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Business partnerships

“Open transfer of knowledge”

by Eva-Maria Verfürth
Though Africa is only a small player in the global economy, the continent’s economy is growing. Even in sub-Saharan countries, GDP increased by five per cent last year. Accordingly, the region is becoming more interesting in trade terms, and 19 major German private-sector companies have intensified their ties with the continent through the project “Afrika kommt!” (“Here comes Africa!”). [ By Eva-Maria Verfürth ]

Lucy Mutinda is an extraordinary person. An engineering graduate, she is one of the few women in Kenya to have ventured into the world of engineering and even into the particularly male-dominated automobile and IT sectors. When she applied for a management position at General Motors East Africa’s production facilities, leaders there hardly believed that she wanted to work in that noisy and dirty environment. But Lucy Mutinda knows exactly where she is heading. At the age of 29, she has already worked for General Motors East Africa, Toyota East Africa and Gath Management. She has experience in auto production and software marketing. Next, she aimed even higher, wanting to gain work experience abroad and achieved that too.

Lucy Mutinda is one of twenty young Africans selected for the “Afrika kommt!” programme. This means one year of advanced training and practical experience in Germany, sponsored by German corporate giants.

The project “Afrika kommt!” is run by 19 German firms and foundations in cooperation with InWEnt, with the goal of letting young leaders from sub-Saharan Africa experience for themselves how Germany’s private sector ticks. Participants are expected to network actively and initiate cooperation, thus boosting business cooperation between Germany and their homelands in the long run.

Lucy Mutinda gave up her job in Kenya to take up this unique opportunity. She firmly believes that she will have a better chance at finding work in Kenya afterwards, even though the financial crisis is affecting the region’s economy.

Automotive engineering for Kenya

Lucy Mutinda learned German in an intensive course in summer 2008, along with the other participants from sub-Saharan Africa. She is now completing her nine-month stint with Continental, the multinational car components manufacturer based in Hanover. Silke Gliemann of Continental is impressed, and says Lucy Mutinda is “more diligent than most interns from German universities”. Cooperation has been so smooth that Continental is considering to give the Kenyan woman future assignments.

After returning to Kenya, Lucy Mutinda wants to pass on her experience. “We need to change the business culture in Kenya, use accurate planning, meet goals with precision, become more punctual and improve communication,” she says. “I will now be in a better position to convince people of these matters, because I have first-hand experience from Germany.” At Continental she saw how planning takes into account every little detail, no matter how insignificant it may seem. “In Kenya, in contrast, cars were sometimes already on the assembly line when we found out that the tailpipes had not been delivered.”

Medicine for Rwanda

Clément Kanamugire, an engineer from Rwanda, is also returning home with ambitious plans. He met Michael Rabbow at the pharmaceutical company Boehringer-Ingelheim. Michael Rabbow is in charge of projects that improve the distribution of HIV/Aids medication, training specialised staff and upgrading health-sector infrastructure in developing countries. A project to improve drug supply in Botswana had just been introduced, so Clément Kanamugire came at just the right time. Why shouldn’t the same scheme fit Rwanda as well?

Clément Kanamugire has never worked in the health sector in Rwanda, but he too is aware of logistical problems. Drug deliveries are not made on time or are even slowed down by the authorities. The engineer will now cooperate with Boehringer-Ingelheim on improving transport processing. He has already approached the health authorities in Rwanda.

Today, Clément Kanamugire has an extensive network of contacts and potential partners in Germany. “People here are very dedicated and organised. I am impressed by how they love their jobs.” Boehringer-Ingelheim considers “Afrika kommt!” a complete success. “It was an open transfer of knowledge from both sides,” says Michael Rabbow.
Business development for Africa

The experiences of Lucy Mutinda and Clément Kanamugire show how business promotion can serve both Germany and Africa. For future “Afrika kommt!” projects, Lucy Mutinda believes that some aspects should be improved. “All German corporations involved should plan in advance how to involve participants in challenging tasks and projects, from which they will really learn something,” she says, adding that she herself benefited a lot from having been involved in challenging projects.

Moreover, some of the participants had to resign from their jobs in their homeland. One year abroad? Not many employers agree to that. “We are supposed to pass on the experience we have gained, but how can we do that, if we do not have a job to resume at home?” Nonetheless Lucy Mutinda is confident that “Afrika kommt!” improves employment opportunities.

Lucy Mutinda and Clément Kanamugire have no doubt that “Afrika kommt!” makes sense and was a great opportunity for all involved. Participants return home with a great wealth of new insights and many new contacts. “I am now able to help my country,” states Clément Kanamugire, “I would not have been able to do so had I not been in Germany.”