Homeward bound: having left the country in search of opportunities abroad, many South Africans are now returning to set up new businesses and contribute to their homeland.

Author:Benson, Alison
Position:Focus
 
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At an event at London this March, companies were on the search for homesick African expats looking for the chance to return to the warmth, comforts and rising opportunities back home. Africa has typically suffered from a brain drain, with many of its best and brightest looking abroad for a better life, but now many emigrants from Africa are yearning to return to the continent--often with the companies they set up in tow.

The loan company Prodigy Finance, for example, began in the UK, but has been expanding in Cape Town, where its South African founder and CEO Cameron Stevens grew up, since 2010. Five years later, the firm still retains a presence in London, but its central nervous system is now firmly in South Africa.

"It's a global business so we could be based anywhere," says Stevens, who left South Africa in 2000 to "travel the world" and ended up being away for 10 years. "But Cape Town is where I want to be. I want to buy into the Silicon Cape story and contribute to the growth of the city as a world-leading technology hub to rival the original, as well as enjoy the fantastic quality of life on offer."

Stevens says he is proud to create jobs in a country where unemployment is over 30% and inequality is, according to some measures, the highest in the world.

"I am very positive about the African story," he says. "The continent's economy is going to be huge in the next 10 to 20 years but now there is low competition and a massive skills shortage."

Fie therefore wants Prodigy Finance, which gives loans to MBA students, to support South Africans looking to harness this potential and help tackle the structural economic imbalances that still exist from white Apartheid rule. The company has distributed around $75m in loans since its inception, mostly in emerging markets.

"There is wide acceptance that the key to redressing the balance of economic ownership is through education," Stevens says.

"The South African government is one of the highest investors in education per capita, but the country is not seeing the outcome of that. Our objective is to invest in future potential regardless of background and create tomorrow's CEOs and business leaders."

Comeback kings

Stevens is far from the only South African to have left the country before returning full of energy and ideas.

Gilbert Pooley, 33, is another such individual. The University of Cape Town graduate left his home country to study for an Economics Master's in Dublin in 2005, but after...

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