5 Ways Corporate Africa Can Take the Lead in Human Capacity Development


Capacity development is key to the realisation of potential in all markets, especially those with the potential to develop rapidly like some of the individual markets in Africa. As a development issue, it can often fall to government, agencies or charities, with companies reaping the benefits as goals are achieved.

However, while companies’ short term needs can lead to workarounds which circumvent capacity development, there are strategies in use within Africa which can help companies play a key role. While organisations await the long-term impact of education reforms and the like, what can they be doing to achieve a sustainable source of talent, and to make their own contribution to the development of capacity in their own businesses, and the markets they operate in?

While this isn’t an exhaustive list, and organisations are pioneering initiatives all the time, we’ve picked out five areas where companies can make a material difference to capacity development, from initiatives run within their own HR teams. These are curated from the themes discussed by delegates in the Talent Agenda Series of human capital conferences.

1.       Diversify talent by creating diverse pipelines

Organisations, including corporates, often set diversity targets in terms of the number or level of roles filled by talent from one particular group or another. A key part of delivering on these aims which is less well-trodden is ensuring that talent pipelines are adequately filled with target talent, which raises questions about how targeted organisations are being in talent acquisition.

With any campaign, the opportunity to segment and effectively communicate shouldn’t be missed. There are some really strong examples of this, such as the World Bank’s 2015 drive for African talent, but too few companies are building out talent pipelines for key groups in a targeted way. Whether attracting passively or actively, is it a clear theme in your communications that these target talent pools are a high priority for your organisation?

2.       Recruit the Diaspora

Recruitment of the Diaspora for Africa has been actively going on for some years, so this is not a new theme. There has been a shift though, in the type of recruitment taking place and the key themes around it.

Where earlier Diaspora recruitment mainly focused on bringing international graduates back to the continent, as companies’ talent pools within the continent become more sustainable, the Diaspora is increasingly viewed as a solution to the replacement of expatriate leadership, or as an option in markets where nationalisation of the workforce is an immediate legislative imperative.

There are widely-discussed drawbacks, particularly around salary expectations and cultural fit, but in terms of the corporate role in capacity development, the opportunity presented by the skilled, internationally experienced talent pool outside Africa means the question should be how Diaspora recruitment can be successfully achieved, rather than avoided.

A number of providers offer solutions in this area, and whether organisations work with a recruitment provider or go it alone, the point above about making sure targets and communications are effectively segmented and tailored is a key one. If we want to compete for Diaspora talent, while effectively managing salary expectations and cultural fit, how can we communicate effectively to our target talent both to engage and educate?

3.       Fit Employer Value Propositions to Talent Personas

Talent acquisition is a campaign like any kind of commercial campaign. We’ve got a proposition to sell with the objective of getting the right buyers engaged and converted through the funnel. Sometimes in recruitment, this is overlooked as we fast forward to posting jobs and screening CVs.

Where we should be starting is with market analysis and segmentation, then constructing a value proposition that is true to our brand, but works for our different talent segments too. If we identify talent pools of value, which exist in sufficient numbers, and then hone an imprint of employer value proposition which speaks to their needs, our chances of success will be much higher.

Some of the roadblocks we see in African markets though, are that while the data is increasingly available to work in this way, organisations are preferring a one-size-fits-all approach handed down from global HQ, or down-prioritising the exercise within HR behind other concerns, depending on the stage the organisation is at. Is your organisation analysing, segmenting and then specifically targeting different segments of talent?

4.       Develop leaders who can be role models

Finding leadership talent for African regions from within the markets remains a challenge for all companies, but one in which some are succeeding better than others. Whether top bosses at organisations are nationals or expatriates though, is only part of the story. Having a structure permeated by local leaders and managers ensures a positive fit with the local culture and offers an easily identifiable pool of role models and mentors for talent entering the organisation. The rising tide of home-grown leadership will lift all boats in the company, so leadership development is a key part of what companies can do to support capacity development.

While most organisations working at scale have leadership development programmes in place, in some markets these remain nascent or under construction, with the jury out on key areas of focus and the best methods by which to develop future leaders. What is the experience of leadership development in your organisation today?

5.       Engage and retain your talent

If growing and developing talent is a way to aid capacity development, creating a revolving door will have the opposite effect. Rapid turnover of personnel drives up salary expectations, drives down productivity and negates development programmes, while the opportunity cost to productivity and development of not engaging staff is equally significant.

Various engagement models hold sway in different organisations and with different providers, but ensuring the metrics around both retention and engagement are moving in a positive direction is a key plank in capacity development by organisations. Is your organisation monitoring engagement in operations across Africa?

These aren’t necessarily new themes, but they remain talking points for leaders across HR and the wider business because there is still work to do in both the strategic and operational spheres. Considering the impact they have from a capacity development perspective, engaging these themes should be a priority for organisations across Africa.  

We’re always interested to see how organisations are confronting the challenges of capacity development across Africa. How are you engaging the themes presented here? Which other factors are high on your agenda?