How a decade of advising companies across Africa informed building the continent’s next generation of business leaders.
By Annie Roberts | Co-founder of Open Capital Advisors
The talent gap across the African continent is undeniable. 80% of African CEOs consider a lack of human capital – especially soft skills like adaptability and problem solving – to be the biggest threat to growth.*
According to the World Economic Forum, 30% of employers in Kenya and 41% in Tanzania identify a deficiency of skilled talent as a major constraint to their business.** And Village Capital and Shell Foundation both cite talent acquisition and retention as the top obstacle to growth for small and growing businesses.***
The stories I hear confirm this trend. When I arrived in Kenya nearly a decade ago, every founder I spoke to was looking for a CFO. Today, I hear the same story. In order to change this narrative by 2030, we must invest heavily in building Africa’s next generation of business leaders – now.
A LOCAL GAP DEMANDS LOCAL TALENT
Founded in Kenya in 2010, Open Capital Advisors (OCA) is a management consulting and financial advisory firm with a dual mission to advance African economies and build the next generation of business leaders. In ten years, we’ve grown from a handful of former bankers and consultants in a single space to a full team of 130+ professionals across three offices in Nairobi, Kampala, and Lusaka.
We have completed over 500 engagements in 20 African countries. Over the years, we noticed an increasing number of clients asking for help with implementation or oversight of key projects that had stalled or things they couldn’t begin without qualified personnel. We saw a glaring talent gap, and an opportunity to fill it.
So in 2018, we launched an embedded talent service to scale our approach to building high-quality local talent in Africa. We branded it Arcadia to distinguish young leadership development from our experienced OCA consultants. Then we began experimenting with embedding our staff in client organizations.
The initial results were phenomenal! But there was still one component missing. In order to sustain this service model, we needed to recruit and train a significant number of highly talented graduates from local universities. With that, we formalized and marketed our now highly successful Analyst training program. And we’ve trained 60+ Analysts to support businesses across Africa in various roles and capacities – so far.
TRANSFORMING TOP STUDENTS INTO TRAINED ANALYSTS
Each year, over 2,500 Kenyan applicants compete for Arcadia Analyst roles. Our highly selective recruitment process draws from top African universities to identify young professionals with raw talent, a deep sense of intellectual curiosity, and the drive to pursue ambitious aspirations.
Once they join the team, Open Capital Analysts undergo rigorous training. Initially, lessons are classroom-based and combine teamwork with exercises that span Excel to accounting, financial modeling to building pitch decks, and finally presenting to a mock investor panel. Topics and skills are covered through interactive sessions and reinforced with individual and group assignments, personalized feedback, and intensive coaching.
Within their first three years, Analysts gain exposure to a variety of sectors, clients, and challenges. Rotating placements allow them to garner diverse perspectives, build adaptability, and strengthen their skills. This breadth and depth of exposure – coupled with ongoing coaching and mentorship – enables rapid professional growth and accelerated development of leadership capabilities.
WIN-WIN-WIN FOR ANALYSTS, BUSINESSES, AND AFRICA
Arcadia placements mature and sharpen our Analysts while allowing us to further our mission of advancing African economies by driving growth for our clients.
To date, our Analysts have offered a wide range of support – including recruiting for a logistics company, budgeting for an international agribusiness, and overhauling the financial controls for an e-commerce multinational. This kind of experience is critical to the development of foundational thinking, communication, and analytic skills required by all executives – regardless of sector or vertical. So the Analysts (with valuable skills to contribute) and our clients (in search of talented teams and leadership) benefit now, while building a network to carry them into the future.
A Kenyan manufacturing company recently expressed their need for “someone who could hit the ground running, combining intellectual firepower with a diverse set of business experience.” After working with an Arcadia Analyst for six months, the CFO found his company was able to get “stronger analytical talent from Arcadia” than they could hire themselves, and that Arcadia’s “speed, flexibility, and personnel caliber were all superior to other options.”
Another successful deployment was made in a high-potential, tech-enabled startup in Kenya. For this engagement, Pace Able Foundation provided technical assistance, financial support, and mentorship – further increasing the Analyst’s growth, confidence, and responsibility throughout her six-month placement.
Our aim has always been to serve socially-minded organizations with the potential to significantly increase youth employment in Africa, though many of these early-stage, locally-founded businesses cannot yet afford to invest in future talent development. These businesses are on the verge of exciting, scalable solutions that will drive revenue, growth, and significant impact., but to be sure, talent is required to unlock the potential.
In this, we see a bright opportunity to demonstrate the ability of local talent to enable scale and generate capital for promising businesses across the continent. We have exciting plans to hone our approach with the support of mission-aligned partners like Pace Able Foundation.
To learn more, reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org – we’d love to share our learnings and hear your thoughts!
* PWC, The Africa Business Agenda, May 2017.
** World Economic Forum, The Future of Jobs and Skills in Africa: Preparing the Region for the Fourth Industrial Revolution, May 2017
*** Ross Baird and Simon Desjardins, Show me what you can do: Diagnosing the Human Capital Challenge for Social Entrepreneurs and Exploring Emerging Solutions, Village Capital and Shell Foundation.