Aug 06

The brain drain has reversed – bringing skills back to SA and uplifting the nation

The reality of the impact of the brain drain on Africa and South Africa, is well-known and well-documented. Floods of South Africans have fled our shores for brighter, better futures in countries with less volatile reputations. The loss of the skilled individual affects every aspect of our economy, and as a country and a continent, we are desperate to bring the expats back. The news has traditionally been about the those fleeing never to return, but now it seems, that there is a slow trickling of well-travelled, well-skilled minds making their way back home, to make a difference, global executive Ann Nurock is just one of the inspiring examples of homecoming. Pioneering the efforts of enticing shining stars home is Angel Jones, CEO and founder of The Homecoming Revolution, who with Ann has an uplifting story to tell, of where Africa is headed, and what its patriotic nationals want to give back. – LF

ALEC HOGG: South Africa’s expatriates have been, urged to return home to help us create a better country and a better economy, but if the grass is greener on the other side, what will make a highly skilled citizen return to their homeland? Global executive, Ann Nurock and Angel Jones, CEO and the Founder of The Homecoming Revolution, are with us in the studio today. Lovely to have you, again, I’ve had quite a lot of lady guests this week, which has been a real pleasure, but a real pleasure, to have you here, Ann.

ANN NUROCK: Thank you, Alec.

ALEC HOGG: Just tell us your story, very briefly. You got to the top of the tree here, in South Africa and then you decided to go and test your muscles.

ANN NUROCK: I was the CEO of Grey Advertising, South Africa for five years and then I was, approached by my head office, to be, transferred to Toronto, as President and CEO of Grey, Canada, which I did. For me, I was there for three-and-a-half years. I missed South Africa. There were a lot of things about it that I really missed. I think it was more about what I missed about South Africa, more than what I was gaining out of living in Canada and I decided to, with my husband, to come home. It was a decision that we made voluntarily. We are Canadian residents, so we could stay on but we decided to come home and I decided to leave my corporate position, as the CEO of Grey, after 20 wonderful years with them, and to try my hand at Consulting.

ALEC HOGG: But that’s a big leap. Firstly, coming to South Africa is one thing but, secondly, leaving a very senior, global job. You could have, presumably gone to Madison Avenue or California, or the U.K. or somewhere else. Why that big jump and what was the magnet, pulling you back?

ANN NUROCK: I think the first thing was coming home, and that was really, what I wanted to do. I wanted to come back to South Africa. I was homesick and, yes I could have gone on, probably to New York or somewhere else but I didn’t want to, at that stage, make another global move. I really wanted to come home. Then to move from corporate position into consulting was something that I only decided when I got back here, because I took a year sabbatical to actually, really think, what did I want to do, so there were corporate opportunities that could have been available but I didn’t want to do that. I wanted to try something more entrepreneurial and there was another thing as well was that coming back to South Africa, it was also about making a difference. About what could I do that could make a difference to this country that I really feel passionately about?

ALEC HOGG: Angel, you are working with people like Ann all the time. You’re trying to twist their arms. You’re trying to bring them home. Is this a typical story?

ANGEL JONES: Absolutely, we are delighted to have somebody of Ann’s caliber back home and the reasons we are finding very common that Ann has experienced. Number one reason people return home is friends and family. Number two is sense of belonging and sense of purpose, which is what Ann mentioned about making a difference.

ANN NUROCK: Oh, yes.

ANGEL JONES: Number three is the lifestyle, right. It’s the weather, it’s the grannies, and grandpas close by. Having the kids run around barefoot on the lawn and what we really find is that it is an emotional decision to return home. Yes, the career is important. Entrepreneurship opportunities are important but what we do, when we appeal to people to come back, is to look at the holistic thing and we say to people that if they are living abroad and we find them haggling over their salary, and that is going to determine whether they return home or not. We say to them, ‘you’re simply not ready’.


ANGEL JONES: Stay, because your eyes need to be wide open. It’s a trade-off to come back. It’s not perfect here. What country is perfect?

ALEC HOGG: Is that why Brand South Africa’s advert, ‘Discover South Africa’, I’m sure you saw that, with the blind guy.


ANGEL JONES: Yes, it’s this emotional connection.

ALEC HOGG: If you were sitting in London you would say, ‘wow, this is exactly what we need because it plays to that tune.’

ANGEL JONES: It plays about being African, right, and we don’t know what that African thing is. It’s in your blood. Its feeling like your soul can immigrate or you can immigrate but your soul never can.

ALEC HOGG: How much success are you having, in bringing people home?

ANGEL JONES: The brain drain, in South Africa, has reversed. More people are coming home than leaving, and in the past five years, 359.000 South Africans returned home.

ANN NUROCK: That’s wonderful.

ANGEL JONES: Professional South Africans who returned home.

ALEC HOGG: Do they get jobs?

ANGEL JONES: We are finding, we have got such a scarce skill shortage in financial services, construction, ICT, across the board that they absolutely, with this global expertise and their sense of commitment, the tenacity, the work ethic, they really are finding jobs but often, many of them, like Ann want to come back and be entrepreneurs. We showcase a lot of these entrepreneurial opportunities. We recommend that people don’t try and do it alone. That they try and partner with somebody, on the ground, who’s been back home for a while and, also don’t always try and re-invent the wheel. Often there are great ideas out there. They just need more commitment, more expertise, and more finance.

ALEC HOGG: But then, I guess that would be your message, is that you don’t have to come back to a job. Come back and start something, create jobs.

ANN NUROCK: You can start something; look, I was incredibly lucky that I was approached by a company, called Relationship Audits, which is a global company based in London. They approached me to open their South African office, so while I’m a consultant, I do have a specific tool…

ALEC HOGG: Well, let’s say they hadn’t. Say they hadn’t come to you, what would you have done?

