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Why We Invested : Tana, filling the global digital skills gap with African talent

Sep 28, 2023 | Why We Invested

Jacob Winiecki

Africa is experiencing a massive youth bulge: over 100 million young people are expected to enter the workforce by 2030. Unfortunately, there is a severe shortage of formal jobs to absorb this influx of labor. This lack of economic opportunity is one of the root causes fueling brain drain, as some of Africa’s brightest minds emigrate abroad in search of work.  Without dramatic growth in employment opportunities, the continent risks losing the potential “demographic dividend” – the boost in productivity and entrepreneurship that can occur when there are more working-age people than non-working age. 

At the same time, there is surging global demand for digital skills. According to the World Economic Forum, more than 75% of global employers indicate that they are struggling to find qualified candidates. In particular, tech firms urgently need to fill roles like software developers, data analysts, customer support specialists, and quality assurance testers. The World Economic Forum predicts that there will be 1.6 million unfilled technology jobs in Europe alone by 2020

Tana is Seizing the Opportunity for Africa

Tana was founded in 2022 to connect global companies with trained and vetted early-career tech talent based in Africa. The continent has historically been overlooked as a source of digitally-skilled talent, with most firms focused on hiring remote workers from Eastern Europe, India, or South America. Tana disrupts this trend with a two-sided platform:

  • On the talent side, Tana sources promising candidates through a skills-based assessment process. Selected candidates receive technical training and upskilling, and are embedded directly with full-time employment opportunities that deliver higher salaries, increased benefits, and career growth options. 
  • On the employer side, Tana markets the quality and cost-effectiveness of African talent to tech teams  across North America and Europe. Tana screens candidates for technical strengths, soft skills like attention to detail and communication abilities, and a can-do attitude. Employers are presented with curated profiles for the roles they need, and are able to interview and select their new team members.

Tana stands out from other global employment marketplaces by emphasizing formal, full-time roles rather than freelance assignments. They also invest heavily in pre-training to ensure workers are job-ready before deployment, and can continue to grow and upskill through on-the-job mentorship. These specifications are helping Tana attract women to the tech space. Two-thirds of their Fellows are women who are starting out in roles like software engineering and data science. As such, Tana is creating vital pathways for young African women to gain the skills, experience and networks to succeed in technology long-term.

Building a new model for global tech talent

Tana’s marketplace model assures that talent is not only equipped, but have opportunities lined up. “Workforce initiatives often focus on building new skills and employability. That’s fantastic, but the gap is when graduates come out and there are still no jobs available, says co-founder Ava Zhang. “At Tana, we’re laser-focused on creating employment opportunities – every single person who goes through [our program] has a job waiting on the other side.”

Employers, in turn, are assured the talent they hire is vetted for fit and has the technical capabilities. Once a client-employer selects new team members, Tana takes them through a rigorous Fellowship program that equips them with the exact skills that they’ll need for the role, before they’re embedded into the client team full-time. 

Tana continues to support even once talent is placed. Once Fellows are working with client teams, Tana continues to support their success through professional coaching, technical mentorship, and community building. 

In all, Tana’s goal is to set young people on a trajectory toward full-time, career-track employment. Their approach creates a true win-win, fulfilling employer demand while transforming youth livelihoods in Africa. The proof of their success comes from the talent: 100% of Tana Fellows say that the program is better than other opportunities they would’ve had access to.

The team is already delivering traction

Tana was founded by Ava Zhang and Saagar Shah. Ava previously served as Chief of Staff at a Nairobi ag-tech startup, and lends her strategic thinking, operational rigor, and on-the-ground experience to make Tana’s model financially sustainable and maximally impactful. Meanwhile, Saagar is from Kenya, and is a second-time startup founder who previously built a global logistics technology platform. He oversees Tana’s client relationships and commercial partnerships, leveraging his expertise and passion for empowering African youth.

Six months after launch, Tana already has 800+ talented candidates on their talent platform. They have active clients across the US, Canada, the UK, Germany, and Australia. The global talent shortage is accelerating, with more than 75% of global employers stating that they are struggling to find qualified candidates. This unavailability of skills and talent is expected to cost G20 countries more than $11.5 trillion in lost GDP growth. With the mass adoption of remote work following the COVID-19 pandemic, this presents a significant opportunity for tech talent offshoring with over 85% of tech firms in the U.S. and U.K. planning to expand to new markets.  

Scaling Up Jobtech in Africa

Tana represents an exciting evolution in platforms that connect youth to digital work. Their laser focus on creating steady, well-paying jobs provides greater financial security and dignified work for employees. Moreover, Tana flips the script on where leading engineering talent can be found. Their new model taps into Africa’s immense human capital potential that has been overlooked for too long. 

In the coming months, Tana will collaborate with the Jobtech Alliance Catalyst Fund Accelerator to support the company’s product development and business expansion, and better understand how to leverage digital platforms to create full time jobs with real career pathways. This support includes the design of a technical curriculum to expand the skills and technologies used by Tana fellows, as well as one-on-one coaching and mentoring from Jobtech Alliance specialists.  

By pioneering more inclusive models for global talent placement, Tana can pave the way for many other mission-driven jobtech startups.  If Tana succeeds at scale, it would demonstrate Africa’s capabilities and capacity to meaningfully participate in the global digital economy. More broadly, Tana’s model of skills-based talent development and job placement represents an evolution in equitable models of work for youth worldwide. Their success would demonstrate that Africa’s young people are assets ready to thrive in the global digital economy.


The Jobtech Alliance is an ecosystem-building initiative around inclusive jobtech in Africa launched in late 2021. We’re interested in digital platforms which connect people to work opportunities that build livelihoods – this includes gigmatching platforms, job matching, e-commerce marketplaces, and more. The Jobtech Alliance helps jobtech platforms to grow and create more jobs.


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