Have you ever yearned to do something bold, pack up, jump on a plane and start over somewhere new? With a burgeoning population in excess of 1 billion, the lure of Africa has become a magnet for professionals in the diaspora. In a quest to start over in a new, stimulating environment, women are seizing opportunities to pursue their careers on the African continent. Four women, born, raised and based in Britain, discovered their ancestral homelands presented life-changing opportunities. Susan Younis, Elvina Quaison, Margaret Kadi and Cathy Phiri explain how the call of Africa became too loud to ignore.
SUSAN YOUNIS: Short-Term Opportunity Turns Into Long-Term Adventure
“Moving to Nigeria happened by accident,” Susan Younis says. “I had been working at MTV in London for six years when I decided to freelance. I was just about to finish a contract when I received a call from MTV Africa asking me to shoot a series in Nigeria. The rest is history.”
A dual British and Nigerian citizen, Younis was born in Lagos and moved to the UK with her parents when she was four. After carving a successful career in TV production in London, Younis accepted the invitation to go back to Nigeria and eventually relocated to Lagos.
Younis ultimately became responsible for MTV Nigeria’s flagship show and was promoted to senior producer earlier this year, overseeing production for the entire MTV BASE network. Her new role required her to relocate again, this time to MTV’s head office in Johannesburg, South Africa.
While her salary now extends further, Younis has experienced difficulties. “The infrastructure in Nigeria is not stable,” Younis says. “Basic things like sending large files on e-mail can be laborious and frustrating.”
However, she feels fortunate to be working with so many diverse and talented people. “The key benefits are the opportunities to work creatively in this booming market. It’s been a blessing to be part of such a huge movement,” Younis says. “I predict that African music will make the transition to the Western market in due course. Being a part of that is a great feeling.”
ELVINA QUASION: Gap-Year Love Affair Leads to Relocation
Born and raised in London, Elvina Quaison decided to pack her bags and completed her move to Accra in 2011.
“I had reached a point in my life where I knew this was the right time for me to leave,” Quaison says. “I had no ties so the only person who would be uprooted was me.”
“The real motivating push came from a friend who wanted to relocate to Ghana. She was just about to, but she passed away suddenly. It was a wake-up call. I realized that you can’t keep putting things off until tomorrow,” Quaison adds.
After spotting a gap in the market for her interests and expertise, Quaison founded management consultancy Silk Solutions, a company assists clients seeking to establish enterprises in Ghana.
Formerly chair of the Ghana Black Stars Network, an organization connecting the diaspora, Quaison’s career sparked her interest in the investment opportunities in her homeland. Arriving in Accra required Quaison to fully embrace her new environment. “Being brought up in the West had a distinct impact on my mindset, cultural references and way of thinking,” Quaison says. “This is a challenge when moving to an environment that feels like home and you want to be home.”
Positive experiences range from developing networks to gaining a better understanding of just how adaptable she can be. “The key professional benefits have been developing new skills and gaining insight into how different cultures do business,” Quaison says. “Personally I have attained goals that I would not have even imagined possible a year ago.”
MARGARET KADI: Bit by Entrepreneurship Bug in Sierra Leone
Born in Freetown, Margaret Kadi lived in Sierra Leone until the age of 16 before moving to Britain, where she remained for 18 years.
“The decision to relocate back to Africa was due to the culmination of a lot of things,” Kadi says. “I visited Sierra Leone for the first time in 17 years, and it blew me away.”
During her vacation, Kadi was inspired to launch Project Sierra Leone, a supplier of ethically made accessories produced by local artisans. “I met a group of women who made the most exquisite handmade placemats and bags,” Kadi says. “Some of them were in desperate conditions because it wasn’t so easy to sell their wares. I decided I would help by buying their products and enlisting retailers to sell on our behalf.”
At the time, Kadi was still based in Kent, England pursuing a career in the media industry. She decided to quit her job and moved to Freetown in 2011 to focus on the business.
Her experience has featured a few frustrations. “The pace is very different,” Kadi says. “I find it hard to deal with slow Internet connection, not to mention the fact that there are constant blackouts due to electricity outages and issues due to the lack of water supply.”
Despite this, Kadi is excited to be focusing her energies on Project Sierra Leone and has immersed herself in community projects. “I am a patron for the Sierra Leone Red Cross Society and I am also a trustee on the board of the Craig Bellamy Foundation,” Kadi says. “Being back in Africa enables me to work closely with my artisans; This is a key benefit.”