Africa is widely acknowledged as the most diverse continent boasting and estimated 3 000 distinct ethnic groups and over 2 000 languages.
By Lizelle Strydom, MD of CareerBox Africa
A 2013 study by Erkan Goren which is now considered the global benchmark for measuring cultural diversity claimed the majority of African countries sit between 70% and 90% Ethnic Fractionalisation. A similar Harvard study placed the world’s top 20 most diverse countries in Africa, with Uganda topping the charts.
South Africa is another extremely diverse country. It is known globally as the ‘Rainbow Nation’, and it does not come by that moniker by chance. The country is a glorious melting pot of ethnic, cultural and language backgrounds.
Rather than seeing this as a weakness, we see it as a superpower. Many African countries are framed for their friendliness and openness. This warm and welcoming approach stems in part from this plurality of views, opinions, backgrounds and beliefs.
This doesn’t just stand us in good stead with visitors, it is also a great asset to the business process outsourcing (BPO) industry.
Africa has cultural alignment with many countries
Compared to some other top outsourcing destinations, many African countries are steeped in international culture, watching British and American television shows and movies, and with broad tastes in music and pop culture from across the globe. For example, Kenya is an unexpected stronghold for American country music. Although it is not the only variety of international entertainment to be found, the genre is particularly popular among Kenyans.
The healthy curiosity in global culture held by residents of African countries means that we have many commonalities with British and American customers. We are aware of their cultural references and because of this cultural connection, and an ability to understand American and British accents.
Even though the continent is extremely linguistically diverse English is the predominant business and government language in South Africa, Kenya, Ethiopia, and Ghana, among others. Rwanda has the added benefit of including both French and English as business languages. This means that most individuals in these countries speak excellent English as a first or second language, with a relatively neutral accent.
Impact sourcing with a large pool of talented people
It’s no secret that Africa is a continent of inequality. One of the outcomes of this is a persistently high unemployment rate, particularly for the many young people who fall into the category of NEETs – Not in Education, Employment or Training. And yet they are desperate to improve their lives and the lives of their families by finding ongoing employment opportunities.
The BPO sector is an industry where individuals with varied educational backgrounds and qualifications all have an opportunity to enter the workforce. Africa is bursting with talent.
Many of our young people are resourceful and hard-working, with excellent problem-solving skills that make them a great fit for the BPO industry. Work readiness training programmes such as the one offered by CareerBox Africa help bridge the gap between enthusiastic and motivated young people and the digital skills they need to take advantage of the prospects that the BPO industry can offer them.
Impact sourcing offers motivated young people from disadvantaged backgrounds the chance to enter formal employment with many avenues to develop professional skills and transferable credentials that are applicable in many areas of a company. It sets them up for future success as well as helping them make an immediate positive impact on their families.
Our multicultural workforce has other benefits
Diversity, Equity and Inclusion has rightly become an important consideration for companies globally and locally. Inclusive hiring practices and the results of a dedicated focus on impact sourcing have resulted in a diverse workforce and a significant representation of female employees in the sector, which meets the DEI requirements for those seeking the best offshoring destination for their needs.
Another advantage is that many African time zone is in sync with many others across the EMEA region. This is true of all the countries in which we operate all of which fall within three hours of each other, the majority sitting within one to two hours of the UK.
This helps accomplish real-time collaboration and seamless customer service, while the opposite time zones for the Americas means that most of Africa can easily accommodate night-time customer support for those international companies wishing to provide 24/7 customer service.
The currencies used in Africa offer excellent value to international clients due to exchange rates. This means labour expenses are far lower than in their home markets. These companies can rest assured that employees in the African BPO market are paid fair market value for their services, yet this translates into a highly competitive international rate.
In addition to this, many locations like South Africa have robust labour laws which provide employees with substantive rights and protections and offers another layer of comfort to international clients concerned with employee protections. Kenya has also recently revised labour laws to enhance the potential for BPO in the country.
In both destinations government has recognised the economic value and importance of the BPO sector. South African government has taken their investment a step further and is supporting the industry with a Global Business Sectors Master Plan that includes incentives for new jobs created and sustained over a period of five years, while supporting the training and placement of BPO sector workers. With time, this is something we hope to bring to other markets on the continent too.
All of these factors are what make Africa an appealing destination
International clients are recognising the value of Africa as an excellent offshoring destination for their BPO needs. The sector is thriving. In South Africa, a BPESA Quarterly Jobs Report from earlier this year indicates significant growth and the generation of 4 569 net new international jobs within the sector during the fourth quarter of the financial year 2023, covering the January to March 2023 period.
The report highlights the BPO sector in South Africa as a key driver of employment opportunities and economic growth. Job creation in the sector is nurturing careers for South Africans, particularly youth and people coming from marginalised communities.
In Kenya, the revision of labour laws is part of a government plan to prioritise the BPO sector under their economic pillar. As a result of this, they hope to create 1-million BPO-related jobs by 2026. Rwanda has also seen growth thanks to government and business collaboration. In just two years the country has welcomed fourteen BPO companies, creating 500 jobs and employing thousands of people.
Ultimately, though, it comes back to the talent. Africa is teeming with driven and motivated young people who are eager to grasp the transformational opportunities that the BPO industry offers them. It is this determination to succeed, along with an openness to other cultures and the lessons that come from living in a diverse and multicultural society, that are truly Africa’s superpower, and makes the countries within it such attractive BPO destinations.