Jobs Guru Calls On Africans To Return Home
MICHEL MARTIN, host:
I'm Michel Martin, and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Coming up, they flew to New York for a play and tacked on dinner near the Eiffel Tower after a business trip to Paris. Nice for them, but is President Obama upping the ante on date night way too high for ordinary guys? One writer thinks so. We'll talk to him about that in just a few minutes.
But first, we're going to continue our International Briefing with a story from Africa. Over decades, hundreds of thousands of Africans have left their home countries in search of better opportunities abroad, leaving behind a huge shortage of skilled and educated labor, from architects to doctors to engineers.
Many African governments have been forced to recruit foreign workers to fill in the gap left behind from the large-scale exodus of local professionals. Now one man is trying to reverse that trend. Yusuf Reja is the chief executive officer of Zebra Jobs. It's a Web portal that brings together employers in Africa and job seekers from the Diaspora worldwide, and he joins us now in our Washington studio. Welcome. Thank you for joining us.
Mr. YUSUF REJA (Chief Executive Officer, Zebra Jobs): Thank you, Michel.
MARTIN: How did you come up with this idea?
Mr. REJA: I came to the United States to do my education, and I lived here for a few years, and I was working for Motorola as a software engineer.
MARTIN: And where are you from?
Mr. REJA: I am originally from Ethiopia.
MARTIN: Was it your intention to stay, or were you always thinking you'd go back, but you just didn't?
Mr. REJA: Well, at that time, the time that I came, we had a communist government, and so we weren't sure if we were going to go back. So when there was a change of our government, then I started to think about going back. That always - I've always felt that it was time for me to go back home and also provide my talent and resources to where I came from.
MARTIN: Why? Some people would say that's what education is for, to open doors, opportunities.
Mr. REJA: It did open the opportunities for me here. I got the education and the experience. And I found myself, that if I go back, my contribution will have a meaningful impact on the people, and when I go there, I'm an important person. In fact, I remember I was a favorite of a show called "Cheers," and one of the songs on that was you want to go where everybody knows your name. And for me, going back to Africa is that, that I went to home, where everybody knew my name.
MARTIN: So how many jobs do you think you list at any one time?
Mr. REJA: On average, we have anywhere between 900 to 1,200 jobs per day.
MARTIN: The experience of leaving home in search of something new is very much a part of the American story. But most Americans - I think it's fair to say -find it inconceivable that having lived here, been a success here, knowing all the opportunities that are here for yourself, as well as for your children, that you'd want to leave. I mean, people can understand why you'd want to visit, but I'm not sure they understand why people would want to go back to stay. Can you help explain that?
Mr. REJA: Yeah. At this time, Africa is in a good position, that if in Africa, if you take it as one country, it's the 10th largest economy. So the opportunity there in South Africa is growing, Nigeria is growing. So they get a comfort living that they would have gotten in the (unintelligible).
MARTIN: Are African-Americans interested? Have you seen interest in African-Americans in these opportunities? Or is it mainly first-generation Diasporans?
Mr. REJA: If you look at it on a level of migration, I would say the non-African origin are much more interested in working in Africa. Right now, we have about 150,000 expatriates working all over in Africa, in international NGOs and the (unintelligible) industries and what have you, or in the mining. This is due to the relationship that Africa was colonized by European countries. So you would see a lot of Europeans working in Africa.
MARTIN: What's it like for you going back? I have a number of friends who are foreign correspondents who've worked overseas for years, either they're American and have lived overseas and worked overseas, or they are foreign nationals who've lived here. And sometimes it's not so easy to go home. What's that been like for you?
Mr. REJA: It was quite tough. I was young when I came in this country. So my better half, when I became and adult, I really picked up. There was a certain style of working, and there was a style of living that normally that you would take things for granted, like for example getting things done on time, respecting an appointment, that are really taken for granted in the West. In Africa, it's very much of a social relationship. And here you go in the restaurant and you want you want a meal and you order it, you get what you ask for. But you can go into a restaurant, the waiter or waitress could actually suggest what is in it and if you say I want to have a chicken and the chicken is just that's not that good for you, and you know this is all this is relationship…
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. REJA: That's the way of working in Africa.
MARTIN: You got to adjust.
Mr. REJA: You got to adjust.
MARTIN: You got to be flexible.
Mr. REJA: You got to adjust. But it's worth it.
MARTIN: Do you think that in your lifetime that the brain drain, which continues…
Mr. REJA: Uh-huh.
MARTIN: …will reverse itself? Do you envision this possibility?
Mr. REJA: I actually, personally, I don't just have to look at it as a brain drain anymore. It is more of a brain gain. The fact that, yes, I left Ethiopia to come to the United States, but I did gain brain by coming to the West that has become much more useful. What we need to encourage is the brain circulation. Right now, Ethiopian doctors finds a job in Botswana, Botswana doctors finds a job in South Africa, and South Africa doctors finds a job in UK, and then UK volunteers are working in Ethiopia. So that - we need to continue to encourage that brain circulation.
MARTIN: Yusuf Reja is the chief executive officer of Zebra Jobs. It's a Web site connecting African employers and job seekers around the world. And he was kind enough to join us from our studios in Washington, D.C. on one of his trips back to his former home.
Mr. REJA: Yes.
MARTIN: Thank you so much.
Mr. REJA: My pleasure.
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