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Where we stumble there lies our treasure

A wise man once said: where we stumble there lies our treasure.* Or, in other words – when we risk leaving the solid ground of our comfort zone, there is much to be gained. Is this true?

The five participants in this year's "Afrika kommt!" (Africa is coming) initiative at B. Braun seem to prove that it is. When they report about their experiences, it truly sounds as if they really had uncovered a treasure. Not despite the fact that they risked stumbling, but rather because they actually did. Beyond this joint experience that they have in common, they all come from different countries of a continent of enormous complexity and diversity. They all prevailed through an intense selection process against 3,323 other applicants, and they all want to make a difference while interacting with experts from different cultures. During their first weeks in Germany in summer 2016, they underwent a training program in Bonn with the other scholarship recipients of the twelve participating companies. 

"It was an unbelievably intense period. We made contacts very quickly and infected each other with our mutual enthusiasm," remembers Sheila Cristina Simbine, aged 32, a sales and marketing expert from Mozambique. 

Settling down in Melsungen was not easy at first. Not least due to the onset of winter. "The cold was a real shock. I sometimes wore five tops at the same time and still froze." At some point, she told herself: "Okay, it's cold. You're going to freeze and you can't change it. Figure out how to deal with it." Then it got better.

But not only did the climate feel like a huge challenge, but also matters on a professional level. "In the beginning, there wasn't a clear rationale to the project that I was involved in. At first, my role in the project was also not entirely clear. For me, the challenge was switching back and forth between different and oftentimes completely new work tasks. That required well-honed multitasking skills and carrying them out seemingly blindfolded." There is no doubt – and this is echoed by feedback from her colleagues – that she was able to rapidly adapt to the complex situation in which she found herself and could also make gainful inroads for all parties involved through her expertise."It is really the orientation process – that feeling of not knowing at the beginning through to sorting out and ordering of subject matter – up until the actual creation process. That itself gave me so much," says Sheila Simbine

Akofa Bart-Plange, 35 years of age, also found herself in uncharted waters and had no idea what the expectations on her were, let alone whether she could fulfill them or not. "There was actually a moment when everything seemed meaningless to me, and I asked myself: what am I even doing here?" But then out of the former uncertainty, an entirely new strength emerged – a feeling that nothing is impossible. "I completely rediscovered myself. Both professionally as well as personally. The culture shock I will get when I return to Ghana might even be greater than when I first arrived in Germany," said the biomedical engineer. She talked about her experiences during her presentation at the reception with Frank-Walter Steinmeier, the Federal President of Germany.

Akofa Bart-Plange

Her colleague Collins Agoro, aged 31 from Kenya who took part in the German-African Business Summit and also in discussions with the Minister of Economic Affairs, Brigitte Zypries, found the past months as truly guiding the way. "I really have grown into my leadership role and it became much easier for me to make far-ranging decisions within often complex contexts," says Agoro, who wishes to actively support the development of German-African trade relations. The cross-cultural differences he experienced were in and of themselves very formative. "I come from a work culture where criticism is avoided. You don't want to expose anyone to ridicule. Here, I found that criticism – expressed in a friendly and factual way – is part of daily business and ultimately brings everyone forward."

Elijah Ogunniran, 36 years of age, from Nigeria, agrees. "Mistakes, criticism and lack of knowledge are handled differently here.” Not only was the experience for the chemical engineer enriching, but it can also be described as groundbreaking. And this is not just due to the obvious highlights of a reception with the German president or observing business trends like Industry 4.0 or Design Thinking. The same could even be felt during mundane or seemingly banal situations. “Before my time at B. Braun, I had, for example, never heard an experienced manager say at a meeting: 'I don't know.'" For him, it was a light-bulb moment that such a statement was in no way an indication of incompetence.

Schofield Brian Nkata (25) from Uganda experienced this the same way. "People are experts in their own areas and know their limits. On top of this, great importance is attached to thorough planning, as opposed to skipping individual steps in order to get faster results. I appreciate that" the Marketing Expert reflects. But brought to an extreme however, the thoroughness and sole concentration on one's own area of expertise could, in actual fact, slow things down. For this reason, the dynamism, that he is used to from Uganda, certainly has its benefits. "But that's what it's all about, here. Sharing Expertise, intercontinentally!"

For Prof. Dr. Heinz-Walter Große, Chairman of the B. Braun Management Board, one thing is clear: "Our participation in the Afrika kommt! is an important factor in our path toward establishing a long-term and excellent partnership with sub-Saharan Africa, from which we all benefit." The fact that all of this year's participants received a position at B. Braun speaks for itself and also has proven that a wise man was correct: where we stumble, lies the treasure.

* Based on a quote by Joseph Campbell  

By Christin Bernhardt
 

Afrika kommt!

"Afrika kommt!" is a training program for supporting the development of new talent from sub-Saharan Africa. It was founded by 19 German companies in 2007, under the patronage of the Federal President of Germany, and has since been coordinated on behalf of the companies by the German Society for International Cooperation GIZ. While new talent receive profound insights into the worlds of German economy, culture and business, companies profit from the expertise and cultural knowledge of the participants and build sustainable cooperation. 

B. Braun has already maintained trade relationships with the African continent for more than 60 years. Beyond the business activities of the B. Braun companies in South Africa, Zimbabwe and Kenya, B. Braun also participates in the sub-Saharan initiative of the German economy, SAFRI. Its president is Prof. Dr. Heinz-Walter Große, who inspired the commitment to the "Afrika kommt!" initiative as Chairman of the B. Braun Management Board.