Actually the real million pound question is: Will they ever return to share their knowledge and expertise and help build businesses at “home”? Donovan Neale-May told the SA Innovation Summit in Cape Town on Thursday about another way in which Africa’s brain drain is being reversed. He was talking about Sable Accelerator, of which he is the managing partner, a kind of global match-making service for African business. Sable puts African businesspeople in contact with fellow Africans in the diaspora who are keen to provide support in the form of funding, access to markets, management support, technical assistance or any other help they need.
Neale-May left South Africa a few decades ago, but ended up building successful businesses abroad, in both the UK and in the US. In 1974, he told his employer, Donald Woods, the late great editor of the Daily Dispatch in East London, that he was going to Italy “to play and coach rugby for a season”. He ended up staying away for a lot longer but maintained his ties with Africa, as many do.
The idea of a global partner matching service resonates very well with one of the big topics at this week’s Innovation Summit — the importance of collaboration. Neale-May told the summit that South Africa has an enormous asset in the diaspora, a massive intellectual capital base outside the country and Sable helps businesses tap into this.
Neale-May made the point that more than half of Silicon Valley start-ups were launched by immigrants, including many South African entrepreneurs who moved there to gain access to capital, leading developers, excellent feedback and the various other benefits of being in a global hub of innovation.
South Africa’s estimated 1.2 million expats and emigrants around the world represent a vast repository of experiential knowledge and Sable gives local businesses access to a network of highly connected global South Africans.