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Growing African Leaders for Africa!

A sustainable business is one that invests in the growth of its people and society. According to the African Development Bank Group, Africa has the largest population of young people in the world, which is expected to double to over 830 million by 2050.

A conversation with Sharmila Govind, Head of Human Resources at BASF Africa, about the challenges for African youth and how BASF’s Africa Graduate Program can help with meeting these.

Sharmila Govind, Head of Human Resources BASF Africa

What motivated the introduction of a graduate program?
Firstly, it was the business need and the role a company like BASF plays in the communities in which we operate. We realised that for us to be sustainable and relevant in the future, we need to start considering how we source talent and what skills we need for the future of BASF and the African continent. Secondly, we wanted to develop young African talent and offer graduates a solid foundation become successful and learn to develop themselves and their societies.

We knew we needed to start this initiative as soon as possible. The support from the African Leadership Team and from Dr. Michael Gotsche, Head of Market Area Africa, has been incredible and this unity has driven the successful execution of this program.

For our new BASF program, we were able to recruit 24 young graduates from across the continent who are now part of our inaugural intake for 2018. Following the two-year program, they will have the chance to become fulltime employees of BASF.

Graduates therefore need to show what their value-add is, with an emphasis on attitude, mindset, behavior and the ability to see the bigger picture.

What growth measures or initiatives have been put in place to ensure that graduates grow within the company?
The first step when bringing graduates into the company is to have an exchange of knowledge. The business or line managers need to understand their talents and vice-versa through a process called “Know-Your-Talent”. We need to create an environment that allows us to understand what drives and motivates their engagement and their ability to thrive.

We also assign practical projects that push them to be independent contributors, instead of being masters of copy machines. We ensure that the learning is sustainable through our partnerships with Business Schools across the continent. This gives them the business-critical knowledge they need to operate in the different environments they may be faced with.

It is my vision that once graduates finish our program, they are ready to enter the job market, either externally or within BASF, having attended a respected graduate programme that is recognised and trusted by the industry. We want to become a graduate program of choice amongst our peers.

How do you foster creative and innovative thinking?
Fostering innovation and creativity are part of BASF’s core values, which are about embracing ideas that empower and inspire your team and benefit the business. As an example, through one of our business school partnerships, graduates will be required to complete a business project based on real business challenges in the African Market. This will give the graduates a platform to come up with creative business solutions.

What has it been like handling and driving the program across Market Area Africa?
It has been very satisfying, because it means that we are living up to one of our key messages: “Growing African talent for the African market”. On the African continent, many of the countries we operate in have similar cultures and, in some cases, similar struggles. This made it easy to address the issue and point out the need for this program. We have rolled it out simultaneously across the African country clusters. The collaboration and support has been overwhelming and the lessons learned have been worth it.

Why is it important for you to drive the Africa Graduate Program?
We need to start looking at young people as the future of the world we are going to live in and begin equipping them with the right skills. It is our responsibility as BASF to give young people the opportunity to be part of an organization that can make a difference in their lives and the lives of others. For the future, it would be great to see BASF Market Area Africa in a position where we can export African talent to the rest of the world.

Growing African Leaders for Africa!
Feedback from the BASF Africa Graduate Class of 2018:
Human Resources graduate Mazwi Dlamini, based in BASF South Africa, shared his experience and noted, “above all – this experience has been a learning curve for me. At one of the HR conferences, one thing stood out for me, which was the “Forming, Storming, Norming and Performing Model”. I will never forget it. What I bring to the table is reason before action,” says Mazwi.

It has been about a month since I joined the graduate program in BASF East Africa and, so far, it has been a great learning experience.  I was blown away at how broad the company’s portfolio is! The highlight of it all has been working with a wonderful team in Logistics & Supply Chain Operations, whereby I not only get to learn from them, but I am immersed in working on some of their projects. It has been a truly a great platform for integrating the CORE values of BASF”, says Eunice Muthee.

According to Lewis Adera from BASF East Africa, “There’s nothing quite like the first day to make you feel like you’re back in boarding school, specifically your first day in school, when you move from your comfort zone and into this new and totally different environment. I was immediately embraced by the family and it already feels like I have been here for ages. The culture and the people are so accommodating. I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.

“As I prepared for life after completing my MBA, BASF West Africa ticked all my boxes of an ideal organization and when the opportunity presented itself, I jumped at it. Upon joining, I immediately noticed that the team is closely knit, communication is open, and everyone here is willing to offer support – which is incredible. I believe that working in this collaborative culture can only foster growth,” says Daniel Udo.

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