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How Tech Is Enhancing Recruitment: An Interview With Sandy Simagwali, Co-Founder Of Graft Africa

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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.

Also Read: Interview: Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy For Girls Executive Director, Gugulethu Ndebele On Girls And Leadership

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.

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Vetwork Inc, MENA’s leading startup for animal care is bringing petcare to your home

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Vetwork Inc Founders, Abdelreheem Hussein and Fady Azzouny (Source: Vetwork)

Pets today are considered family members, best friends, confidants, and so much more. Taking care of them requires more than just love and dedication, but also the right knowledge to recognize when something is not right. Vetwork Inc, MENA’s leading startup for animal care industry one country at a time and its mission is to make pets healthier, pet owners happier. In this interview with Alaba Ayinuola of Business Africa Online, Fady Azzouny Founder and CEO of Vetwork Inc talked about his entrepreneurship journey, his vision for petcare with Vetwork and the future plan. Excerpts.

 

Alaba: Why did you start and what’s the passion behind it?

Fady: Petcare should be easy, as it stands its full of inefficiencies for both pet parents and vets. Instead of a crowded clinic with a waiting time of 30-45 minutes, vets come to you at home at the time you choose. Rather than try to muster up a massive amount of money to fund a clinic, vets can practice their services without any initial cost and make extra money to live a better life.

The vision of regulating the petcare industry involves a lot of innovation, our dream is to use the available technologies to make everyone’s lives easier and right now we’re on the right track.

 

Alaba: What is your background?

Fady: I graduated as a veterinarian, but I consider myself an entrepreneur. I saw some problems in the veterinary market while I was still studying and started a bunch of projects, with a few of them turning into medium sized companies. My initial problem was the absence of technology in my solutions, with Vetwork I think we can really achieve my vision of making petcare easier.

 

Alaba: What are the problems you are solving and what is your value proposition?

Fady: Its simple, we are solving the problem of finding a good vet by selecting our vets from a pool of more than 1000 annual applications. And the problem of waiting in the clinic through Home visits available 24/7. Also, we are addressing Vets problems of low wages and salaries by offering them easy access to extra income.

Vetwork is reliable, affordable and available petcare.

 

Alaba: Tell us more about the process, users, business model!

Fady: As we stand the process is the same across Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirate (UAE). We onboarded more than 300 vets across these three countries. These vets help us cater to our customer’s needs. A pet parent can log into our website or app and request a service at the time of their choosing. A vet will be assigned and introduced to the client.

The vet will then arrive, conduct the visit and deliver a detailed orientation on the tips and tricks of petcare. Our medical records also allow us to follow-up with our pet parents to make sure that everything is going according to plan and their pet is getting better.

 

Alaba: What are your main challenge?

Fady: Since we promise to deliver all your pets needs to you, finding the right groomers, trainers, vets and boarding facilities is always a challenge due to our strict onboarding guidelines.

 

Alaba: What is your achievements and coming plan?

Fady: After launching in three countries our plan is to start expanding further into the MENA region and build our presence in the countries that need us the most. Our tech infrastructure allows us to launch in any country in a matter of days and we plan to take advantage of this to test markets and become your pets partner anywhere in the Middle East.

 

Alaba: Do you think the ecosystem support you?

Fady: Ideas and mentorship, we’re always happy to learn and listen to other people’s ideas on how we can make petcare an easier process. We try our best to promote pet adoption since a lot of shelters are full of pets that need a home. Access to people with a wider audience can surely help us deliver our message to the people that need us the most.

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Zoe Adjonyoh, the Ghanaian Irish Chef, Writer and Activist revolutionizing African Cuisine

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Zoe Adjonyoh, Founder at Zoe’s Ghana Kitchen (Source: Zoe Adjonyoh)

Zoe Adjonyoh is on a mission to bring African food to the masses. Born to a Ghanaian father and Irish mother, the writer and chef from South-East London deepened her understanding of West African cuisine after a trip to visit her extended family in Ghana. Described by the Observer as “the standard bearer for West African food” and named by Nigel Slater as ‘one to watch’ bringing immigrant food to Britain. She was named one of “London’s hottest chefs” by Time Out and most recently has been included as one of ‘The 44 Best Female Chefs in the World’ by Hachette Cuisine France. She became a judge at “The Great Taste Awards” in 2016, which is known as the “Oscars” of the food industry, and in 2018, she won the Iconoclast award at The James Beard Foundation.

Zoe’s Ghana Kitchen

Zoe began by selling Ghanaian food outside her front door during the 2010 Hackney Wicked Arts Festival to ‘make a bit of pocket money’ after returning from traveling across The United States. After the popularity of the stall she set up selling peanut stew outside her front door, Zoe went on the host many supper clubs in her home consistently selling out.

