Technically People
Technically People

Episode · 1 month ago

The Africa Talent Project: Innovative Approach to Placing Global Talent


Ade Akin-Aina, CHRP, Founder of the Africa Talent Project, and Talent Lead at Wave Mobile Money


Today’s guest Ade Akin-Aina, a global talent acquisition leader who was recognized on the Financial Times’ list of top 100 black and minority ethnic leaders in technology, founded the Africa Talent Project in 2016, when she saw the need to help place leaders in fast-growing businesses in sub-Saharan Africa, particularly in the tech space. 

The Africa Talent Project places professionals who live in sub-Saharan Africa with companies either in other African countries or in the countries they already live. Increasingly, Ade is also placing talent from sub-Saharan Africa with companies in Europe and North America — while the reverse has also begun to trend: Professionals in Europe or North America, looking to make global impact, are reaching out to Ade and accepting roles at startups across Africa.

“There are so many inspiring companies tackling challenges that are unique to Africa and have a great impact in healthcare, edtech or fintech,” says Ade, who by day serves as the Talent Lead for French-speaking markets at the fintech unicorn Wave Mobile Money. “And then you pair that with the tech industry’s really narrow definition of available talent. Everyone's so focused on who's in their backyard. And they're overlooking a massive population that doesn't sit in New York or San Francisco that's more accessible right now.” 



  • Broadening the definition of available talent
  • The innovative work African companies are doing
  • Ade’s learnings on how DEI needs differ in Africa versus in Europe or North America
  • How the Africa Project changed one professional’s life
  • Attracting top talent by providing growth opportunities
  • Looking past your own backyard in your talent search
  • Ade’s advice as a global TA leader for fellow practitioners
  • Find every episode of Technically People on Apple, Spotify, and more. Find us on our website and join the conversation on LinkedIn

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Welcome to technically people, a communityconversation by and for workplace futurists brought to you by the tech recruitment platform builtin. The podcast features insights from leaders, thinkers and doers on the vanguard buildinghuman centered workplaces of the future. Along the way, you'll hear conceptsthat will stop you in your tracks, concepts that inspire you to ask yourself, what's the most future forward way to approach my people leadership? We allknow the future of work isn't waiting around, so let's get on with the show. Hello and welcome to the show. I'm your host, Tiffany Myers,and really happy to introduce our guests for the day. A day,a Canina, so a day. She is a global talent acquisition leader whowas recognized on the Financial Times top one hundred black and minority ethnic leaders intechnology. She is a bilingual tea mega talent. She's built teams throughout hercareer across the globe. So Canada, the US and UK, Germany,Italy, India and Nigeria, Ghana, Kenya, Liberia, Uganda, SouthAfrica and actually beyond that. So by day she is the head of recruitingfor Francophone Africa at the Fintech Unicorn Wave, mobile money. But actually we're notgoing to talk about that today. We are going to talk about aday's passion project, the Africa talent project, and what that means is a daysources, recruits and places senior talent in companies located in both Africa andelsewhere globally. So a day is going to talk about this incredible project andshe'll cover off on things like the benefits for both companies and the professionals thatshe places with the Africa talent projects. So a day. So happy youcould join us and I'm really looking forward... sharing the story of your work. Thanks for having me, tiffany. I'm excited to tell it. Sofirst, just to set the stage, give me your elevator pitch for theAfrica talent project. I found it, the Africa talent project in two thousandand sixteen. There was a gap in the market in terms of recruiters focusedon getting senior leaders for fast growing businesses in sub Saharan Africa and particularly inthe text space, so quite small businesses. And our focus is on place andpeople who live in sub Saharan Africa, with companies, either in other Africancountries or in the countries they're from, and increasingly so now we please talentwith companies in Europe and from time to time we place African talent withNorth American companies. So I wonder has the pandemic affected your work and whereyou're placing people? Absolutely so. We've seen more interest from companies in NorthAmerica, primarily during the pandemic. These companies are looking at through teams andthey're gaining a greater sense of their mission and their culture, and more andmore that's leading them to hire folks from Africa to work with them and leavinga positive legacy as well in terms of training and upscaling. And the sameas happening on the candidate side. We are seeing leaders and folks at workin soap on value or work in North America increasingly looking for greater global impactand they're reaching out to us and acceptables. It startups across Africa and working remotelyas well. That totally makes sense. Companies are truly in a state ofreckoning, and also their employs, in candidates, reevaluating what they wantfrom life, from work, and one of the things that comes up ora couple things that come up is this desire to make an impact and alsoto live where they want to live,...

