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“As Africans, we are not very effective networkers”, says Beatrice Njindou, founder of the Young Professional Cameroonian Network.  But can networking really boost career success?

When Beatrice Njindou noticed that her European and Asian colleagues were using their networks to find new positions and move up the corporate ladder, she realised that it was time to act.

ImageBorn in Cameroon, Beatrice has lived in the UK since the age of 2 and, in common with many Africans, used to believe that if you work hard enough, you will do well. 

Now working as a Sales Account Manager for a well known international financial institution and seeing the impact of successful networking for other groups, she has become a convert to the power of using your contacts wisely.

Understanding workplace relationships and challenging our Cultural Attitudes

“Understanding how to make relationships work for you in the workplace is critical,” she says.  “I realised that networking really makes a difference to your ability to prosper at work.  This also means challenging some of our own cultural attitudes.  Instead of saying ‘I didn’t get the job because I’m black’, it might be about admitting that ‘I didn’t get the job because I turned up late or I didn’t follow up’.”

Njindou launched the Young Professional Cameroonian Network (YPCN) in October 2003 with a group of 6 other people.  Today the network is made up of 22 core members plus over one hundred ‘Friends of the YPCN’ and 22 Diamond Members.  The core group, which is exclusively Cameroonian, is based in London and meets on a monthly basis.  Friends of the YPCN include supporters from a wide range of nationalities, such as Ghanaian, Nigerian and Caribbean.  Friends are based in countries as far apart as France, the USA, Gabon, Dubai and, of course, Cameroon.


The YPCN provides a network for professional Cameroonians to share job opportunities, information and business opportunities.  Having participated in some of the other networking groups in London, Njindou and her colleagues wanted to be part of a group that had a strong core.  “For us, the strongest link is the cultural link we have with each other as Cameroonians”, she explains.  “It was also about trying to do something in and for Cameroon at some stage.”

ImageThe Network’s activities are meticulously planned and as all the members work full-time, personal commitment to the group is crucial.  In 2006 the Network has hosted the Abbia Film season in conjunction with Black Filmmaker Magazine, highlighting films made by Cameroonian directors.  This has included classics such as ‘Sisters in Law’ a Cannes Film Festival prize winner, ‘Quartier Mozart’ and ‘The Story of Soul to Soul’.  In October 2006, the Network will be hosting ‘Black Survivors of the Holocaust’ which highlights the little known story of the Africans based in Germany during World War II.

2006 Careers Event

The YPCN was initially set up to help develop the careers of its members and this remains one of its key areas of focus.  The Network’s members are working professionals with, on average, less than 10 years work experience. 

As Njindou points out, “Most of the Network are working or have good jobs. We are looking at how to make a strategic move to find the job that takes you to the next level.  As a network, we want to help each other to progress, to take a step up in one’s company or in another company.”

So what are the issues that the Network’s members face?  “It’s not so much a case of overt discrimination but of more subtle exclusion,” says Njindou.  “We had a debate in our first year about why there are so few high ranking black professionals in the UK.  What we realised is that it is less about outright discrimination and more about identifying the skills and networks that we need to move ahead.”

Image This was the motivation behind the YPCN’s 2006 Careers Event, held in collaboration with Interims for Development, the UK based HR, Training and Career Management Company.  “As Interims for Development is run by Africans, their expertise in careers management is particularly relevant for our members,” explains Njindou.

The 3 hour evening event was developed by Interims as a guest event to allow Network members and other guest participants to think about their career strategy and to learn about CV skills and how to market themselves effectively to employers.  The event was attended by 23 people and generated very positive feedback.

“The event went really well,” said Njindou.  “It was really interactive and gave us all new insights into winning at interview and thinking strategically about our careers.  There are things that we tend to excuse in our culture, like being late, and we sometimes take these attitudes into professional situations.  It’s also clear that we often don’t do enough research on a company when we go for an interview.”

Benefits of Membership

ImageSo what do members gain from being part of a professional network?  “Being a member of the YPCN offers loads of benefits,” explains Njindou.  “For the fee paying core membership group, we hold monthly networking meetings and provide access to a message board for jobs and information.” 

There are three different levels of membership; Bronze, Silver and Platinum.  As you progress within the Network, opportunities arise to become part of a Working Committee and to get involved in event management, radio and TV appearances as well as to take on responsibilities within the group.  The Network also produces an annual journal, Lerewa, and offers access to a large network of corporate and individual contacts.  The Friends of YPCN are not required to pay fees but do receive 2 or 3 e-mails per week sharing information about events, professional information and new businesses.

Networking for Career Success

Not surprisingly for the founder of a professional Network, Njindou is passionate about the crucial importance of networking, particularly for Africans living and working in the West.

“As Africans, in my experience, we are not very effective networkers,” she says frankly.  “Too often, there is no follow up, which is key to networking.  You meet someone at functions, you are given a lead and yet you don’t follow up.  On the whole, it seems like as Africans we have a challenge to realise that you have to put in hard work to generate opportunities through networking.”

The Network has brought significant opportunities, contacts and information to its members.  Njindou cites the example of a member who had been looking for a job with an NGO but had not been able to break into the sector.  “Another new member posted a job vacancy from their organisation onto our internal job board.  She saw the notice, applied and got the job.  This is an opportunity she would never have got if she wasn’t part of this Network or, in fact, any network.”

What’s next for the YPCN?

The YPCN is growing and building on its success.  Its focus is now on leveraging its network of Diamond Members – previous guest speakers at the Network’s events.  “We are holding a Diamond cocktail event, which we hope will become an annual event,” says Njindou.  “As our Diamond Members are senior professionals, we are looking to them as a professional think tank for the Network.” 

The Network is also working with Africa Foundation Stone, who pay for professionals in the UK to travel and work to share their skills in French speaking African countries.  “We are hoping to encourage our members to participate and next year we will be creating such links for Cameroon.”

The YPCN is open to new members.  The core membership is for young Cameroonian professionals with less than 10 years work experience, while Friends of the YPCN is open to professionals from all cultures and communities.  Contact the YPCN at: theYPCN@hotmail.com

For further information about Careers Seminars and Workshops, contact Interims for Development at: www.InterimsFD.com or info@interimsfd.com.

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