Alexander Badong from Ghana and Simon Manyara from Kenya at Boehringer Ingelheim
23 May 2017
Sarah Pfeffer

“Afrika kommt!”: an initiative to foster Diversity and Inclusion

Does diversity recruitment mean hiring different people from different backgrounds, or does it mean creating a work-place with different gender workforce? It can be both and more. At Boehringer Ingelheim, we believe that diversity with its different forms unlocks innovation and drives the growth of our organization. For us, ‘Diversity is the mix. Inclusion is making the mix work’. A high performing, balanced team is composed of differences and similarities to achieve the same goals.  We focus on fostering an inclusive environment which allows diversity to flourish. This is what “Afrika kommt!” is about. A guest feature by Taiseer Kuzbari.

As one of the founding members of “Afrika kommt!”, Boehringer Ingelheim has been sponsoring this initiative involving the application process of talents from Sub-Saharan countries since 2008. Two talented executives joined our headquarters in November 2016 bringing their know-how and perspectives from the African healthcare market environment to support us in the development of global strategies. Additionally they have the opportunity to further develop their management and leadership competencies. Our current participants in the “Afrika kommt!” program with Boehringer Ingelheim are Alexander Badong from Ghana and Simon Manyara from Kenya.


Mixture of Courage and Curiosity


Alexander is the father of two lovely boys: Zunuo and Delmwin or “Zuzu and Del” as he affectionately calls them. He holds a Bachelor of Pharmacy degree (B Pharm), and a Master of Business Administration. Before joining the “Afrika kommt!” program, Alexander worked as a Product and Key Account Specialist for Novartis in English West Africa. 


Alexander’s positive thinking drove to challenge himself to resign a full-time job and join the “Afrika kommt!” program, which for him was a huge but calculated risk given the benefits as he describes: “At that point, I had to challenge myself and list the risks involved against the benefits of the venture. There were risks quitting and there was no guarantee that I would get another job”, he said. “I looked at the benefits of the program and the potentials in terms of how it could potentially open up a whole new world for my career”, he adds.


Simon Manyara is the youngest of his family. He also has a Bachelor of Pharmacy degree (B Pharm) and a Master of Science in the field of Global Health from the University of Edinburgh, Scotland, with a focus on non-communicable diseases. His studies help him to understand the issues affecting patients in different parts of the world. He worked as a Primary Healthcare Pharmacist at Ampath Kenya.


“Boehringer Ingelheim was looking for someone with a set of skills in healthcare access solutions.  When I had the interview, the vision of the interviewers made sense to me and were aligned with my passion for healthcare access within marginalized communities”, says Simon. “I was already designing and implementing innovative solutions for patients in Kenya, but I wanted to see things from different perspectives, from a donor perspective and a supply-side perspective. For now, I want to create a holistic view of the whole process”, he adds.


The newborn future leaders


Right after their arrival in Germany, together with the other participants of the “Afrika kommt!” program both Alexander and Simon participated in three months of intensive German language course and started international management training in the city of Bonn. Afterwards they joined Boehringer Ingelheim to start their eight months unique experience.


Beginning from the day when he started working, Simon Manyara was surprised by the number of the young talents who work at Boehringer Ingelheim. “I observed many young people, and I think that the company makes huge efforts to develop their talents”, he says. “I observed a lot of respect among colleagues and everyone is happy. I really appreciate the professional environment I work in”.


Diversity creates new perspectives


When people with different backgrounds work together to develop a project, they bring different ideas to the table. The more ideas you can gather from people, the more likely you are to develop workable solutions. The best innovation can only come if our people reflect the world's full diversity of individuals, opinions and approaches. Currently, Alexander works in Human Pharma (Emerging Markets Region) to give more insights on Africa strategy implementation. His main contribution is to define the strategy to expand the pharmaceutical business in several African countries like Angola, Ethiopia and Ghana depending on registration time frames, partnerships and other aspects. “A strategy designed for Europe might not suit Africa because the working cultural needs and environment are different”, he says. “For example, there are subtle differences regarding marketing in different African countries and having insights into these will help to come up with innovative strategies to achieve its bottom line ”.


Simon works at corporate strategy and development to help social entrepreneurs back home initiate the prelaunch and launches of different innovative products and solutions which are supported by Boehringer Ingelheim. “It is basically a co-creation process”, he says. “The idea is, with my experience and expertise of the Kenyan market, I am able to advise on those particular projects. I am also learning how to better design and increase the impact of the products and solutions that we are developing”, he adds.


Along with their contributions to the teams they are working with, Alexander and Simon are developing their management and leadership skills. In addition, it helps them to better understand German business culture. “It is great to be here, and I like the work culture. One of my expectations is to learn a lot and I have a wonderful mentor who supports me so much in terms of achieving my goals”, Alexander says.


Simon expresses his appreciation to be in such a position which enables him to create a holistic view of the social entrepreneurship working processes, “It is interesting to be between the Kenyan Social entrepreneurs and German partners, where I can express my opinion freely.  Now I can understand the scope behind those entrepreneurs and the struggles they face. It makes me understand better why they do things in a particular way. This helps me enormously to improve my knowledge and expertise”.


Out of scope challenges


When experiencing a different working culture, you might be confronted with challenges you have never thought about. Alexander prefers to call those challenges “adventures” because he believes “when you keep an open-mind, challenges become more of a learning experience. But I would say dealing with different kinds of food and the weather have been my greatest ‘adventures’ ”, Alexander answers with laughter.


Simon thinks that “you must have a plan when you work with Germans”, he says. “I came from a more people-oriented culture, and I had to quickly learn and adjust in Germany as people tend to be more task-oriented”, he adds.


Ready for the future


June 2017 will not be the end of the journey for Alexander and Simon. Both will return to their home countries bringing along their experience, knowlegde, passion and enthusiasm, hoping for a better future for Africa. Also, that will not be the end for Boehringer Ingelheim to support the initiative’s aim for Future Leaders from sub-saharan Africa. “We work within an environment where we can freely and openly share our opinions and our perspectives on doing business. The environment is inclusive for people to express themselves”, say Alexander and Simon.


"We work within an environment where we can freely and openly share our opinions and perspectives on doing business. The environment is inclusive for people to express themselves, Alexander and Simon say. "
Sarah Pfeffer

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