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  • Matthew Mugan

Purpology - The Secret Sauce of Africa's Challenger Employer Brands

Recent editions of the Careers in Africa Employer of Choice ranking have mirrored the growing proliferation of African tech-driven organisations, with more brands from the space featured and some ranking particularly well. Are these brands benefiting from a Google et al halo effect, seen as progressive just because they are in digital? Or is there a deeper meaning to discern?

Talk to enough people about the world of work and you will hear the same organisations held up as exemplars in a few hot-topic areas. Uber is everyone’s go-to on the gig economy, Coca-Cola on brand advocacy, Google on employee experience. The Google comparison is particularly powerful, with employers everywhere seeking to add a bit of Googliness to their experience in areas such as office environment, flexibility, autonomy and innovation.

It’s clear that it doesn’t hurt to have some digital in the mix when it comes to attracting employees. This space though, is increasingly crowded, as new tech entrants scrap with digitising banks, phone companies, investment platforms and health insurers for tech-savvy talent. With the fourth industrial revolution making digital the new normal across most sectors, those who are continuing to stand out as employers are doing something more.

They are combining their technological innovation with a social impact which we’ve seen repeatedly driving strong performances in Careers in Africa Employer of Choice rankings for the likes of the African Development Bank, DBSA and Afreximbank.

In doing so, they are creating a sense of Purpology, the new spin on the magic which has always been at the heart of successful employer brands. By mixing purpose and technology (which made for a better portmanteau than ‘innovation’), these organisations are able to hit some of the key differentiators within the employee experience, including a sense of vision (enhanced by sustainability), competitive innovation (people like to back winners), personal development (you learn more working at the cutting edge) and trust in leadership (a strong mission makes leaders look better).

Strong employer brands have always operated in these areas, but the Purpology brands have hit on an on-trend mix of impact and innovation which is allowing them to compete favourably with significantly larger and older brands in the race for talent. We spoke to the people and communications heads of two such organisations, BitPesa and Bridge International Academies, to find out how their employer brands are put together, and what results they are seeing.

How can Africa-focused tech brands compete with the global players for talent?

Charlene Chen, COO, BitPesa

“The tech industry across the continent, particularly in East and West Africa, has never been hotter. But it’s the purpose which can set African brands apart. Dozens of African companies are already tackling incredibly huge challenges in fields ranging from agriculture and energy, to education and financial services. Africa-focused tech brands should focus on attracting talent who are more inspired by solving huge problems than on building tiny features for a limited customer segment.”

Divya Venkat, VP People, Bridge International Academies

“Bridge International Academies is a social justice movement, supported by technology. We run or support more than 1,200 nursery and primary schools (primarily public schools) across Africa and Asia and have educated 500,000 children from communities earning less than $2 per day. Providing life changing education for all children and supporting the delivery of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal 4 is the purpose that every single employee in the organisation is driven by.”

How does the mission come through in the employer brand to attract talent?

CC, BitPesa: “BitPesa’s mission is to significantly reduce the friction of doing business in frontier markets by developing innovative payment and treasury solutions. We find that we attract employees who recognise the problems we are solving and want to be a part of the solution.”

DV, Bridge: “Our mission is unique and Bridge finds that those who are motivated by social impact are drawn to us. We have talent from a wide variety of backgrounds including teachers, academics, researchers, developers and data scientists. All of them believe every child has the right to a high quality education and believes education will deliver peace and prosperity locally and globally.”

So you’ve established a sense of purpose and innovation as part of the employer brand. How do you actually deliver that in the employee value proposition?

DV: Through training and empowering tens of thousands government and community teachers and headteachers. Bridge uses its technology to disseminate, training, lesson plans and admin support from Nairobi to our schools across the world. Data from every lesson & school is going back to Nairobi, monitoring pupil and teacher performance and attendance, which together with in-person coaching and reviews, provides teachers with exceptional training and development opportunities.

That links us to the future of work, in terms of teachers being replaced by automation for areas like admin and lesson planning. But in this case the jobs aren’t lost, and the time is being reinvested into contact time and teacher development?

DV: Yes! Teachers are the heart of the classroom; and central to what Bridge does. In many countries in which we work they do not have the support, materials or training they need to succeed. Technology is only part of our approach and only 40% of the lesson content comes from the guide, so teachers are still adding their unique input and creativity. What we’re doing is enabling teachers who struggle to succeed - we’re raising the floor, not lowering the ceiling. Our teachers are maximising their own potential.

Career progression for teachers is commonplace at Bridge. One of our primary teacher trainers in Kenya recently became our Country Director for Bridge in Liberia, so we are clearly providing skills development and also international mobility as part of our EVP.

What about skills development in the BitPesa EVP?

Bonike Ayanbadejo, Head of People Operations, BitPesa

“We link skills development to our innovation, so it’s very much part of the day job. We give our employees exposure to new technologies such as cryptocurrency and Blockchain. For us, the opportunity to gain valuable new skills is critical in the attraction and retention of talent, especially in this era where the majority of candidates are in part of Generation Y.”

But are you seeing these approaches impact the numbers?

Claire Eboi, Talent Acquisition Manager at BitPesa

“Three years ago, BitPesa only had around 20 team members and had limited employer brand awareness. Today, the team has grown to close to 90 members, and we are still growing. Last quarter, we managed to hire 32 new people to join our vibrant team. Our retention rate is more than 90%. The employer brand has gone a long way in making this possible.”

Are things moving quickly at Bridge?

DV: “Yes. Bridge is growing fast and our approach to training teachers and other employees - alongside the inspiring mission - has enabled us to recruit the headcount to sustain that growth. In Edo State, Nigeria, for example, we are supporting and training 12,000 teachers for the State government. We’ve got to support them to adopt a new teaching philosophy and classroom management techniques, on behalf of the government, for their own growth, but mostly because it directly drives improved learning outcomes.”

The 2019 Careers in Africa Employer of Choice rankings underscore the importance of Purpology in creating an attractive employer brand. Organisations across Africa should be focusing on how they can deliver an authentic combination of innovation and impact to win the race for talent.

BitPesa is a Kenya-founded company on a mission to develop innovative financial technology solutions that empower frontier market businesses. BitPesa makes it quick, easy, and cost-effective for any business, anywhere in the world, to send and receive money from frontier markets.

Bridge International Academies is a social justice movement founded in Kenya which runs or supports over a 1,200 nursery and primary schools across Africa and Asia. The vast majority are public schools. Over 10 years Bridge has educated 500,000 children from impoverished communities earning less than $2 a day and delivered significantly improved learning outcomes, evidenced by independent national exams, RCT’s and studies.


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