Internet penetration is rapidly growing in Africa, particularly in countries such as Nigeria , Egypt, South Africa, Kenya, and Morocco. People recognize it as an entry way to the world, where anyone can publish something, whether it be a thought provoking article or a new cultural statement, and possibly have instant fame. In professional office settings in Africa, the internet has become necessary to getting tasks accomplished by teams that often span across the world. Even African job seekers are turning to the internet to look for employment, turning to job searching websites to find any available post that might fit their profile. However, many do not realize the internet can do so much more for professional development, learning, and networking.
LinkedIn is one of the most important ways for people to get ahead professionally. 25 million LinkedIn profiles are viewed every day, and if used correctly, you can showcase your CV and career goals as well as share your own ideas in groups and through blog posts to find opportunities you never knew even existed. You can learn about, and interact with, organizations and people, then make personal connections to gain career and academic advice from people you respect. Even more importantly, it is a tool that can actually help secure employment.
LinkedIn’s vision is to create economic opportunity for every member of the global workforce. Despite the skyrocketing unemployment rate and higher levels of internet literacy, few Africans are using LinkedIn to fast track their career. While statistics on African users are limited, of all the Middle East and North Africa region’s internet users only 6% have a profile., so we might assume Sub-Saharan Africa to be even less. Many of my friends, colleagues and former students here in Senegal do not understand the function of LinkedIn, asking why they would need it when they already have a Facebook account.
For LinkedIn (or any other social network for that matter) to be properly exploited on the continent, there needs to be a critical mass of members. This means people need to understand its functionalities and the potential gains from using it before actually signing up. But getting them to sign up is only half the battle- once they have a profile, then what to do with it?
The most efficient way is to start by introducing it to students beginning in high school and teaching them the importance of a good CV and appropriate methods of networking, using LinkedIn as a tool. Students are already using Facebook, Twitter and other social networks, so their schools can guide them towards using it for professional development. If students are taught in school, they become active members of the network at the very beginning of their careers. LinkedIn is innovating to include this demographic by encouraging students from an early age to target mentors and ask for help from a wider network which might not exist in their local communities. One example is Decision Boards, which can help students make the difficult choices about where and what to study with the help of experts around the world.
An important case study to look at is South Africa. With 4 million users and a 40% growth rate, people understand this utility. People from various fields (see infographic below) are getting on LinkedIn, seeking new opportunities, usually connecting from their mobile phones. Some say this increased usage is due to new national labor laws which require international companies to hire locally, and South Africans are using LinkedIn to showcase their skills for Human Resources departments to see from abroad.
The Internet puts the world at our fingertips, and LinkedIn makes the movers and shakers of the world within everyone’s reach. Of course, the problem of the digital divide still exists in Africa, and those who do not have easy access to internet will not be able to benefit from this service. While the logical first step is to promote internet access for all, it is imperative to keep moving forward and teach the crucial networking and professional development skills LinkedIn has to offer to those who are internet literate. I urge academic institutions across Africa to encourage students to develop a profile early on and guide them in this, because for a social network to matter there needs to be numerous high quality members active on it. It takes a village to educate a child, and LinkedIn serves as an educational resource which can help all young professionals to have access to more diverse economic opportunities.