From Botswana to Namibia

It is hard to believe we are halfway through our trip – at least in terms of countries we are visiting! Today was our last day in Botswana and it appropriately enough ended in a time of group reflection on what we had just seen and heard. It was extremely helpful to hear my classmate’s voices as I formed my own final impressions of Botswana and, in particular, the business environment in the country. As I listened to my classmates and reflected on my own observations, I was struck in particular by the lack of entrepreneurship (at least insofar as we define it at Sloan and generally in the USA) and the limited self-motivation (again, acknowledging that the term comes from a Western viewpoint) among Batswana with whom we had interacted.

Regarding entrepreneurship, we certainly had met some very impressive Batswana over our few days in Gaborone – from a pioneer of Botswana R&B to a civil rights lawyer to the team behind Young1ove. However, these seemed to be extreme exceptions to the rule. Most of what we saw in Gaborone did not speak to much local entrepreneurship. Perhaps most strikingly, as we drove around the city, most stores were South African chains and even informal stands selling

Malls were the primary areas of visible commerce in Gabarone and were filled with South African chains. In Windhoek we would also see malls, but with more Namibian companies.

crafts and food (which have been common features of developing nations I have visited before, and were evident in South Africa during my extended layover there before the official trip began) were rare.  It may be that there are structural reasons for this (perhaps getting a permit for a commercial space is so costly or dependent on existing relationships that it excludes locals, for example). However, based on our conversations with expats and local leaders, a recurring theme was that an outsider is necessary to make innovation happen – locals do not have the vision (or resources) for creating something brand new.

Related to the idea of an outside force being required for change, I (and others on the trip, based on our time of reflection) noticed a significant cultural

Martin the potter was one example of a local Motswana entrepreneur we did get to meet. Not only did he sell his pottery at his workshop-cum-store in the town of Gabane, he also provides tours and pottery lessons.

difference in how Batswana seemed to approach motivation. The “movers and shakers” we met at the Ambassador’s home certainly had no lack of motivation, nor did Martin, the owner of the pottery workshop and store we visited at the end of our trip. However, the Batswana we met on the farm or interacted with at restaurants and shops seemed surprisingly unmotivated. We heard from the farm’s management about the difficulties of getting local workers to actually perform tasks and complete work. And we saw firsthand how slow the customer service was – even if financial incentives were offered. It was strange at times to see how helpless we were to accelerate our service – the threat of a lower tip or promise of extra cash had no impact.

 

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