Sandy Simagwali, Co-Founder of Graft Africa
The Human Resource (HR) industry is undergoing major transformation, and African startups have been catching up by building platforms that reflect this evolving nature of the workplace and workforce. Graft Africa, a Zambian HR tech startup is well positioned in championing this process, currently working with Pepsi Zambia and Lamasat International Zambia. To learn more about the company, its disruptions in the HR space and future plans, Alaba Ayinuola did an interview with Sandy Simagwali a Co-Founder and CEO. Excerpt.
Alaba: Can you tell us about Graft Africa and the gap it’s filling in the current HR landscape in Zambia?
Sandy: Graft is a recruiting software company that helps people find jobs they love, and helps companies find great talent that helps drive to their success. We researched and found out that most recruiters still use manual processes during their hiring workflow which include key things like tracking candidates in their emails/inbox, manual posting of job openings to multiple platforms e.g company career page, social media, job boards, and manually scheduling interviews.
At Graft, we built a platform that would help hiring managers, manage candidates easily through the dashboard with functions like sorting and searching e.g by institutions, skills, qualifications, location, etc. Automate interview and interview reminder notifications, a click to post jobs to all major portals helping increase reach.
Alaba: How did it all start and what attracted you into staffing and recruitment?
Sandy: While I was head of Sales at Musanga Logistics, I was given a task to onboard someone within my department, and carrying out the most of the recruiting process which involved receiving applications, filtering out candidates, interviews and onboarding the talent in the organisation was pretty much of overwhelming task whilst trying to meet sales objectives. Cut the story short the hire we made was not what we were looking for. He did not meet expectations so resigned after 2 months. A huge blow to the company’s productivity and revenue.
The idea to build Graft was born after that incident. At that point I was running a business called WinningCV, a resume building platform that used to build high visual resumes for candidates, while working at Musanga I met my very good friend and Co Founder Mulenga Bowa, who was working as full stack developer at Musanga Logistics and was part time building a Job Board which was going to help candidates find their dream job. We had a discussion that led to multiple research and meetings with key recruiters.
Mulenga and I decided to become Co-Founders and started Graft after an amazing journey of growth at Musanga. July 2019 we decided to make the huge jump, we quit our jobs and went in full time with Graft.
Alaba: What does the process entail both for a talent and a hiring firm?
Sandy: Our process aims to benefit both the talent and the hiring firm in the sense that: For candidates, we believe that leaving candidates in the dark not only hurts the chances of building a relationship for the future, but has a probability of tarnishing the brand as well, and our goal at Graft is to ensure that candidates are highly engaged throughout the hiring journey.
Our process also entails that candidates are able to learn more on company culture and values throughout the hiring process, enabling candidate to measure if they fit and would want to be part of the organisation. For hiring firms, the process is mainly helping them reduce the time it takes for them to source, screen, onboard and hire talent.
Alaba: Why should a hiring company choose your company over other recruiting firms?
Sandy: As highlighted in the previous question, our platform helps hiring companies reduce the time it takes source, screen and onboard talent in this regard. With Graft, hiring managers are able to filter and screen candidates with ease and make much more data driven selection of candidates that will help meet their company goals and needs. Our platform allows hiring firms have enough time to focus on other important tasks (e.g evaluating employee relations, orientation and training program and implementing employee benefit programs e.t.c).
Alaba: What are the challenges Graft Africa is facing and you as an entrepreneur?
Sandy: Building a product that users will love has been one of the major challenges we have faced. Another challenge has been most recruiters do not want to make the huge jump to adapt new technology. Also, for a startup, there is a little receptiveness from organisations to entrust a key aspect as recruiting to a software created by young people. Other challenge has been raising capital.
As for me as an entrepreneur, the ability to balance on growing as a person and running a company and ensuring we have users who are using our product, has been a constant battle I have struggled with. This is due to the fact that am mostly all things, apart from product technology.
Alaba: How does your company measure its impact? What’s the future for your business?
Sandy: How we measure impact is by our ability to help create jobs in Zambia and across Africa. With the unemployment rate in Zambia slowly dropping from 7.21% in 2018 to a 7.15% in 2019. Our goal is to help create more jobs for young people and add up to national economy by ensuring everyone has a better standard of living. We also aim to measure impact through organisations that use our platform to carry out their recruiting needs, onboard great talent that meets company’s goals and needs. Seeing a company onboard great talent is our very mission that is at the heart of everything we do.
