Homecoming Revolution, an organisation establised in South Africa in 2003 wants to encourage more African Diasporans to work and live in their countries of origin. In March, they hold a large expo in London featuring top employers recruiting people in the UK to work in Africa, as well as providing workshops and information about property, schools, relocation services, immigration advice, entrepreneurial opportunities and investments.
Ahead of the event, we caught up with Megan de Villiers, Strategist at Homecoming Revolution to pick her brains on why ‘going home’ should be on every diasporan to do list.
Gateway For Africa: With pressure on governments around job creation and the lack of opportunity, in particular for Africa’s youth, where does the repatriation of the continent’s expats fit in?
Megan de Villiers: In ‘advanced economies’, demand for high-skilled labour is now growing faster than supply, which means that the competition for talent is fierce and only getting fiercer. Home countries will find it hard to compete for home-grown talent now living abroad for a number of reasons, not the least of which include developed world infrastructure, the lure of great salaries, education, travel, relative political stability and the opportunities that come from favourable skilled immigration policies in the west and elsewhere.
Industrially developed countries like the United States of America are ahead of the game in terms of economic growth policies and how they will reach ambitious targets. A 2011 study by the American Enterprise Institute, suggested that severe immigration reform would be required to lift the US economy. Later in 2011, President Obama called for changing policy to allow greater numbers of talented immigrants to work in the country. The study arrived at four main findings: – Immigrants with advanced degrees boost employment for US natives; Temporary foreign workers, both skilled and unskilled, boost US employment; the research debunks the idea that immigration leads to fewer jobs for US natives, and highly educated immigrants pay far more in taxes than they receive in benefits.Today nearly 42 per cent of all US doctorate-level science and engineering workers are foreign-born. A 2007 Duke and UC Berkeley study found that 25 per cent of all US high-tech firms established between 1995 and 2005 had at least one foreign-born founder. In 2005, these new companies employed 450,000 people and generated over $50 billion in sales.
GFA: That’s all good for America but what does it have to do with Africa?
MV: The National Population Commission has said that the rate of unemployment in Nigeria rose from 21.1 per cent in 2010 to 23.9 per cent in 2011 which means that 40 million Nigerians are without jobs. In Ghana, the population in the 15-24 age group has an unemployment rate of 25.6 per cent, and in Uganda youth unemployment is at a staggering 83 per cent according to the World Bank’s 2012 statistics. In Kenya, the unemployment rate has increased to 40 per cent in the last two years from 12 per cent in 2006 and South Africa’s currently sits at 24.7 per cent. So we need favourable economic policies to create jobs, and diaspora members returning have to be part of that.
GFA:So where does Homecoming Revolution fit into this?
MV: Homecoming Revolution became the first and only organisation to pursue their skilled talent abroad with a broader one-stop perspective on repatriation offering not only jobs but information, advice, services and education to make an informed and holistic decision for and by the entire family. Regardless of the myriad reasons why people leave to start lives elsewhere in the world, there is compelling evidence that the desire to return home is a powerful one. In the Homecoming Revolution survey, conducted in 2013 amongst African expats in a number of countries abroad and of many that have returned home, We found that successful returnees move home firstly to be closer to friends and family, second for a sense of belonging and thirdly for career. Our annual international expos give those thinking of returning the opportunity to hear more about what’s going on at home and provides tangible job opportunities and the tools to make that move.
GFA: Don’t diasporas support Africa best by being abroad and providing remittances?
MV: In 2012, for the first time, remittances became the largest external financial source to Africa and are an important source of revenue for some 120 million people in Africa to support consumption, education and health expenses. In 2013, recorded remittances to Africa amounted to around USD 64 billion, so coming home is not the only way to contribute to the Africa story but it’s a very sustainable one; some governments might argue that émigrés are better left in the diaspora; But, our focus on Africa’s expats should not only be on how much money we can bring back in to our countries through remittances but the enhanced unquantifiable value of their contributions once back home. A returning African brings skills and experience and a keen sense of purpose that having lived abroad instils in one. Whilst we shouldn’t see the ‘repatriation generation’ (a phrase coined by Brendah Nyakudya, editor of The Afropolitan) as requiring special treatment, we should try to harness their frontier-like, adventurous and can-do attitudes for the betterment and growth of Africa. On a quantifiable level, we can presume that with Africa’s current spend of US$4 billion per year to employ some 100,000 Western experts to perform functions generically described as technical assistance; we should be looking at more sustainable and affordable strategies like tapping in to our forgotten diaspora. Nigeria alone loses a staggering N900 billion yearly in capital flight from foreign skilled labourers, nearly US$6 billion. Homecomers, in our view, are not only one answer to the problem of the widening skills gap and growing developing economies but also a great way to create unskilled jobs.
GFA: So you believe that high-skilled workers create a ripple effect of job creation throughout the economy?
MV: The wages of workers in key industries creates a ripple effect through local economies; the concept of high-wage and low-wage job growth being interdependent has been well-documented by economists around the world. Jobs created in high-wage, export-oriented industries not only increase the number of well-paid workers in those industries, but also lead to job openings in lower-paying service industries in those regions — which means more jobs for the unskilled. Export-serving industries — those that bring outside money into the region — have large multiplier effects. Projected FDI for Africa in 2015 is expected to reach $150 billion, creating 350 000 capital intensive jobs a year (according to an Ernst & Young report) resulting in demand for talent outstripping supply and it’s not just in Africa that returning diasporans are making an impact – a recent article in the Wall Street Journal stated that America’s attractiveness is waning for talented immigrants from dynamic countries. In the past decade, the share of doctoral-degree recipients in science and engineering from China and India who report definite plans to stay in America has been falling. A recent survey by Duke University researcher Vivek Wadwha found that 72 per cent of Indian immigrants who returned to their home country said that opportunities to start their own businesses were “better” or “much better” there than in the US. For Chinese immigrant returnees, the figure was an alarming 81 per cent.