Winning Women – Angel Jones: Keep calm and come home

2015-02-16 08:00

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She doesn’t look like a revolutionary as she flies through the Parkview coffee shop door, but that’s the label Angel Jones wears with pride and sells with skill.

She’s just swum for a full hour, rising before 5am to do so. “It keeps me cool and calm.”

Nothing can dampen the fiery spirit of this former advertising guru. Her aim is to ensure Africans living abroad bring their skills home.

“Each returnee creates nine new jobs in the South African formal and informal sectors,” she declares.

Jones has called it a “revolution – because revolutionaries see opportunities where others see problems”.

In the past five years, 359?000 South African professionals have returned, bringing vital skills to an economy with 800?000 vacancies in areas as diverse as engineering, health, education and financial services.

“The department of home affairs has put out figures showing we need vital skills in 53 different categories that need to be filled by qualified professionals.

“Furthermore, it has been said these vacancies can be filled by foreigners – it doesn’t just have to be South Africans.”

The need for more skills also applies to the wider African continent.

Many an African professional in the former British colonies tended, in the past, to send their children overseas for tertiary education. Numbers of them remained in the UK and those who returned continued the practice of an international education for their children.

“Now that the ‘African basket case’ scenario has been overtaken by the ‘Africa Rising’ one – as there are growth spurts of between 6% and 9% in many east and west African countries – they too have vacant posts.

“You cannot believe how huge a pool of Kenyan, Ugandan, Nigerian and Ghanaian talent there is now in the UK.”

Jones describes the difference between her Homecoming Revolution and personnel recruitment companies as “fundamental”.

“For people who want to come home, it is far, far more than simply about getting a job. It’s about friends and family, a sense of belonging, about lifestyle and African weather. And, because we know this, we tell stories – good and bad ones – about people who’ve come back. We don’t bulls**t.”

Jones adds that Homecoming Revolution has in-depth research and practical information concerning relocation companies, buying homes, finding schools and immigration problems.

“Our prime objective is to match-make local employers with African talent. We do this by hosting worldwide ‘speed meet’ events.”

This unique interactive format brings together hundreds of Africans, and employers and relocation providers in different cities, from London to New York; to Washington, DC; Joburg; Nairobi and Lagos.

“We line up prospective employers and each one is allowed only five minutes to present their brand on our platform. That is followed by short matchmaking sessions. It’s fun, dynamic and vibey.”

At the homecoming events there are also practical workshops and inspirational case studies.

“Our next one happens in London in March and we’re expecting a huge turnout,” Jones says enthusiastically.

The Homecoming Revolution’s interactive website has 12?000 visitors a month and its newsletter goes out to 44?000 Africans throughout the world.

“Our career portal receives 6?000 visitors a month, making it the perfect place to advertise job vacancies,” says Jones.

She has walked the homecoming talk.

She backpacked overseas as a postgraduate before joining the Saatchi brothers’ advertising agency in London, initially as a “runner” before becoming a full-time copywriter.

Then, in 1999, she was one of thousands of South Africans who packed Trafalgar Square to listen to Nelson Mandela.

His beaming smile, warmth and inclusive approach to all, regardless of race, made her decide to come home. “Although, I always knew I’d return to my big Joburg-based family,” she adds.

“The best way to do it was to tell the Saatchi brothers they needed an office here. They agreed.”

In 2000 she co-founded MorrisJones Advertising, where she created, among other things, the brand, the Wimpy “foreign” ad and the Bafana Bafana World Cup parade ad.

But a website she built to attract South Africans home from abroad kept growing. She formalised it in 2003 as Homecoming Revolution and began holding events around the world to bring companies and professionals together.

She ran it as a non-governmental organisation, with funding initially from FNB.

It seemed a logical step to commercialise it two years ago, “but I did wonder if we’d lose the impact we had. In fact, it has gained credibility and people now take us more seriously. We’re seen as a brain gain company.”

Today, Jones flies around the world – speaking on platforms as diverse as Wharton Business School at the University of Pennsylvania in the US to Oxford University in England – encouraging graduates to come home.

“We don’t say everything’s perfect here. It’s like every other emerging economy and we muddle along. But we’re a robust democracy.”

Many of the negative calls she gets are from “enraged South Africans living in Australia, who ring me up around midnight. I just listen and eventually they say they might come back”.

Jones says her message is “please don’t run down South Africa in order to justify leaving it”.

Crime and Eskom’s power problems are two of the issues always raised by possible homecomers. Jones urges them to return and help fix our problems.

“Help build Medupi and other power stations. Even better, work on renewable energy sources, because that’s where the World Energy Outlook Report says the future lies in sub-Saharan Africa,” she says in her typically upbeat manner.

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