The phrase “Africa to the world” can serve as a wake-up call to those sleeping on what the continent has to offer. Some of the world’s brightest minds come from Africa. Still, the lack of mainstream visibility and connections creates barriers to opportunities, which is why Ronnie Kwesi Coleman’s mission is to keep African talent from having their skills overlooked.
In 2019, the Ghanaian tech innovator co-founded Meaningful Gigs, a D.C.-based startup that connects highly skilled African designers with top companies and enterprises such as Starbucks, IDEO, Bloomberg, and Meta. Coleman’s efforts to create the marketplace are linked to filling the staggering gap in African countries’ income classes.
“The thought was how do we create jobs and build a thriving middle class in Africa. And then our vision was to create 100,000 skilled jobs,” Coleman told AfroTech.
Coleman spoke with us about connecting with African designers, building the Meaningful Gigs community, and the road to the platform’s vision by 2028.
Editorial note: Portions of this interview have been edited and condensed for clarity.
AfroTech: When you connect with African designers, what are some recurring challenges that you hear come up in conversations?
Ronnie Kwesi Coleman: It’s infrastructure. A lot of it is around infrastructure change. For instance, we have designers that are great at what they do, but their WiFi may be going out at one point. So, they have to go work somewhere else. We don’t think about that so much in the U.S. — or, it’s just the logistics of getting from point A to point B.
A prerequisite for the people we work with is that they have great Internet, but still it’s a challenge for others that don’t have the privilege of being able to have good WiFi all of the time. But, things are getting better.
AT: With the African continent being so diverse, how does Meaningful Gigs do outreach for African talent to know about the opportunity?
Coleman: We initially just started through talking to different community leaders. There were a lot of different design communities, like Kenya, Nigeria, and South Africa. We would reach out to understand the challenges, and over time, we built up a network of really great leaders that we could connect with.
And now, because we work with companies like Starbucks, Facebook, IDEO, and all these huge brands, people are leaving their jobs to join the Meaningful Gigs community. We get hundreds of applications every month. Now, it’s just like we’re the only ones doing what we’re doing for designers all over the continent. It’s just spreading through word of mouth.
AT: Meaningful Gigs’ website has a lot of wonderful testimonials. What would you say is the driving factor behind the success for your platform?
Coleman: I think to the point about there being an entire continent of 1.2 billion people being overlooked. We talk to these big global brands and they don’t even know how to hire people from Africa. So, we come in and we say, ‘You’ve been hiring from New York or even like Latin America, but there’s an entire continent of super-skilled people that’s completely untapped.
Historically people have looked into New York or San Francisco for creative talent, but now with the Internet, anybody has access to the same tools. Whether you sit in Lagos, Singapore, or New York. We’re seeing communities growing and getting more talented just because they can access the exact same tools anybody else can.
AT: Your platform wants to bring 100,000 jobs to Africa by 2028. What do you feel are the stepping stones to reach that mission?
Coleman: I think the main thing is driving value for our customers. All these big companies, the more that they hire, the more that they work with us and partner with us, the more we can create these jobs. That’s one of the things — getting the right partners.
Another thing that we realized is that we vet and find really strong talent, but there’s also this group of thousands of thousands of designers with skills that aren’t quite at the level of our top people. So, we’ve built this technology that upskills and trains designers. We don’t want to just find the best of the best of the privileged folks in Africa and get them jobs. We want to find people that are mid-level or junior and get them to a point where they can get jobs as well.
AT: What else would you like people to know about Meaningful Gigs?
Coleman: We’ve built a marketplace where we have designers offering value to U.S. customers. So, we want U.S. customers to know that if you’re a big brand or company, you should be hiring from Africa. If you want a competitive advantage of getting some of the best talent that nobody has access to, you should be looking at Africa. And it’s a great market to sell into because it’s growing exponentially.
Then the other side of it is our upskilling and education. Like we don’t look at education and jobs as two separate things. We understand that jobs are just milestones in your education journey. Everything we do is with that in mind — you’re always learning. We’re there to hold your hand and help you grow, and guide you toward your full potential. The jobs you get are just punctuations in your learning journey.
And we just want the world to know that Africa’s on the map and it’s going to keep getting doper, bigger and better. We want as many partners to align with us as possible because I think it’ll add value to everybody on all sides.