...and so it seems that you knownot only are you benefiting companies, but you're sort of hitting all of thekey points that are top of mind for employees and candidates in this crazy typemarket. So very interesting. I want to find out what was the inspirationfor the project at how did you identify the need? There were a tonof really great companies doing innovative work in Africa and I wanted to make animpact. I wanted to work with all of them. Obviously that's changed alittle. I recently joined one of these companies. I look one of thoseso much that I joined that particular company, and that company's called Wave Mobile,in their payments company. They're based out of Senegal, backed by sequoiaand strike doing really great work in terms of making payments more accessible. That'sa little aside, but when they approached me I thought they'd Bede a wonderfulpartner. Than the conversation turned into a full time role. But there's somany inspiring companies that are tackling challenges that are unique to Africa that that havereally great impact, whether that's in health care or the e text sector orthe fin text space. And and then parent that with a challenge in termsof the tech industry has a really narrow definition of available talent right everyone's sofocused on who's in their backyard and they're sort of overlooking just massive population thatdoesn't sit in the New York or San Francisco that's more accessible right now.Yeah, I think just to clarify, wave mobile came to you as apotential clients of the Africa talent project. That's correct right. Yes, sofor me it was is there an opportunity for me to work with them asa client? And over the course of that conversation, here we are now, a couple months later. It just seemed like too great an opportunity forme to pass up and I joined their team full time and I'm going tobe leading recruiting and scaling aggressively over the next couple of years, hopefully.So we're talking about how many amazing companies...

...there are in Africa and I justthink the fact that you joined that company is definitely a very strong testament tothat fact and to all the cool things that are going on in the wayof innovation in Africa. So I'm also curious. So many forces right noware shrinking the talent pool and you have worked in so many countries in aTA context and I'm wondering if you kind of compare all of those experiences,would you say it's easier to find and place talent that is from Africa thanit is to find and place talent from North America or Europe? Where dothe chips fall? They're so that's a really good question. Given our currentcontext, I would say it's equally hard. Best town has a multitude of choiceswherever they are, so whether they're sitting in Africa, somewhere there inNorth America or in Europe, and it is a key of that market.So the onus right now is on employers to demonstrate that they have the rightenvironment for people to grow, and that's what folks are looking for wherever theyare. So it's equally hard right now, and I would say it's very difficulttime to attract top fund that's so true that the onus is on theemployers, and I'm obviously biased because I'm a brand person, but you know, the employer brand is more important than ever, in terms of doing whatyou said, demonstrating that they have the right culture for people to thrive.So totally agree. They're so turning our attention to the professionals that you're placing, tell me how the project benefits them. The vast majority of companies I workwith our mission driven and they have exceptional leadership and they are tackling reallycomplex problems in Africa. So whether that's making payments easier for quotes, figuringout how to get folks educated. So that's the main benefit for employees weplace. They have an opportunity to stretch their skills and to grow in waysand tackle problems that aren't typical of larger...