Our measurement is based on companies succeeding with great people (e.g reduced turnover, onboarding great talent that drives to their success). That for us is impact. Providing candidates with tools that enable them get Jobs they love and having an amazing experience per every application sent, to us is labelled as another form of impact. The future for Graft is to be a Leader in HR technology in Africa.
Alaba: The HR industry is moving from a human-driven to a more data-driven approach. How’s your startup enhancing this shift?
Sandy: With some key tools we have built, recruiting managers are able to make much more data driven decisions, e.g who to invite for an interview, have a talent pool that they can easily revert to, enabling them reduce the time and costs to fill out a new role. In regards to data, it is a tool and not a be all and end solution. To make an effective hire, a mixture of data and human judgement is key, no matter how technology makes the process much more efficient, we believe recruiters could become much more data driven whilst keeping the human aspect intact.
Alaba: What in your opinion is the best solution to the high unemployment rate in Africa?
Sandy: Well in my view there are a vast and a number of challenges across Africa, we just need more people that will stop complaining about the problems they see and aim to create solutions that will branch off into Global brands that will create more jobs. With a lot of problems that are surfacing Africa, lies a gem of bold Africans that will face the problems head on and create solutions that will enable job creation for many Africans.
Alaba: Can you share some insights into the entrepreneurial ecosystem in Zambia?
Sandy: Its quite exciting that we are in an era where a lot of Zambians are starting amazing companies that are truly solving peoples problem’s. From startups like Zazu that is helping people manage their finances, Emsika an agriculture online platform that is helping connect suppliers and buyers in agriculture related products, Musanga a transportation marketplace that connects shippers to drivers to improve delivery efficiency, cost and provide data visibility, Spotless Africa, whose aim is to rethink, reimagine, and reshape the way cleaning services and products are delivered in Africa. Just to mention but a few entrepreneurs and a whole lot more that are stepping up to help solve key problems is an amazing period that will help us change the whole dynamic of challenges we face as a nation.
Alaba: How is the Zambian government supporting entrepreneurs in your country?
Sandy: Well, *clearing throat*. I have not seen much support to be honest, maybe other entrepreneurs can correct me if am wrong. But based on the ecosystem of entrepreneurs that I network with, not much has been done from my view. Agriculture entrepreneurship at a minimal rate has received some form of support. The future is bright, I believe with more support from the government we could see a lot of growth in our country in regards jobs, etc.
Graft Africa powered projects:
Shaun Duvet on The Unit Group and the Impact of COVID-19
Shaun Duvet, Founder and CEO at The Unit Group (Source: Unit Group website)
The impact of Covid-19 is changing the way organisations operate and do business about the world. The entertainment industry is not exempted as it’s adjudged the second affected industry after the aviation, travel and hospitality industry. In this interview with Alaba Ayinuola, Shaun Duvet the Founder and CEO of The Unit Group shares his brand story and the Impact of Covid-19. Excerpt.
Alaba: Could you tell us about the Unit Group and the gap it’s filling since you launched?
Shaun: The Unit Group was established in 2017 as the holding company for my various business interests which include: COCO, GoldBar and Souk (my venues), Ultra South Africa, Corona Sunsets Festivals, Anything Goes, AG Virtual, Bella Bookings, Salute, Jet Black & Paradise Springs. These businesses cover all functions of entertainment marketing, management, hospitality, sponsorship and eventing from design, to staffing and artist booking, to production and everything in between.
The gap we launched The Unit Group to fill was that of a true understanding of marketing in the entertainment space. So many brands want to play in this space because the audiences are so receptive and the engagement so high, yet so few of them truly understand it. We felt that we had the marketing know-how, and a deep love and knowledge of not only this space, but the global players within it.
Alaba: What services does your company offer?
Shaun: The services offered range from throwing small corporate events to festivals for 50, 000 pax; to sponsorship strategies, virtual events; to full spectrum design, photography, videography; artist, model and staff bookings; marketing, and PR strategies and much, much more.
Alaba: How has the market responded to your offerings?
Shaun: We have seen a huge uptake in clients that previously came to us just to make the party happen, now asking for marketing, creative and strategic advice. AG Virtual, which launched this year, has also seen the likes of AFI (African Fashion Week) approach us to do their full virtual production.
