Ghana is experiencing a small reversal of the brain drain, the loss of skilled professionals from Africa to the industrial world. A business based outside Washington, DC, Rising Data Solutions, is opening a call center in Accra that hopes to employ up to a thousand skilled Ghanaian workers. The effort will help alleviate unemployment and ensure that the country retains some of its skilled work force.
The company was started five years ago with two first-generation Americans of African parentage, Sambou Makalou and Karim Morsli, whose families come from Mali and Algeria.
Morsli, the company’s CEO, says when he was working for a multi-national oil services firm in West Africa a few years ago he realized that there was a huge pool of skilled labor in Africa that was not being tapped.
Morsli says he and his partner chose Accra because Ghana has an established infrastructure that is cheaper and more accessible than South Africa’s. “South Africa is much more expensive right now -- more expensive than India for [establishing] a call center. From a cost advantage, South Africa [was not much more competitive than] India and the Philippines. Accra has a lower cost structure and huge labor pool. It has a lot more to promise than any other country in Africa.”
Moreover, he says the international management consulting firm A.T. Kearney has named Ghana as one of the top 40 places in the world to set up an out-sourcing business.
For one thing, he says Ghana has a tradition of hospitality well suited for customer service: “If you were to fly to Accra, the first thing you hear is “Welcome.” It’s in the nature of the people of Ghana to be very open, friendly, (and) patient. [Customers] are all dying for that human touch when we have a problem and not only [want to] hear some sort of compassion but [also want to] be able to be assisted and resolve our issues. And that’s what we can definitely offer with our people in Ghana.”
Morsli says US companies seeking to outsource work prefer to spread their investments around the world: “Like any investor, you never want to have all your eggs in one basket should anything happen. In India, the Philippines …where there are call centers, you have some risk and political instability. Also, we’ve seen since 9/11 issues such as disaster recovery: What if something happens, what does (a company) do? If a company has all its resources tied up in one place and if something bad happens – an act of God or something else to that location – then they will be in trouble. “
Over the past few years, Rising Data Solutions has employed dozens of skilled Ghanaians. Today the company is re-tooling and will re-open in Accra within a few months. Within the next two years, it hopes to employ over a thousand agents handling phone queries from the US and Great Britain. It has also recruited at least two new clients from the travel and financial services industries within the United States.
Morsli says Ghanaian officials have supported the venture, although initially there was some concern over the plan to use the Internet to place the telephone calls from Ghana to the US. The plan bypasses the less reliable state phone company, which is also a source of revenue for the government:
“When we started a years ago, there was a lot of stigma over what we call Voice over Internet Protocol, there was big confusion among government officials about the way we were using it. If we use Voice over Internet Protocol for the needs of the business, it is acceptable, but if you use it in Ghana to call a relative overseas, that is considered illegal. So they had to understand we were using it within legal bounds.… The contentious point was talking, involving and educating the government, and making them understand that…if we couldn’t use Voice over Internet Protocol, there was no way we could set up a call center in Ghana.”
Morsli says Rising Data Solutions is contributing, at least in some small measure, to helping to reverse the brain drain in Ghana: ”There was a very good pocket of very smart software engineers with university degrees and who are self taught. It is clear to me that if we had not provided them with an opportunity to do something locally and stay in their country and earn a good living, there was a strong likelihood they might have been on the first plane out.” Not only that, but he says a large number of Ghanaians based in the US are submitting their CVs to the company – for a job back home.