Sep 30

‘There’s a sense of purpose & belonging’

Kenyan Sneha Shah is the Managing Director of Thomson Reuters Africa. She is responsible for the growth of the business through the development of regional hubs in East, West and Southern Africa as well as sales, support, solutions and customer service across the continent. She tells Homecoming Revolution why returning to the continent was one of the best decisions she ever made.

I came home twice – the first time I went to university in the UK and I came home because I couldn’t find a job.  I found a job in Kenya and spent as much time as I could trying to get out. I eventually got a job in Johannesburg and was very happy to take it. I then got married and my husband got a job in the US in late 2000 and we decided to make the move. We were happy to move, we really thought that the US was our future.

We were very happy and acclimatised in the in the USA from 2000 until 2012 but something kept calling me back home. We would come back to the continent for vacations and every time I went back, I would see this amazing sense of energy and purpose. I would complain about the electricity and the water but despite the problems, people still seemed happy.

In 2012, things changed for me when we held an event on the 30th floor of the Thomson Reuters building in Times Square, New York. It made me realise how many amazing things are happening in Africa. I then started calling friends and family, asking them whether they were also sensing this shift.

I had friends in high places who could’ve gotten out if they wanted to but didn’t because the lifestyle is so amazing, which spurred me to try figure out a way to come back. An opportunity came up in our financial risk business in Johannesburg and I decided to go for it. I chatted to my husband and children about it who were open to the idea and we moved back to Africa in July 2013. I ran the financial business for two years and in April this year, I was promoted to MD for Africa.

One of the things I don’t like about being back is the power outages, but at the same time, the infrastructural challenges have presented an opportunity for my husband to import inverters into South Africa and he is doing really well. Another thing I don’t like is the crime but then you factor it in and realise things can happen to you wherever you are and balance it out.  I also feel that academically, schools aren’t as great but my children are getting an incredible social education, they are doing golf, drama and Zulu – it is a much more balanced life education.

One of the things I love about being back is the career growth – if you are looking to accelerate your career you should come back to Africa, it will move faster than you can imagine.  I also love the weather – Johannesburg has the most blue sky days of any city in the world – you can’t be unhappy in a city like that. I love the fact that my commute is less than 15 minutes on a daily basis – which isn’t true for every African city. I love the fact that every weekend is ours we have some help so we can actually go away for the weekends – we get to go out and see the country and spend a lot of quality time as a family. I have breakfast and dinner with my family every day which sounds like a little thing but any of you that work in New York know it’s a big thing – it’s irreplaceable. I love the inspiring people I meet – I can almost imagine it was like being in Silicon Valley in the early days – you are meeting people with ideas and solutions all the time and nobody comes in and tells you about a problem, they tell you about solutions.

The other thing I love is I am able to make a difference through my work – we are developing land management systems, educational systems, financial markets and court management systems.  If I am doing what I am doing, like so many others, this continent will be entirely different in 10 years – I don’t know you can say that about New York or London. Now is the time because if you come in 10 years, someone else would have done it.  I absolutely love being back home and would encourage you all to come back – there is a sense of purpose and belonging and it’s a fantastic adventure.