story effectively and demonstrate that it does all the things it says it does. It should also be clear that the kind of top talent that companies want will instantly spot if a company doesn’t do so in a way that’s transparent and honest. 

Ultimately, there should be no doubt that African companies have to work harder than ever to attract and retain tech talent. Rather than bemoaning the situation, companies on the continent should view it as an opportunity. If they pull out all the stops to be the kind of company that the best talent wants to work for, the kind of company that solves real challenges, that can only result in a better company. 

This doesn’t just benefit individual companies either. The more African tech companies that take recruitment and retention seriously, the better the outcomes will be for the sector and the continent. 

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