What you can learn about doing business with Africa, at Kyiv Post Employment Fair

by Andy Kozlov

What you can learn about doing business with Africa, at Kyiv Post Employment Fair (Collage by A. Kozlov I)

Being a self-appointed champion of South-South trade, I went to this year’s Kyiv Post Employment Fair with a tricky question. I pulled it out of my sleeve each time greetings were exchanged with HR reps at their respective global companies’ stands:

“Good morning. My name is Andriy. I’d like to know more about getting a job with your company in Africa.”

The reaction: nothing close to what I could expect. People took me seriously.

Olga Honcharova of Danone gave me a chance to share with her information on the partnership I just learned about yesterday from listening to a London School of Economics lecture by social business pioneer Dr Muhammad Yunus.

In response, Ms Honcharova let me know about the exciting work her company has been doing in Ukraine over the recent years. By joining forces with Heifer-Ukraine — branch of global nonprofit with the goal to end poverty and hunger, — Danone Ukraine launched the Ukraine milk communities project which aims at creating  agricultural cooperatives set to strengthen small dairy producers and add value to the entire agriculture output.

I reiterated by suggesting that maybe we should do something for refugees and asylum-seekers living in Ukraine. The reaction was not discouraging.

Bringing up the topic of getting a job in African branches of other Ukraine-operating companies present at the employment fair, was no less fun.

I spoke to another France-stemming firm Leroy Merlin, home-improvement and gardening retailer operational in a dozen countries, Brazil and China among them. What about one more BRICS nation? I was told that the HQ plans to expand to South Africa in something like five years. So, no vacancy for me in the near future. And before I said ‘merci,’ the French staff manning the stand, along with two of his Ukrainian colleagues, suggested that my assumption that French global companies should be in Africa may not hold water. Sure, Carrefour has just redistributed its revenue to target Africa expansion. But, in the long run, my French interlocutor suggested what they really want to do is to move back to France.

As I was navigating through employers’ stands, I ran into Goodluck. An African man looking for a job in Ukraine, Goodluck recently graduated from a medical school. As intro line, I told Goodluck that I am currently helping the UN agency for refugees with communications. Being an entrepreneurial man, he didn’t wait long to ask me: if he wants to become a refugee am I the kind of person who could help him get resettled to Germany or, say, Canada? This was a signal for me to start feeding my African friend with one of empowerment mini-lectures, Muhammad Yunus-style. “Do you know what I am doing here, talking to all these people?” I asked Goodluck plotting against his dreams of the West. “Asking for a job in Africa.”

Djiboutians receive a rendition of Ukraine’s map. February 2012 (Photo: Greenwich Group)

In a genuinely African way, Goodluck smiled to these words to only start complaining that he is not a specialist doctor, just a general practitioner. I hope: this reply was meant to say that finding a general medical practitioner job in Africa is impossible. I hope: this did not mean to say that general practitioners don’t earn much, so Goodluck is not interested in low-paying positions, as he starts his career.

Before parting ways with Goodluck, I didn’t forget to mention to him that I am helping out the group of Ukrainian film-makers that put up together the first Nigerian-Ukrainian feature film and we had the public premier at Cannes on May 21 2013. “Be checking my blog to learn more about Nollywood and Nigerians in Ukraine, Goodluck!”

Then I talked to a young Hannover-headquarted “branch-orienting consulting and business software implementation services” company — yeah, I know what you think — Assino.

Africa? Refugees? “Send us your resume, please.” No, thank you, I think I’ll pass this exciting job opportunity.

I was left with almost the same feeling after talking to Coca Cola guys. They managed to produce some factoid about Nigeria being part of the same operations region as Ukraine. But questioning for more details just left me exposed to the punch line “Check on our website. Everything is there.”

Eduard Prutnik with Djibouti President Ismail Omar Guelleh (Photo: United World International Fund )

Finally, came time to see the two companies that stem from my motherland: DTEK and AVK, both headquartered in Donetsk. My memory didn’t fail me when I mentioned to DTEK people that their company is working directly with Africa. “DTEK became the first Ukrainian company to enter the coal markets in Africa and South America, where there is considerable demand for high quality anthracite coal,” reads September 2012 press release on System Capital Management — DTEK mother– site. I wish I pulled this PR up while I was still in front of  the DTEK guys. Even if they knew about the fact they clearly forgot it.

But I have to give credit to one of the chaps from the Rinat Akhmetov-owned energy holding company. Despite forgetting about his employers’ track record, he did mention to me something of value. I was directed to Ukrainian businessman, politician and philanthropist Eduard Prutnik’s projects in Africa. Interesting. Learning new things indeed.

What you can learn about doing business with Africa, at Kyiv Post Employment Fair (Collage by A. Kozlov II)

I became the centre of attention for the consecutive 27 seconds at the AVK stand when I shared my experience of  making sure that Zimbabwe reads and.. Feathered Dreams again — can’t help doing it, sorry.

AVK people were most ready to pose businessy questions. “Do Africans like chocolate?” is my favorite one. My assessment of their Africa-readiness:

Some staff still needs to learn that UAE is not in Africa. Plus, AVK should think of briefing their external relations people (I mean everybody who sweet-talks on behalf of the enterprise) about which markets they plan to do business with. According to information that Steppes in Sync publicized several months earlier:

AVK currently works on enlarging the list of products made according to Shariah requirements to 120 brands. Once the “halal” certificate is issued, expectations of importing company-made bonbons, biscuits and wafers are held by Jordan, Kuwait, Yemen, Algeria, Libya, Morocco, Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Representatives of KPMG, one of the largest professional services companies in the world and one of the Big Four auditors, along with Deloitte, Ernst & Young and PricewaterhouseCoopers, got excited about my Africa question. But we didn’t go further than “Register online. Send CV to graduate@kpmg.ua.” “Will it just sit on someone’s desktop,” I inquired. The answer was more inspired by HR talk drills than inspirational.

Time will show what the return on Hrn20 entrance fee be for me. One thing that I carried home from Kyiv Post Employment Fair with me today — that may trump the pure financial ROI — is the reassurance that there is future for Africa in Ukraine, there is future for Ukraine in Africa.

What you can learn about doing business with Africa, at Kyiv Post Employment Fair (Collage by A. Kozlov III)

You can contact the author of this piece on a.kozlov@steppesinsync.com

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