Zoe has been making waves in the international food scene ever since. Zoe has taken her fresh interpretation of classic Ghanaian flavours to pop-up venues across London, Berlin, Accra, Russia and New York, and is a leader in the new African cuisine revolution. Along with her world-renowned supper clubs, Zoe launched her first fixed restaurant space in 2015, at shipping container community project Pop Brixton.

In 2017, Zoe’s Ghana Kitchen became a roving private dining, street food, wedding and events company, which Zoe ran alongside her chef residencies. The brand is a prominent force in the festival community around the UK, including Camp Bestival as part of The Feast Collective, and came runner-up as ‘Best Street Food Trader’ at the UK Festival Awards 2017.

Revolutionizing West African Food

Zoe’s Ghana Kitchen was the first modern West African Restaurant in the United Kingdom. Zoe’s Ghana Kitchen was the epitome of social, relaxed and affordable dining – where guests gather to enjoy Ghanaian favourites, notable for their heartiness and spice, alongside Zoe’s contemporary West African creations.

In 2014, Zoe began writing her debut cookbook titled ‘Zoe’s Ghana Kitchen’ and was released in 2017 by
Octopus Books. The first modern West African Cookbook to be published in the United Kingdom. Due to its demand the publishers decided to re-release of the cookbook in November 2020 and is the process of working on her second book.

Source: Zoe Adjonyoh

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Coco Olakunle, the Nigerian Dutch photographer passionate about humanity, inclusion and diversity

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Coco Olakunle is a Nigerian Dutch photographer with a background in Human Geography based in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. Her cultures and lived experience are constant sources of inspiration. This produces a photography style that can be seen as a crossover between documentary and fashion, where she always try to highlight the importance of the subject’s identity and background. During her work time, she likes to create a space where the subject feels comfortable and at ease being themselves and letting their personality show. Coco finds that when the subjects in her work feels comfortable, it is felt in the overall process and in the end product.

Her work revolves around people and the personalities they embody: Coco uses her camera as a way to engage with humanity and peacefully open the doors of full spectrum inclusivity and representation. She’s constantly creating spaces for her subjects to express themselves and discover who they are. The subject is always the starting point but what you see in the image is actually a snapshot of her vision: how I want to see us.

“For most of us, 2020 was a tough year. At the beginning of the year, all my jobs were cancelled. Being in lockdown and not being able to work forced me to rethink my skill set. I wasn’t able to practice photography though photoshoots, but I was able to share my experience as a freelance photographer with others. During that time, I got the opportunity to be in front of the classroom multiple times at various art academies, including one I had been previously rejected from as an applicant. To me, this proves that there are different tracks and ways to achieve your goals. Talking to the next generation of visual artists about my work and the philosophy behind it was a new experience for me. It was refreshing to bring other perspectives to the table, especially not coming from an art academy myself. I feel a great responsibility bringing new perspectives into these institutions and guiding students in finding their visual identity and translating it into their creative work.” Coco said.

One of my absolute highlights from 2020 was shooting the cover of ELLE magazine’s September issue. This was super exciting because I got to focus more on the fashion side of photography, and it was such an honor to have my work on the cover of such a big magazine. I look forward to doing more work in the field of fashion, where I can bring my photography style and cultural background to the table. I am constantly inspired by so many great African photographers, some of which are Nigerian, which makes me even more proud. Seeing all the creative work that comes from the continent inspires me from a distance, and even more when I am there.

Coco aim to get back to Lagos, as soon as possible. She said, “Creating in the motherland is very personal for me because it’s a way for me to connect with and learn more about my culture and my people on a deeper level. Being on Nigerian soil gives me a different type of creativity and inspiration from within and I love working with my people when I am there. My camera is like a passport that gives her access to new people and stories which I love bringing back with me and sharing.”

One of her personal projects is a documentary fashion series about her family in Lagos, which she sees as a personal exploration of her Nigerian culture and an exciting challenge. The idea for this project stems from when she was young. “I dream about Nigeria a lot and created my own image of how it would look in my head, and how my family would be. This visualization is my starting point for this series, blending my own vision with what I see when I am there. This project is a way for me to connect with my heritage and discover more about Nigerian culture, and, through that, myself.” Coco said.

In terms of personal development, she hopes to explore different sides of photography she is less familiar with. Coco is excited to master the physics of lighting, because she believes light is how you paint a picture. She loves learning new things in general, making the entire process to be a fun one.

“The past year brought me a lot of new opportunities and new perspectives which I am grateful for, and hope to take with me further into the next years. For the new year, my focus will be on sharing and creating supportive environments where other photographers can connect with and uplift each other.” She said.

A few weeks ago, Coco organized a ‘Creative Catch Up’ for a small group of creatives to reflect on the past year and share ideas for the next year. With good food, music and a table filled with (photography) books this get together turned into a supportive environment where they shared project ideas, thoughts and insecurities. Something she thinks they as freelancers should do more often.

Her work

Source: Coco Olakunle
Source: Coco Olakunle
Source: Coco Olakunle

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