On the ground insights from Botswana

Today was our last full day in Botswana and it seems appropriate that we concluded our visit with contrasting sectors of the Botswana economy. In the morning, we met with Lesego, a young entrepreneur in Gabarone who founded Health Generation three years ago. Health Generation is a Jamba Juice-style juice and smoothie bar that caters to the worldwide trend of healthier living. Lesego’s words echoed those of other entrepreneurs we met during our trip with regard to the struggle he faced motivating his young workforce.

In the afternoon, Bashi Gaetsaloe, the Managing Director of the Botswana Development Corporation (BDC), walked us through the transformation he spearheaded at the organization with the mandate of developing and diversifying Botswana’s industries. BDC is 100% owned by the government of Botswana, but has an independent Board of Directors. Most of Bashi’s talk centered on the urgency of economic diversification brought on by the decline in diamond sales, and future plans to target 5 key sectors: manufacturing; agriculture; renewable energy; services, technology & innovation; and infrastructure.

What struck me throughout the day was how much Lesego and Bashi seemed to be influenced by their time in the United States. Both men had either studied or worked in the East Coast prior to moving back to Gabarone. It made me wonder the extent to which their opinions were aligned to those of local Batswana who had not left their country. For example, was Lesego’s view of a disengaged workforce seen through the American lens of professional achievement? Was Health Generation perhaps using Western incentives to motivate young Batswana who had different measures of success?

Another example was the BDC’s inclusion of services, technology & innovation in its list of target industries. Given that Botswana is a predominantly agrarian society and that the University of Botswana does not currently have a Computer Science program, how does the BDC plan to bridge this gap? Is technology really the right sector for Botswana (at least in the near future)? These are only a subset of questions that I hope we’ll continue to explore on this trip.

Dinner at Bull & Bush Pub after our final day of meetings in Gaborone, Botswana. Photo credit: Chanh Phan.

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