Malebogo Bakwena. Doctor in Economics

In Botswana, National Service is being developed, a government plan to provide industrial and commercial training for the country’s unemployed youth. One of the thousands of beneficiaries was Malebogo Bakwena.

Before joining the programme, Bakwena wanted to study biology or paediatrics. However, the socio-economic needs she witnessed in the rural village in the Kgalagadi district where she was stationed convinced her that she needed to focus on tackling youth unemployment, poverty and gender inequality. Years later, when asked in an interview what she would change in her country if he had the chance, her answer was clear: inequality in all its manifestations.

The National Service reminded her of her time at school. “Were there not children who missed lessons because they didn’t have shoes in winter or a full uniform? Many of my classmates relied on the school feeding programme to get a nutritious meal. Some had to leave school”, she said recently.

Bakwena holds a degree in Economics and Statistics from the University of Botswana, a Master’s degree in Economics and Finance from the University of York, UK, and a PhD in Economics from the University of Queensland, Australia.

Her commitment to teaching and research has led her to hold several positions at the University of Botswana, where she is currently Head of the Department of Economics. In addition to teaching and research, she is heavily involved in tutoring students. This work, she says, helps to give them confidence and courage. “You learn from those who have done it before. Personally, mentoring has helped me gain confidence in my leadership skills.”

Beyond the classroom, Malebogo Bakwena lends her time and knowledge to a number of organisations in her country, chairing the board of the Botswana Competition and Consumer Authority and serving on the board of the Central Bank. Working with international organisations, one of her recent studies for the United Nations Population Fund and the International Labour Organisation looked at policies to tackle youth unemployment.

Bakwena believes that the presence of women in leadership positions in her country has increased recently. “But I think there is still room for improvement, both in Botswana in particular and in Africa in general. An obvious example is the political sphere, where in my country women make up less than 10 per cent of members of parliament.” Bakwena admits that they have a huge task ahead of them, as African society is always quick to remind women of their gender hoping they will behave in a certain way.

But from her own experience, Bakwena points to two simple ingredients for achieving the highest academic and professional goals. The first is that “I’m authentic”, and the second is “to see my male colleagues as partners, not rivals. Asking for help does not make you weak or incompetent, it proves that you are human and hungry to learn”.
Javier Fariñas Martín – Illustration: Tina Ramos Ekongo