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Tunga founder Ernesto Spruyt: ‘We create 21st century jobs in Africa’


Published on: 24-Oct-2016

While the Western world is facing an increasing shortage of IT-talent, Africa’s rapidly growing workforce is in dire need of jobs. Realising the mutually beneficial potential at hand, Dutch entrepreneur Ernesto Spruyt founded Tunga, a platform which enables African whiz kids to work for tech-companies from around the globe.

Tunga is a social enterprise, meaning that the company aims to make a social impact. That noted, founder Ernesto Spruyt  would like to make one thing clear: “The business model must work. We definitely want to make an impact in Africa, but as a company we need to deliver a high-quality product. Whether we are ‘social’ or not.”

Not that Spruyt has any doubts about his business model which connects African techies to companies which need them. “There is a huge shortage of highly skilled ICT staff in the West. Tech companies in Silicon Valley pay massive salaries to talented coders and webmasters who have just left school. And the European Union recently said the Europe will be short of 900.000 ICT Professionals by the year 2020. I used to run a software company myself, and I also experienced how hard it is to get staff,” Spruyt said. “Through an organization which gives ICT trainings to disadvantaged youth in Uganda we found a group of qualified ICT staff in Kampala. The only thing we then needed to build was the platform connecting the two, which resulted in Tunga.” The platform was initiated last year and can be found at www.tunga.io

The language of software

When asked about the practical obstacles of working with dozens of developers  who work thousands of miles apart from each other, Spruyt was confident that the issue was non-existent. “Software developers worldwide speak the same ‘language.’ We are now looking at a generation of African techies who can work at the same level as the companies that hire them. It is very common to have many people working on different parts of a certain piece of software simultaneously. This is a process that can be compared to working with a group of people on the same document. By tracking changes you can see the difference with the original – it is easy to decide which changes to accept and which not.”

Within one year, Spruyt found a core group of 25 developers, with another 75 on stand-by. Currently, a total of 35 customers have already started using Tunga. The platform is live while its development is ongoing. “This is the concept of a ‘lean’ start-up,” said Spruyt, who combines developing Tunga with a part-time job as a company advisor with The Netherlands’ largest media group, TMG. “"It used to be that start-ups spent a year developing a project before it went live, but we figured that it was better to go 'lean' and start operations and keep developing based on user-experiences".”

‘War for African tech talent’

According to the Wall Street Journal, a string of US companies (IBM, Mastercard, SAP SE) are actively looking for talent in Africa. The start-up Andela, which received a $24 million investment from Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg has hired 200 African developers, out of a staggering 45,000 applicants. “That WSJ story gave me the confirmation that we are on the right track,” Spruyt said. “Most youth in Africa are not interested in becoming small-holder farmers, like some NGO’s seem to think. They want 21st century jobs.”

Next to the advantage of staff availability, there is also quite a salary gap between a technician in Europe and his colleague in Africa. “It is a fact that salaries per hour in the West are much higher than in Africa,” Spruyt explained. “We currently pay our developers up to four times the salary that is common for a tech-job in Uganda, but the hourly rate is still very affordable to the customer in Europe. Using Tunga is to the benefit of both parties.” Asked if companies accept lowering their standards in return for the lower wages, Spruyt is very decided: “Absolutely not. This is about quality and access to available staff. It really shouldn’t be the price which draws the attention to us – we aim to compete based on quality.”

Spruyt, a former NGO worker, strongly believes in the development potential for the private sector. “Even fair trade is a questionable concept. If you subsidize products which would otherwise not survive on the free market, you’ll have to ask yourself how sustainable your products are,” he said. “What we do at Tunga is enable people in Africa to do the jobs they are good at. Not on a basis of helping them but based on equality. That is extremely important.” 

 

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