...and more established companies. In somecases they get an opportunity to travel and see the world and work in marketsthat they probably possibly never encountered previously. And then there's but the added benefitof diversity. So I work primarily with companies that have some degree of interestin building diverse teams. And you know, the definition of diversity can bury ifyou're, I don't know, talking about a company based in Africa versuscompany that's headquartered in New York City, for example. But you know we'rebuilding teams in Africa, for example, that have enough women engineers or nonbinary folks or folks of diverse genders, which may not even be recognized insome of the countries on the continent, and whereas in North America focus morebroadly on racial diversity, gender dive, wors city your diversity, for example, and having really great conversations about how to build the best teams to powerthese really great organizations. And it would be wonderful to get to a placewhere diversity conversations or we're building keys globally that incorporate all types of diversity andwhere we see the value of all types of backgrounds, whether I'm building ateam in lateoffs or a team New York City. Like I said, yeah, what you're talking about is that in Africa you have to focus on diversityof a certain type that is different from what you're focusing on in North Americaand Europe, and what those diversity issues are that need to be solved.And you know, it just reminds me of this phrase that I hear sooften and that we say on this podcast so often, which is that thereis no one size fits all solution to de I'm I think you know,what you're pointing out is just sort of the macro version of that statement thatacross countries there have to be tailored approaches in terms of getting to a placewhere we're incorporating all types of diversity globally. We know we're not even close.So I just think it's amazing to hear that you're moving the needle andthat you're doing it and such a novel...

...and Innovative Way. So thank youfor your work. You're welcome. Yes, I mean it's great to be ableto do work like this. Okay, we have a sense of the benefits. It's for the people that you placed, and I would say it'sinteresting because they're both personal and professional benefits, right, so growing and stretching intheir career, but also getting the chance to travel the world. Let'sshift two companies. What benefits two companies derive? First of all, Iwould say the Africa talent project broadens the scope of the search for a lotof companies. It allows them to consider talent that they typically would not haveaccess to. Also, you know, speaking about diversity as well. Irecently worked with Unicorn that was based in New York City that was looking tobuilding more diverse leadership and it allowed them to really partner with me to focustheir search on folks from minority backgrounds and to work within our database to findcandidates that they probably wouldn't have access to. So, overall, it's really justbroadening the scope of anyone company search and being able to do that globallyas well, looking at Talton Africa or counting North America's is a significant benefit. Yeah, so many of the conversations that we've had on this podcast tohave covered ways that people are absolutely needing to get creative about broadening the poolof available talent. Obviously, remote has been a huge part of that andfor a lot of people are remote, has in fact made the pool bigger. But actually, if that's not proven to be enough, more companies,for instance, are turning to reskilling and upskilling, and that might come inthe form of an apprenticeship program like program that we actually did a podcast episodeabout. It's called a prenty and our guest Jen Carlson discussed that in herepisode as a way to to close the gap at also to bring in diversity. We dove into off Skilling as well in an episode featuring Fahim a hawk, who leads the learning platform educative,...

...and he said something really interesting,which is that companies kind of get need to get real and change their approach. They need to be open to hiring and what he calls just below thebar talent and then using training to turn quote unquote, silver medalists into goldmedalists. So yeah, people are absolutely must get creative and how they arereaching hard to hire talent, and that includes how they source and also howthey tell stories in their employer brand. But I do have to say theAfrica talent project so far from me, is by far the most innovative waythat I've seen anyone problem solve this massive talent gap. Thank you. It'salways nice to get recognition like that. Yeah, it feels great. Yeah, so absolutely. I mean, when I first discovered your work in Africatalent project, I just I just knew we needed to give it more recognitionby telling the story to our listeners. So let's shift gears just a littlebit and look at the leaders that you're placing, the leaders from sub SaharanAfrica. In your experience, did they offer for skills or modes of workingand thinking or perspectives that you would say are unique. They will certainly do. They navigate ambiguity all the time and they work in complex environments that areconstantly changing, so whether that's changing legal regulatory landscapes, their building in amuch more challenging context, and and that is beneficial no matter where you are. They can adapt to novel experiences and they're really great with ambiguities. Sofor any TA professional, that is a clear signal that your candidate is goingto do really well and going to thrive no matter where you put them.Yes, I think that you hear this all the time, that the leadershipis really about making the best decisions that you can in while you're swimming inambiguity. So I think that makes a lot of sense. Everybody loves agood success story. That would include me.