Alaba: The steady rise of South Africa’s entertainment industry has increased competition in the country. What’s your company’s advantage?
Shaun: My 20+ years of experience and my years behind the decks. I live and breathe music and entertainment which enables me to understand what the market wants and keep abreast of global trends. I also have incredible teams in place that keep our work fresh and relevant, and the machine in constant motion.
Alaba: Kindly share some of the challenges faced, especially in this dire time and how you overcoming them?
Shaun: The challenge of this year is obvious – no events, no DJ’s, no dancing! That’s our life blood. We have managed though to stay busy by diversifying what we offer and working more strategically. Helping brands activate within the highly connected urban youth market in an authentic and resonant manner. Some of our venues are also still operational, and the festivals and events teams are taking some much-needed down time before the parties start again, which we know they will do with a renewed energy when we’re out of the current COVID crisis.
Alaba: Technology is disrupting the entertainment industry across the globe. How’s your company adapting to the use of technology?
Shaun: As mentioned, we have launched AG Virtual which is doing well. But we have always been at the forefront of event and entertainment technology in our work. Our audience demands it.
Alaba: How does your company contribute and set new standards in the South African entertainment industry?
Shaun: I regularly write and speak on industry channels and give back to the industry that way. We also ensure that we are constantly raising the bar with the work that we do, meaning that more people around the world sit up and take notice which will ultimately benefit the whole industry.
Alaba: What’s the future for the Unit Group and are you post COVID-19 ready?
Shaun: We cannot wait for life to return to “normal”. Down time was nice, but we’re rested now and it’s time to work!
Alaba: How do you relax and what keeps you going?
Shaun: I have 3 young kids so relaxation is scarce, but they certainly keep me going
Alaba: What advice would you give to entrepreneurs and investors coming to South Africa?
Shaun: Come! Don’t be afraid. There is risk, yes, but the rewards are also so great. We live in such a special place and I really believe in the future of this country.
B I O G R A P H Y
Shaun Duvet, CEO and Founder of The Unit, South Africa’s leading entertainment-based holding company, a combination of enterprises, individually built to make brands better. Shaun is also the CEO and Founder of Anything Goes, the branded entertainment agency, aligning campaigns, properties and music tours with international brands and artists across the continent.
He is the co-Founder and Director of ULTRA South Africa, which brings 50,000 dance-music revellers together every year to see some biggest names in eEectronic Music. He is the partner and producer for Corona Sunsets Festival South Africa, which over the last 5 years has seen over 40,000 fans join together across three cities to celebrate the sunset.
He is a co-owner and operator for COCO, one of SA’s premiere nightclubs, think celebrities, Ibiza-style go-go dancers, Hip Hop MCs, and a parade of sparkler-topped bottles, this alongside it’s sister GoldBar, an elegant bar annex to COCO.
Shaun Duvet is a board member and proud supporter of Bridges For Music, a non-profit organization that utilises the power of music to uplift communities through creative education. Recently, partnering with Defected Records on a new imprint Sondela Records all of whose profits will channel back directly into the charity.
Viola Labi: The multi-hyphenate creative strategist building an eco-luxury fashion brand in Africa
Viola Labi is a multi-hyphenate creative, premium retail Strategist and Founder of WOVEN, a design-led fashion enterprise.
With over a decade of experience and a proven track record in the global luxury retail space, Viola has worked with renowned international brands such as Burberry, ZARA, Loewe, CELINE and Valentino and has caught the attention of media powerhouses such as Vogue Business, Essence, Forbes, BBC and CNN International, as one to watch.
Born in Canada with Ghanaian parentage, Viola is culturally plural and holds reverence to fashion’s interaction with humanity; asserting that it permits people, irrespective of their cultural and social affiliations to unite. It is this fundamental belief and her relocation to Ghana that inspired WOVEN, a ground breaking brand which seeks to herald a new direction for eco-luxury retail on the African continent.
Viola said, WOVEN was birthed from a personal journey to Northern Ghana. “I witnessed my own reunification to elements of rich Ghanaian culture through textile creation at the diligent hand skilled Artisans. Despite language barriers and unfamiliar grounds, I felt at home. I spent more time with women creating textiles and found myself being stitched together in areas I didn’t know needed mending, areas like self-identity and purpose.”
