Steve Ngatia Maina, a Kenyan participant in the Afrika Kommt Program and who worked at MERCK.
Afrika Kommt is an initiative by the German government and the private sector that allows professionals from Africa to come to Germany and work at some of the big firms here for a year while undergoing training then afterwards decide whether to stay or move back home. Of course you are encouraged to go back home and transfer that knowledge you got here to help advance your home country.
What has ‘Afrika kommt!’ given you?
This one-year programme has changed my life. I’d never been to a foreign country before. I did attend a three-month language course before leaving home though, so I was able to get by when I arrived in Germany. I then spent nine months at Merck and I’ve learned a great deal about German culture and the way things are done here.
What kind of cultural differences have you noticed?
Here when someone says ‘no’ they really mean it. In Kenya a ‘no’ can turn into a ‘yes’ by the next morning. The supermarket was something of a small-scale culture shock, too. In Nairobi we have someone at the checkout to put your groceries into a bag for you. It’s standard practice. But in Germany a lot of processes have been optimised, so you don’t find so many people working on one and the same thing.
What are your plans for the future?
At Merck I’m currently developing business strategies for markets in the Middle East, the Gulf Region and in North-West Africa. It goes without saying that these experiences will serve me well back in Kenya. I want to put the knowledge I acquire here to further use. My contract ends in a year’s time and I’d like to go back to Nairobi – or somewhere else in the world. I like to keep my options open.
What have you learned by taking part in ‘Afrika kommt!’?
In addition to learning about operations at Merck, I have been on several courses to upgrade my management skills. That’s all part of the programme. I often go to Bonn to meet up with fellow alumni and scholarship holders from the ‘Afrika kommt!’ network. I frequently take part in these meetings in Kenya, too.
What advice would you give young managers?
You have to embrace change and understand that nothing ever stays the same. Young people in Africa have a lot of opportunities to shape the process of change. In Africa today it’s really important to look to the future and not to get too tied up with the past.
You can read about the Program here: Afrika Kommt!
Below is the video featuring Steve as he talks about himself, his job and his experience in Afrika Kommt.