Afrinection aims to be a 'new LinkedIn' for African professionals

How one startup is providing a unique LinkedIn-like solution for Africans

According to data from a report by UN World Population Prospects (PDF), Africa will have the second largest population in the world by 2050. This means that 1.3 billion out of the 2.4 billion new people in the world by 2050 will be Africans. Additionally, the continent will have 10 of the youngest economies in the world. The increase in population, reduction in poverty levels and decreased mortality rates will translate to what economists call demographic dividend. But the question is; will African economies be able to leverage this demographic dividend? One way of doing this is through use of technology, mobile and web platforms to provide meaningful interactions with African economic players.

Many popular online community platforms are targeted at “global” citizenry and the terms “local” or “national” often refer to the USA. African users tend to just squeeze onto the edges of these platforms and receive little or delayed attention. Yet with the growing need for Africa to shed its economic difficulties, Kifle Bantayehu believes there has to be a platform that caters for African unique problems in job seeking, investments and entrepreneurship. We talk to him to find out more.

What is Afrinection and what problems does it seek to solve? When was it rolled out?

Afrinection is the first of its kind integrated professional networking and marketing platform for Africa and was launched in September 2016. The mission of Afrinection is to serve as a platform by which African professionals, jobseekers, and entrepreneurs are able to engage with fellow professionals, prospective employers and investors.

What motivated the Afrinection idea?

I launched Afrinection in response to what I saw as a critical void in the African community (diaspora as well as on-continent). The lack of a dedicated platform enabling African professionals, entrepreneurs, and jobseekers to connect with fellow professionals, prospective investors, or prospective employers. My vision for Afrinection was to develop a “one-stop shop” platform enabling these meaningful connections to be made across the globe as well as Africa, providing a niche community whereby, for example, employers seeking to hire African talent, would quickly be able to navigate my country, and industry to find the right prospective candidate for their job opening.

My vision for Afrinection was, as an African, to have a community we may call “our own”.

Who is your target audience? What are the main objectives of this venture?

Afrinection brings much needed visibility to the Afrinection jobseekers seeking meaningful employment to not only grow as a professional, but also support who he/she has to in life. Afrinection brings visibility to the current or aspiring African entrepreneur whose product or service impacts many, and at the same time, helps them earn a living. Afrinection allows the African professional to say, "there are other professionals like me with whom I can connect and feel like we are all part of a big community". Afrinection opens the door for advertising to Africans across the globe. By developing a brand-new ecosystem driving innovation, job growth, and networking, Afrinection answers the call. We grow Africa together. 

How far into your objectives are you? How many users are already onboard Afrinection?

Afrinection currently has more than 300 registered users across the company/organisation [section] as well as individual profiles. A goal for the coming year is to increase the current number of advertising partners utilising Afrinection to promote their respective goods and services.     

Is it free to become a member of Afrinection?

Registration as an individual or company/organisation on Afrinection is completely free. Additionally, Afrinection provides two marketing options. A featured sponsor listing on the Afrinection Forum page providing prominent view of your company logo (hyperlinked to your website) as well as a monthly Advertising Partner subscription highlighting your respective goods and services offered in a searchable directory.

What was/is the source of your funding in your Afrinection operations? And how do you monetise Afrinection? Also, tell us about investor situation in Africa, how bright or dark is the picture in your opinion?

Afrinection is currently bootstrapped (self-funded) and is actively raising angel/seed investment to not only expand its reach but also add more features beneficial to the Afrinection Community. One of the main challenges with regard to the investment climate in Africa is the challenge faced by small enterprises seeking seed funding to grow their respective ventures. These entrepreneurs have ventures earning nowhere near the significant sums of annual turnover that most venture capital and private equity firms seek when making investments. Afrinection’s core principle is focused on bringing visibility to the innovative African entrepreneur.

Do you see “Afrinection is the new LinkedIn for Africa”? Why and why not? How are the two similar and different?

I would like to think of Afrinection and LinkedIn as separate platforms, but sharing a common goal. To connect professionals and companies. While LinkedIn’s demographic/user base is global in terms of background, Afrinection was founded on the principal of it serving as a niche Africa focused platform, founded by an African, for Africans and those seeking to hire African talent, do business, or invest in Africa.