ANN NUROCK: I think that’s…

ALEC HOGG: You’re not the ‘housewife’ type.

ANN NUROCK: No, definitely not. I don’t know what I would have done because they did come to me, and they came to me and they offered me this position, which is an amazing job that I have. It also gives me the scope to do other things. I do workshops on ‘Thought Leadership in South Africa’. I think, just going back to what Angel said as well, about you can leave South Africa, but South Africa doesn’t leave your soul.

ALEC HOGG: Well, there are lots of unhappy people in London. There are lots of unhappy people in San Diego, who are South Africans but they are kind of, caught up there. They might have married somebody from somewhere else. How do you appeal to their sense of making that contribution?

ANGEL JONES: So what we do is we’ve had case studies of people who have come to our London Expo, for example. Not even thinking that they want to come home. They hear speakers talk. They see how the likes of an Ann talking about ‘what was it – that trigger moment that made them come back?’ You know, Aly-Khan Satchu because we are also bringing people back to Kenya, back to Nigeria. Aly-Khan Satchu, for example, talks about working in London and it was a gilded box, right. He was this Kenyan who’d left, working in London for 20 years, in investment banking, but something was missing. When he turned 40 he realised he didn’t want his son, one day asking him, ‘Dad, when it was just lifting off, in Africa, where were you?’ He returned home for that holistic thing – ‘what is my purpose. What do I want to do?’ He is now one of the prime people on the Nairobi Stock Exchange. It’s that emotional decision of what is the purpose of my life.

ALEC HOGG: But the economic issue and that drives a lot of people; from an economic perspective, Africa is doing better. The North is struggling. Are you finding that that’s pushing people?

ANGEL JONES: Absolutely, without a doubt, people are returning home.

ALEC HOGG: Did it push you, Ann?

ANN NUROCK: No, it didn’t push me at all because I was earning a great deal of money, and I resigned from my position, earning a great deal of money. However, I think, in my case, where you say there are a lot of people who are unhappy and they don’t come back because they get caught up. Their children may be American and Canadian, and a lot of people can’t afford to come back. I was one of the lucky ones. I actually did have a financial cushion that allowed me to come back, and take that sabbatical to decide what I wanted to do.

ALEC HOGG: So how do we make it affordable, for these skills to return to South Africa? We desperately need it, as a developing country. We know that. We had guys here yesterday, two experts saying, we don’t have the skills, particularly at the top end.

ANGEL JONES: Yes, so we primarily find people, when they’re turning 30 getting married, and having first or second child. Those are the trigger moments. We are, shamelessly after the professionals and, to be honest, if those people who are not able to, really be, in a big enough position to have enough of an income to make that move. We don’t fund people coming back. It is really those people with the tenacity, the absolute cream of the crop.

ALEC HOGG: So you want the cream, you want the best.

ANGEL JONES: Without a doubt.

ALEC HOGG: We’ve lost the best. They’ve gone and got better over there.

ANGEL JONES: Absolutely, we need those people back.

ALEC HOGG: Bring back those skills to South Africa.

ANGEL JONES: Absolutely, and we’re lobbying with Government to make it easier for them, if you’ve got a foreign spouse, to give them a Work Permit. We’re lobbying that if it’s a foreign skill even, we need them. Solidarity, the Trade Union, a couple of years ago talked about for every one skilled worker that returns to South Africa, nine new jobs are, created in the informal and formal sector. The ripple effect is incredible.

ALEC HOGG: How much success are you having with the Visa discussions and lobbying?

ANGEL JONES: Yes, I know, it’s a very agonising discussion, that changes every single day. I think that’s a very sad state of affairs and we are keeping our eye on it and keeping people informed, as much as possible. We really do look forward to more red tape getting cut instead of more red tape being tied up.

ALEC HOGG: And the new Home Affairs Minister?

ANGEL JONES: We look forward to a good relationship.

ALEC HOGG: Extremely diplomatic.

ANGEL JONES: Absolutely.

ALEC HOGG: Are you going to help them, Ann?

ANN NUROCK: Of course, I’ll help them because…

ALEC HOGG: With your advertising background and being a returnee to South Africa…

ANN NUROCK: Exactly, and Angel and I have been friends for many, many years from her advertising background, so I will do whatever they want, in terms of talks, and in terms of anything that they want. I would love more people to come back.


ANN NUROCK: Because I think, that South Africa has a lot of opportunity and I think, particularly from an entrepreneurial perspective. I think, often in Toronto, in London, in New York every niche is taken. We’re an emerging market. People are really hungry to act for new ideas and for new products and new skills and, again, it’s this kind of spirit of generosity here. That people want to give and they want to learn because there is such a skills shortage.

ALEC HOGG: Just look past the headlines, and pass the drawbacks and be positive and away we go.

ANN NUROCK: Alec, there are a lot of problems here and I’m not saying there aren’t…I know that there are.

ALEC HOGG: You’re not Pollyanna.

ANN NUROCK: I’m not Pollyanna.

ALEC HOGG: But you do see the opportunity.

ANN NUROCK: But I do see the opportunity because it’s been proven to me.

ALEC HOGG: Ann Nurock, thank you for coming through to our studio today. Angel, always good to see you and next year, hopefully, the brain drain will now become a flood back home.

ANGEL JONES: Absolutely. Watch this space.

ALEC HOGG: That was global executive, Ann Nurock and Angel Jones, the CEO and Founder of Homecoming Revolution.

This article first appeared on BIZNEWS with @AlecHogg   following the POWER LUNCH interview on CNBC Africa