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ReConnect Africa is a unique website and online magazine for the African professional in the Diaspora. Packed with essential information about careers, business and jobs, ReConnect Africa keeps you connected to the best of Africa.

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Calling aspiring freelancers!

On 28 December 2019, I received a letter congratulating me on being awarded a CBE in the New Year Honours list by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II for my work supporting young people in the African community in the UK and helping them to share their skills within Africa.

Since receiving that stunning news, I have been reflecting on the journey that led to this day, and I wanted to share that journey with you.

In late 2002, I was back in the UK after almost five years in Ghana, and I had an idea. During my time in Ghana as an HR professional, I came across talented young people who just needed a hand; a piece of advice to help present themselves better for job interviews, guidance on what it takes to get the promotion they deserve, feedback to build their confidence and reinforce their aspirations. Given the chance, I knew for sure that these young professionals would and could build themselves, their communities, their countries and their continent.

Back in London, I had a choice. I could return to corporate life in the City or I could take the chance to be part of the growing movement connecting the diaspora with Africa to drive development. Pioneer organisations like AFFORD were developing initiatives to harness the diaspora for Africa’s development, and wherever I turned young people were asking me for advice on working in Africa. There are times in life when you realise that everything you have learned has been for a purpose.

What was my idea? It came to me as I read my brother’s draft thesis on the long-standing relationship between the UK and Ghana, and it was simply this. If the two countries were so closely linked, how could we better support each other? What if I could persuade professionals in the UK to volunteer their time – anything from a few days to a few months – to work as Interim Managers within businesses in Africa, sharing their skills and building the capability of the leaders and managers of those organisations?

My HR management background, my hands-on experience of working in Ghana, my own challenges in making the transition from the UK to living in Africa – all of these gave me the tools. What I needed was the courage, and the support. Again, in life, often when you make a choice, the world steps up to support you.

In 2003, I launched Interims for Development. Although it was initially set up to run a programme of short-term professional volunteer assignments to support businesses in Africa, it gradually expanded to cover pan-African training projects, enterprise development programmes in Zimbabwe, South Africa, Nigeria and Ghana, short-term projects in London and Africa, recruitment from the diaspora for African companies, and so much more. In 2006, I launched ReConnect Africa.com, a website and monthly news magazine to connect Africans abroad to the continent, sharing stories, ideas and lessons, and offering pathways for those who wanted to lend, or return, their skills to Africa. Forging partnerships with organisations including Brand South Africa, ReConnect Africa evolved into a platform that shared our aspirations, our stories, and our achievement as global Africans with each other, and with the world. By advertising jobs, highlighting events, and promoting networks, I - and the many contributors to the magazine - reached a subscriber base of almost 40,000 people around the world.

Launching Interims for Development in
Accra, Ghana

Alongside these projects came opportunities for me to work with individual professionals as a coach, guide and mentor. From university graduates to Board appointees, business owners to employees in career transition; using the lessons I’d learned to help them identify their next steps and meet the challenges their progress would create for them.

I coach my clients to understand and articulate their personal brands and, when I reflect on mine, it always comes back to the same key words: People, Stories, Africa.

Meeting people where they are and working with them to get to where they want to go. Helping people not just to tell their own stories, but to write them by taking action towards their goals. Telling stories through my books: lessons for young people from some of the many fantastic professionals I’ve met in Everyday Heroes, advice on taking skills to Africa in I Want to Work in Africa, and exploring the diaspora experience in the novels From Pasta to Pigfootand its sequel Second Helpings. And Africa. I was born in Ghana and, despite having spent so much of my life outside it, I don’t think I ever really left. And so, I feel a responsibility to help build both the country I was born in and the country I’ve lived in for so long.

None of us achieves anything alone, especially a CBE. And so, I thank, from the bottom of my heart, everyone who helped clear a path for me from the day I had that idea in 2002. Sadly, some have passed on since those early days, but there are so many who are still here and who continue to take time from their busy lives and incredible accomplishments to help me achieve mine. I thank my friends and my family who have sustained my efforts, encouraging and convincing me that I knew what I was doing, even when I didn’t. I thank those who nominated me for this prestigious award and those who granted it. Since I had that idea in 2002, it’s been quite a ride. Exhausting, exhilarating, scary, but never dull.

If you’re still reading this, thank you. Listening to the joyful reactions of my family and friends to my news, there was one consistent theme. Hard work pays off, eventually. So, let me share a final thought. If you have a dream, or even just an idea as I once did, go for it. If you do, I promise your life will be exhausting, exhilarating and scary. But, trust me, it will also never be dull.

Frances Mensah Williams CBE

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