WHEN the coronavirus pandemic spread in early 2020, economies around the world closed down and most people were relegated to remote work. But for the young African professionals taking part in the latest AFRIKA KOMMT! programme, the pandemic brought the additional challenge of being in a foreign country and taking part in a highly competitive programme.
According to Ilka Wiskemann, SAP Global HR Business Partner, participants in this year’s programme had to contend with the disruption of a global pandemic. ‘This year’s participants showcased their ability to be agile and flexible in the face of immense disruption. The skills, tools and resources each participant developed over the past year was invaluable as they rose to the challenge brought by Covid-19.’
AFRIKA KOMMT! is a joint training initiative for young professionals from Africa that was founded in Germany in 2008. The programme trains young future leaders from Africa on-site at up to 19 leading German companies. The participating companies bear all costs of the programme and provide scholarships that cover the living expenses of all participants.
A total of 47 candidates participated in the latest programme, hailing from countries including Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Côte d’Ivoire, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, Namibia, Nigeria, Uganda, and Zimbabwe. SAP chose eight candidates from this year’s talent pool.
‘The quality of applicants is increasing every year,’ says Wiskemann. ‘It’s incredible to see the talent that we can hire through the programme. For the first time, we also had more female candidates than male ones, with very strong female leadership potential in this year’s contingent. In a really positive sign, SAP has retained the skills of 88% of this year’s participants, and outstanding achievement considering the disruptive impact of the pandemic.’
Candidates adapt to disruption
One such candidate is Nigerian-born Taiwo Ladipo. After being accepted into the programme following a rigorous selection process, Ladipo headed to Bonn in Germany in August 2019.
‘We all took part in three months of intensive German language training before we left to join our companies, and visited different parts of the country to immerse ourselves in the culture. Arriving at the SAP head office in Walldorf was a truly memorable experience. And despite the sheer size of the campus, we were amazed at the warm and welcoming atmosphere and the culture of friendliness that SAP embodies.’
However, midway through this year’s programme it was interrupted by the coronavirus pandemic, forcing a change in format. ‘Luckily, many of the participants had already settled into their new roles when lockdown measures were first implemented. With a clear understanding of our roles and what is expected of us, we could quite easily continue working from home,’ says Ladipo.
A software developer by trade, Ladipo joined the SAP SME innovations team after graduating from the programme. She now works in a team that develops new innovations to support small and medium-sized businesses.
Launchpad for long-term success
As a founding member of AFRIKA KOMMT!, SAP has employed a number of graduates of the programme over the past few years. Kwena Mabotja is one such graduate. The Mandela-Washington Fellow and current Director at SAP Purpose and Brand Experience joined the programme in 2013 with a vision of helping African companies run better and become more successful.
‘Prior to my time with AFRIKA KOMMT!, I had no previous exposure to the tech industry,’ says Mabotja. ‘My experience on the programme allowed me to develop an interest in technology, especially its potential to transform businesses in Africa through greater efficiency and scaling. Following the programme, I wanted to be part of the SAP Africa growth story as it worked to support the success of businesses on the continent.’
While the programme does focus on technical aspects of the job roles each candidate is meant to fulfil, Mabotja believes its true value lies elsewhere. ‘Networking is one of the most important aspects of the programme. Some of the people I met during my time in Germany have played invaluable roles in my career development, and greatly helped me find a place in the business where I could make a positive impact.’
Ladipo agrees. ‘You need to use the opportunity to build leadership competencies, management skills and more, which all require interaction with a wide range of people. An amazing benefit of working at SAP is how accessible everyone is: you don’t need a special title or connection before reaching out to someone. There’s a culture of helpfulness and openness that makes it easy to build great relationships.’
After eight successful programme intakes, AFRIKA KOMMT! continues to produce outstanding results with many of the participating companies taking on more candidates than before.
‘Former participants also continue to play a guiding role as mentors to new candidates,’ says Wiskemann. “In addition, the work over the past twelve years has laid a foundation for greater sustainable economic development and partnership between Germany and several African countries. We look forward to building on the success at our next intake.’
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