My Initial Impressions of Botswana

During our last night before going to Windhoek, Namibia, I had time to think about my four-and-a-half days in Botswana’s capital city, Gaborone (pronounced Hab-OR-rho-NEIGH).  Gaborone was unlike any of my expectations of a foreign city.  The city was very accommodating of Western expats; so much so, our hotel’s restaurant prominently featured traditional American and Mexican cuisine.

The experience in the hotel’s café closely resembled the business environment in Gaborone. Each company we met had a strong Western presence in leadership, American or European financial support, or Batswana who had studied in the United States.

Photo of MIT Study Trekkers with Young 1ove

 

This connection with foreign education, foreign people and foreign investment seemed to impact the business environment in a few ways.  The companies we met with all had Western/American models for assessing talent, tracking performance and making hiring decisions. The application of foreign models of business and social development in Botswana have been implemented with local Motswana workers and has had some success.

For example, the cultural climate at Young 1ove, an NGO we visited on our second day in Gaborone, was warm, inclusive and as a result, the objective of reaching each school in Botswana to teach children about sexual health was achieved.  However, the success of Western business models depend on transforming the local talent pool into Western-like talent.  For better or for worse, some of the managers we met are hoping local talent will be able to develop work ethic and motivation similar to their counterparts in the U.S. or the European Union.

Botswana faces challenges in its very near future due to 40% youth unemployment, a potential political regime change after over 50 years of single party rule, and the gradual decline of the diamond trading industry.  I wonder if applying Western business models in Botswana will be successful.  I also wonder what the correct set of incentive structures (both for social and economic development) are for the managers currently hoping to inspire their employees.

Jonathan Lovett

Jonathan Lovett is an MBA Candidate in the MIT Sloan Class of 2018. A former Research & Development engineer in Cincinnati, Ohio, Jonathan is interested in learning about sustainable development and innovation in large corporations. Outside of the classroom, Jonathan enjoys traveling, running and using his engineering background to improve family recipes.

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