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Work Post-Covid-19

The Future of Work Post-COVID: Interview with Yasmin Kumi, Founder of Africa Foresight Group


The coronavirus pandemic has created unprecedented disruptions to workforce systems in Africa. With most employees across the world forced to work from home since March, employers have had to scale up the adoption of technology to enable remote work while ensuring they keep employees safe, engaged and productive.

Ventures Africa talks to Yasmin Kumi, founder and chief executive of Accra-based Africa Foresight Group – the first and largest network of freelance management consultants in Africa – on the future of work in Africa in the post-COVID era as well as the main issues facing and opportunities in the consultancy sector amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Ventures Africa: You founded Africa Foresight Group in 2016 and at the age of 27 after leaving behind your 5-year long career at McKinsey & Company. What informed your decision at the time?

Yasmin Kumi: Funnily, I never wanted to be an entrepreneur, especially not in 2016 where I came straight out of B-School with empty pockets. Yet, I always felt deeply connected to the purpose of elevating African people, which partially links back to the way I grew up. For me, it was sad to see that many Africans in Germany are not necessarily proud of where they come from. Meanwhile, Germans are very proud of their big corporate brands and their “Mittelstand”. As a half-German that spent her entire childhood in Berlin, I got to experience that throughout my upbringing. I never understood why Africans do not have this same source of pride; why there are no companies that can compete on a global level coming from the continent. And so I spent 8 years examining this question from different angles, through my research in Oxford and Seoul for instance. Even though starting AFG 3.5 years ago was very spontaneous, the pathway to this was written many years prior. I believe that I was lucky to recognize that this was the case to take the bold decision of starting up.

VA: What is the most significant change in the future of work you have seen since the beginning of this crisis?

YK: COVID-19 is redefining the meaning of trust in business relationships. Before the pandemic, it was often difficult to close deals or simply “do business” without significant in-person interaction. After an initial pause, I am now seeing many people pick up conversations and move ahead with deals despite the inability to travel and meet. We are learning to assess people and business partners in new ways that will likely stick beyond the crisis. The result is a decreased cost of doing business that is particularly interesting for debottlenecking growth in emerging markets, where trust-building is always a barrier.

VA: In the post-COVID era, are firms going to have to consider the outright replacement of workers with technology?

YK: I do not think so at all. Covid-19 does not accelerate this trend. On the contrary, it seems that people are currently realizing how much human capital matters in a time where it is harder to make use of. What I do believe is that Covid-19 forces businesses to consider the replacement of full-time work with new models of work that are less dependent on location, more output-based than time-focused, and more cost-effective. And of course, technology will play a big role in this – but more so as a facilitator than a replacement.

This is a huge opportunity for the African continent. I am seeing a world where our fast-growing workforce might become the new pool of offshoring talent offering remote services to global corporates from across the world. Places with good infrastructures, such as South Arica, sit on a big opportunity here to build a truly new economy that is stronger than what we had prior to Covid-19.

VA: Having worked with several firms across the continent, how would you rate the capacity of African companies to meet the need for rapid digital transformation and how are they adjusting to the current reality?

YK: Unfortunately, I am a bit of a devil’s advocate on this one. I do not think that all African companies need a rapid digital transformation. This is a big point with regard to what we do at AFG. We work with businesses from very traditional business sectors for which the business case of digitization is weak because of the oversupply of the workforce in many African countries. These businesses need digital enhancement, but not necessarily a full transformation. I am talking about agribusinesses here, port companies, FCMG companies.

In the same vein, the new reality for them to adjust to right now is not necessarily how to embark on an accelerated digital transformation. Their workers are mostly back at the factory/ports. What they are trying to adjust to is falling FX rates, lowering global demand. Now more so than ever is the time to focus on local sourcing and on capturing national consumption growth. What will be interesting here is to see how the adoption of new workforce models can help in this, in order to increase worker productivity and keep margins healthy despite more localized market focus. Surely, there is a technology element in that, but the major part of this is the shift of culture.

VA: Remote work seems to be the most standout feature of the new normal in workplaces. This means most employees are all separated from their teams. How can they maintain a sense of belonging while isolated at home?

YK: At AFG we are lucky to have worked remotely since we started our business. Prior to Covid-19, about 50 percent of our teams worked remotely, now it is 100 percent. We have started getting creative around team-building the current situation. People have a tendency towards falling into a very transactional communication mode in this period. And so the goal is to compensate that with creating as much fun as possible. A few ideas that have been helpful to bring back social and fun elements for us:

  • Online poetry nights with voluntary participation
  • Collective training focusing on anxiety and stress management via video call
  • Quizzes on Friday afternoons
  • Monday morning calls to start the week together on a high note, with motivational quotes
  • Rotating moderators from within the team for recurring meetings
  • A plant that goes from team member to team member with the humble goal for it to “survive”

VA: Also, how do leadership or management teams address such pitfalls and beat the collaboration, productivity, and emotional disadvantages that can arise with a remote working environment?

YK: Our management team has been meeting very regularly at each other’s homes to stay connected and strategize. Using the current period for reassessing strategy is an absolute must. Our all-female management team – sometimes referred to as the “Amazons”

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