The Demand for Talent in African Social Enterprises

IBL_Africa talent

Social enterprise is booming in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Over the past 12 months, Impact Business Leaders has sourced 558 open middle and senior management roles in social enterprises and impact investors around the world. Nearly 250 of those roles are in Sub-Saharan Africa. That’s almost double the number of open roles we’ve sourced in any other region. Granted, we focus on sourcing roles from regions where we operate, but we think the trend is clear – there’s a huge demand for management talent in Sub-Saharan Africa.

The jobs we’re sourced cover a huge variety of titles, functions and industries. They also represent ten countries across East, South and West Africa. But, what they have in common is the need for professionals with serious business experience who are interested in using their skills to make an impact in the region.

Why so much demand? From the sheer quantity of jobs that are out there, it is evident that growing numbers of entrepreneurs are connecting their desire to create lasting social impact with their urge to launch and grow world-class businesses. Some of the biggest success stories in social enterprise – such as d.light, Sanergy, and M-KOPA – have their roots in Africa. These companies, and others like them, are growing.

But companies often struggle to recruit the right talent to scale. The 2014 Aspen Network of Development Entrepreneurs (ANDE) Impact Report found “the talent challenge continues to hold back SGBs [small and growing businesses]. It is a root cause of the inability of many SGBs to access finance and grow.” While companies would prefer to hire local talent, they often tell IBL they have a difficult time finding the experience and skills needed among regional business professionals with the risk appetite for a quickly growing company.

To meet this demand, IBL launched a program in Nairobi last year and will continue this program in 2016. But our programs alone won’t even come close meeting the talent needs of our social enterprise network in Africa.

More talent is needed to quench the thirst for business talent in emerging social enterprise hot spots like Nairobi, Kampala and Accra.  We think this creates a huge opportunity for professionals in the African diaspora, who may have an advantage over other expat talent. A study of social enterprise in Ghana found that “a significant driving force of social enterprise activity seems to come from the returned diaspora community.” With both international experience and knowledge of a local region and/or language, members of the diaspora are often well positioned to help social enterprises scale.

If you are interested in pursuing a career in social enterprise or impact investing in Africa, we suggest you: reflect on your goals, research your options, and take the plunge by applying for open roles. If you get stuck, seek guidance from organizations like IBL or access resources from networks like ANDE and the Global Impact Investing Network (GIIN).

We believe there’s never been a better time to pursue a career that creates a better world. And, right now, there’s no better place to do it than Africa.

Job Opening: Operations and Finance Manager


Are you excited by the idea of preparing business professionals for career opportunities in social enterprises? Do you want to challenge your operations and finance skill set in a fast-paced, entrepreneurial environment? IBL is looking for you to join our Washington D.C. based team!

The Operations & Finance Manager (OFM) will be a crucial team member on IBL’s staff of 4 as it expands to 6 regional programs around the world. S/he will work in all areas of operations and finance, building all-around skills in program management, finance, analysis, data management, communications, and technology. This role is excellent training for candidates interested in eventually being a COO or starting their own enterprise and only candidates with this professional ambition will be considered (this candidate should aim to eventually succeed the current COO at IBL). Comfort with financial analysis and basic accounting skills is also essential, preferably gained through experience in a financial role.

Due to the breadth of activity, the successful candidate will be eager to learn and curious, willing to take on any challenges that come his/her way, and able to apply existing skills and aptitudes in unfamiliar areas. We do not expect you to come to this job with expertise in all of the areas described below, but we do expect adaptability, hard work, and general analytic ability that can be applied to new challenges.

The complete job description with more information on how to apply can be found here.

If you know someone who is a great fit, we appreciate your referrals.

How to Speed Up Your Job Search

How to speed up your job search

No one likes to hear it, but job searches almost always take longer than you expect. This is true in any sector, but especially in sectors as nascent and fragmented as social enterprise and impact investing. Fortunately, there are a few things you can do to speed up the job search. These tactics work for the participants in our program, and we think they can work for you as well.

Reflect on your goals

It sounds obvious, but if you don’t know what you are looking for, you’re going to have a tough time finding it. We are not suggesting that you need to know the exact organization you want to work for and title you would like to have (in fact, this level of specificity can be limiting), but you should have a general idea or a few hypotheses to help you focus your search – otherwise you risk wasting time on applications for jobs you wouldn’t want or would never get.

In our experience, people who find roles that are meaningful and a good fit take the time to reflect on their personal and professional goals as well as their constraints. They also explore how their skills will best translate. You don’t have to do this alone. IBL provides one-on-one career counseling to guide you through this process, and there are tons of other resources out there to help you clarify what you’re looking for.

Have your network at the ready

While some are lucky enough to get a job by simply applying on a website, most of us have to leverage our networks to land a new job. Reconnecting with current and new contacts takes time –and generally happens on their schedule, not yours. In my experience, two to four weeks can pass between an initial email outreach and an actual meeting with a person in my network. If they offer to connect me to others, it can take a few more weeks for them to follow through. Suddenly, six weeks have passed.

So how do you make your network move faster? Consider whether you need a meeting or could you accomplish what you need by asking a few specific questions over email. If you think a conversation would be most helpful, often calls are easier to schedule than in person meetings. Finally, make it easy for your network to help you by, for example, drafting emails for them to forward, sharing links to the jobs you’re asking about, or attaching your CV to updated them on your most recent work.

Applying: Invest in quality over quantity

We all hate to do it, but tailoring your cover letter and CV to the specific job and company you are applying for is almost always essential. Researching the company and the role, reflecting on why it is a good match for you, and drafting and articulating a compelling application takes hours. However, the alternative of sending a generic cover letter and CV into the black hole of a recruiting system – especially if you are a looking to take on a role in a new sector or function – generally doesn’t work in IBL applicants’ experience.

There are a few strategies you can use to save time. Cut down unnecessary applications by being thoughtful and realistic. Invest time in quality applications for roles you are suited for. Get past the initial application gatekeeper by seeking referrals from your network. And create master CVs and collections of thematic paragraphs for cover letters that include all of your experience but can be edited for a specific application. Or, work with a program like IBL, which can help you identify appropriate jobs and refer you directly to hiring managers –sidestepping the initial application process.

Accept the job application time warp

It is safe to assume that the actual application process will feel (and take) longer than you expect. For the excited job applicant, the application review processes can seem to drag on. From the inside, hiring managers are generally overwhelmed with running a search on top of their day job. Getting back to you is not always their top priority. Things can also come up which put a job search on hold or change the process.

Here’s what you can do: Apply as soon as you hear about an opening. Reply to scheduling and information requests from potential employers as quickly as possible. After an interview or submitting an application, ask when you can expect to hear about next steps and (politely) follow up once that date has passed. If you know someone within a company, you can also ask them for the inside scoop on the search timeline.

While job searches are unpredictable in length – some of us have jobs land in our lap unexpectedly and others of us slave over applications for months or years before finding the right fit – by following these tips, you can take some control over the timeline.

Remember, there is no reason you have to wait until you are actively job seeking to reflect (even in a job you are happy with) about your professional skills, preferences, and goals. And, best practice is to maintain your networks even when you are not looking so that they are at the ready when you need them. Finally, consider seeking help, like dozens of others have, from programs like IBL that support you through the career reflection process, help you position yourself for the jobs you are seeking, and connect you to our wide, established networks.