“Looking back, I guess you can say we weaved symbolic exchanges of knowledge and cultural practices and this inspired me to creative WOVEN. Although the entire assortment of products are literally woven, the company name speaks to a higher purpose of coming together as Humanity.” She said.
The Brand’s mission is to actively work towards uniting the fashion value chain into a cohesive whole by showcasing the creative talent that pervades throughout the African continent; while emanating the diversity of culture, history and skill, much like yarn being formed into a unique tapestry.
WOVEN has the honour of partnering with 150 esteemed Artisan weavers in Ghana to create sustainable, functional, home furnishing products. It’s design principles and execution promote inclusion and seek to disrupt fear-based stereotypes by creating products, made in Africa, that are par with those of global standards.
Emalohi Iruobe, An Attorney and Founder of Tribe XX Lab Empowering Female-led Startups
Emalohi L. Iruobe Esq. is an attorney, adjunct professor and social entrepreneur. She is the founder of Tribe XX Lab, the first and only co-working, wellness and incubator space exclusively for female entrepreneurs and female led startups and companies in Lagos. Tribe XX Lab offers an open-plan office, private offices, events, networking, yoga, a nap room, conference room, reference library, pop up restaurants and wellness retail.
The fundamental idea is to create a place where women are able to present a professional front for their business as well as network, get training, access to funding opportunities and help each other. With a general focus on self-care and balance, the space also partners with brands that retail wellness and selfcare products in order to meet the other often overlooked core need of women in business-wholeness.
Prior to founding Tribe XX Lab, Emalohi was an adjunct professor of Business Law, Business Research Methods and Legal Analysis and Writing at Lincoln University in Pennsylvania, USA for several years before moving to teach Business Law and Data Management at LIM College in Manhattan, New York. Afterwards she taught Expository Writing at Rutgers University in New Jersey, USA before founding Aimanosi Lingerie; a dynamic brand focused on promoting body positivity and selflove in African women. She has a Bsc. in Finance and Banking from Lincoln University, PA and a Juris Doctor from Villanova University.
Before delving into full time entrepreneurship, she practiced law in Pennsylvania and New
Jersey working in Commercial litigation, as well as working as the Manager of Project Implementation in the Kwara State Public Private Partnership office in 2013. She comes with over a decade experience in entrepreneurship, law, education and business.
About Tribe XX Lab
Tribe XX Lab is a civic space for complex conversations, critical contemplation, learning and action to prevent all forms of violence and oppression against women and girls. The goal of their work is to change the perceptions of women and their role in society as well as lead conversations and interventions that PREVENT violence against women and girls in the first place. They do this through the use of digital and social media, conversations, XX-CEED Virtual festival, game theory and art.
Through their work, they are particularly looking to provide support to survivors of Gender-based violence, promote greater public engagement in preventing violence against women, increase public awareness of the intersectionality of oppression women face, create social projects that encourage the extermination of rape culture.
Since inception, they have successfully carried out several survival supports programs, prevention panels and have received a grant to prevent gender-based violence against women and girls in universities in Nigeria as well as provide psychological support to victims of GBV in institutions of higher education from Oxfam/Voice.
Emalohi also launched ‘I GO TALK’ a Nigerian Pidgin phrase which simply means I will not be silent, I will tell on you. It came in as a crucial response to the sexual violence that female students in Nigerian Universities face. This is a clarion call from victims, survivors, and women in general to the perpetrators of sexual abuse and to the general public, that they’re here to XXterminate, silence and provide support to victims. This is a motivation for victims of sexual abuse and harassment amongst University students to speak up and also a mode to create awareness for students on their rights in line with the recently signedd Sexual Harassment bill.
After the BBC Documentary, Sex for Grades rocked the whole of Nigeria in October 2019, the long cloaked truth about the oppression that young women face in the hands of university lecturers started to come to light. For the longest time, young women seeking higher education have been preyed upon by several academicians high in power and have been oppressed, victimized, and helpless.
Starting from the 25th of October to the 31st of October, they are kicking off the first edition of I GO TALK Youth Summit, the largest gathering of university students across the country to build collective power and voice in the fight to end Sex4grades and sexual harassment in Nigerian Universities.
Tribe XX Lab is laser focused on promoting gender equality, deliberate living, transformative leadership and community development through the design and delivery of trainings, workshops, seminars, collaborative partnerships and data gathering.