So in this next question I wantedto find out can you tell me a story of someone whose life waschanged by your work? One of my favorite stories or trajectories is a candidatethat I placed at an Etech start up in Nigeria who had no experience insales but had a ton of potential and the role was transformative for a varietyof reasons. It impacted so many areas of his life. So first ofall, he was able to have healthcare coverage while his wife had a majorhealth scare, and then he reached out say I don't know that we wouldhave been able to handle the situation if we did not have this coverage.But it also he did really well and he was able to get longer termhousing based on professional references, which is really unique in certain markets. Butin some places in Africa you need a professional reference to vouch for you tobe able to rent a home. And he's since gone on to become anentrepreneur. What was, I think, the most important thing or the bestthing that could have happened from all of this is the skills that he gainedat the startup have been quite critical to his success now as an entrepreneur andhe's reached out and shared some of that feedback with me and said thank you. So it's always great to hear about how the work that we do transformslives for a longer period than just that one role, right absolutely into intobusiness ownership. It must be I don't know, that sort of thing mustbe so incredibly rewarding. It is. It is very rewarding and I thinkI also points out just how important it is for companies anywhere and this marketto make sure that you're looking not just at big names or fan companies ona resume, but looking at potential. So thank you. Hit. Thatstory hits on all of that. So let's say you had a set ofdreams for the Africa talent project, which I'm just guessing you do. Whatwould the project look like in five years?...

Tell me what's in store for thefuture? For the time being, I'm going to be pouring myself intowave and that's certainly my focus. But the dream really extends beyond me andI think what a lot of us that work in the space or hoping foris that for African talent have access to the best opportunities beyond your wildest dreamsand and it's becoming more and more of a reality. We're seeing that thebarriers to hiring globally or decreasing and increasingly there's just great stories from all typesof candidates and companies that aren't mine that are doing really great work and transformingthis landscape a day. You, as a as I mentioned, are aTia mega talent. So I wanted, for our two minute takeaway in thisepisode to talk more generally about Tia, and so we'll move away a littlebit from the Africa talent project. So over the course of your career,I imagine that you have had infinite lessons learned as your sourcing, recruiting,hiring retaining talent. So tell me some advice you'd give Tia professionals based onall that you've learned and based on your understanding of the challenges that everyone inTia faces today. It is a tremendously competitive market out there right now andI think we can all fall into the trap of looking for the in demandtext skills. But my advice is you can no longer look to your backyardfor talent. You have to get creative in terms of thinking about who thesepeople are and where they sit, and not just looking for folks who haveexperienced at fan companies, like you said, but really thinking about how people areable to work with ambiguity and how folks who learn quickly and focusing onthat type of talent to bring on board and to upscial and to have themcontributing to your company, as opposed to...

...everyone fighting for a small pool oftalent that we've all defined as folks, to have worked at these fan companies, for example. One of my main takeaways from well, there have beenso many, but just this idea of the capacity to work with ambiguity,as it as a key trait for all leaders. So I think that's importantto underscore. So tell me a day if people wanted to reach you findout more about the project, what is the best way? I'm on Linkedin, I am available via email at a at Africa talent PROJECTCOM and I'm availableon twitter at a a can, a so Ad Aki and a yeah,and those are all the ways in which you can reach me. Thank youso much for being a part of technically people and I will most certainly bewatching from afar, unfortunately from afar, as you grow the project, butI also know our community will be watching as well. So thanks so muchfor telling the story of what you're up to. Thanks for having me.Took News. Really great chatting with you. I totally agree, so interesting andfun. So for our listeners, take a minute. This is yourreminder to head over to technically peoplecom and subscribe. We are on all themajor podcast players. I'll also throw out a suggestion. If you like thekind of conversations that we're having and you want to make sure that the podcastshows up in all the algorithms, we would absolutely be over the moon ifyou'd leave us a five star review on Apple podcasts. So I am lookingforward to chatting with you and another great guest next week. So we willsee you then. Whether you're looking to fill opportunities or find them, builtin has you covered. If you're seeking... meet aggressive hiring goals, willhelp you attract sought after tech talent you might not otherwise reach. And ifyou're on the market for a career change, visit our site to explore exciting jobswith our customers and even with built in find talent, find opportunities builtincom.

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