Being able to differentiate your business model from other well-established platforms. In the case of Afrinection, it is LinkedIn. The challenge is to help a prospective registrant understand the immense possibilities of being part of an entirely new ecosystem. A community of talented African professionals, entrepreneurs, and able jobseekers seeking to network with each other, highlight their skills, products, and services. African solutions for African problems. The problem addressed being driving job growth, entrepreneurial growth and innovation, and a lack of a platform for African professionals to connect with one another. The solution being a platform allowing for real-time interaction among these groups, along with providing prospective investors and employers a single platform to find who they are looking for.

LinkedIn is a global platform but for the first time, we can now say Africa has its own integrated professional networking and marketing platform.

Who is Kifle as a person, would you tell us a little about your professional background? Have you always been a techie?

I am originally from Ethiopia and my professional career has spanned the management consulting, non-profit, and government arenas focusing on strategy and operations, public policy, and operations for the past 13 years. I have also had a passion for technology, its role in enabling meaningful connections to transform lives. I founded a non-profit, Mehaber in 2006 and ran the organisation through 2010. Mehaber’s focus was twofold. First, raising and distributing one time grants to small and medium-sized non-profit organisations focused on health and education access initiatives. Secondly, providing an online portal for marketing and identification of volunteer opportunities.

What are some of the greatest challenges that you have encountered in your operations and how have you addressed them? Do you also think illiteracy levels in Africa, lack of internet (or costly) access etc. is a problem?

I would say the greatest challenge would probably come down to the fact that Afrinection is a new concept in a world crowded by social media and disparate networking platforms. It will take time, but Afrinection will eventually continue to gain traction with regard to registered users as it becomes more apparent that it truly is a niche platform focused on Africa. Other sites either focus on one aspect of networking (job search, investment opportunity identification, etc.) or are targeted to the world as a whole (not just Africans). Anyone with internet access or a mobile web can visit Afrinection so I do not think that this is the main barrier to scale with the rise of mobile phone usage (Afrinection’s website is responsive for mobile view). It mainly comes down to the realisation that being part of such a transformative community such as Afrinection and the opportunity to connect with fellow African entrepreneurs, professionals, prospective investors, and employers eventually convincing users to register.

Another challenge is investment money. Being able to have a prospective angel investor envision the full potential of Afrinection, realising that it may not reach 100,000 users overnight, but the more tangible and lasting impact, is the platform will change. As an example, even if one jobseeker happens to connect with a company/organisation on Afrinection which ultimately leads to them being employed, I consider Afrinection a success. I chose to follow my heart and passion, connecting my fellow Africans and those who wish to hire, invest in, or connect with them. The investment will come.

You have been quoted elsewhere as referencing quite often that “Africa will have the largest working-age workforce in the world by 2050” how does this impact Afrinection?

Africa’s universities and colleges graduate some 10 million or so bright, enterprising young men and women each year seeking meaningful employment to sustain not only their respective livelihoods, but also of those they support. Afrinection serves as a platform for these jobseekers to highlight their respective talents and achievements to organisations seeking to hire African talent. Afrinection cannot be the sole mechanism by which to stem the challenge of joblessness, but it is a significant step in giving a platform for those who are willing and able to find meaningful employment, to showcase themselves in the hopes of being identified and contacted by registered companies/organisations and site visitors.

Tell us your thoughts about professional networking, social entrepreneurship and social innovations in Africa? Is the continent doing enough to lead in coming up with solutions for Africa?

With regard to entrepreneurship, have an open mind. Opportunities come in many forms. As with any investment there will always be a risk but the ultimate reward is identifying an investment or business opportunity which answers the question, "how is this going to improve the lives of the community, region, or continent?" It is such an investment or a business. These businesses tend to scale the fastest as the demographic which the investment or business is targeting already has a specific need, hence the greater likelihood of rapid adoption. As an example, solar powered lamps in rural villages. The problem-lack of electricity or frequent power cuts. The solution-solar powered lamps enabling a student to complete their homework, a parent to read the newspaper or a book to their child, a shepherd-to guard their livestock. I firmly believe that through disruptive innovation introduced by African entrepreneurs, we will be able to develop African solutions to African challenges.