Excited about scooping the overall prize and named the Top Female Entrepreneur of the Total Startupper Challenge, 26-year-oldOgaufiSetlhogileshares her journey with Voice Woman.
The former Energy Engineering student was part of the first cohort to graduate from Botswana International University of Science and Technology (BIUST).
Unpacking her winning submission of a solution to the country’scurrent water crisis, Setlhogile passionately shares the value of her idea: a water desalination project.
Instead of lamenting the problem, she used her tertiary education to conceptualise a solution.
“Although there are a few notable similar projects out there, mine seeks to not only afford poorer communities access to water but also create sustainable job creation in these communities.
“It’s no secret that Botswana has its fair share of water challenges. The water desalination project will purify borehole water to make it safe for drinking and other uses. The idea is to set up in a rural community with a severe water shortage.”
Although focused on the future, Setlhogile cannot help reflecting proudly on her journey to date.
Like many who go to school, she had blindly assumed there would be a job awaiting her upon graduation, only to rudely discover that the degree she had worked so hard for did not guarantee her employment.
“It was disheartening that years of toil to get through school didn’t see me being picked for viable work that spoke directly to my hard earned degree. After all I had naively believed in the notion that such was a key to success!”
Not one to wallow in self-pity, she got busy, coming together with other young women who had pursued Science-related courses to form Women in Science society.
The idea was to encourage young learners to fully explore the world of Science.
“There is a myth that Sciences are difficult and too involved for the girl child to pursue. Yet all around us, things are made and work because of Science. There is Science in everything,” she chuckles.
“I was given sound advice by my mentor and infact was encouraged to enter the Total Startupper Challenge by him.
When I entered, I honestly didn’t think I would win. To be named Top female Entrepreneur was truly the icing on the cake. Many of the finalists had great projects and it was testament to the abundant talent and brains Botswana possesses through her young people to solve today’s problems,” she adds.
Not only did the submission require time but thorough and critical thinking around impact on communities and business development. This meant delving into numbers and the business acumen needed to turn the idea into a reality.
Her commitment and drive paid off.
“As I jetted off to Paris, France as part of the prize, I could not help but marvel at how far I had come. Paris was a whirlwind. With the other participants from 53 other countries, who had also earned the Top Female Entrepreneur, we got to experience a world like no other. We met mentors, business developers and other experts strategically aligned to the various industries our individual projects were centered around.”
Setlhogile remembers there was much networking and pitching of ideas to the different stakeholders they met.
“It was an eye opener in all respects.”
Although the P200, 000 prize money is not nearly enough to see the project to fruition, it gives the young woman a vital head start.
“The plan is to produce a prototype before going full scale. Hopefully others will see the value of the project and come on board to fully explore the endless opportunities the project presents.”
Speaking on the role and value of Education, the driven lass stressed there is a need to revamp learning environments.
“I was shocked recently when helping my niece with a school project. She was outlining the different roles of family members. I couldn’t help but notice that the females were relegated to household chores whilst the males were more dynamic and not restricted to ‘soft skills’.”
Setlhogile is adamant therein lies the conundrum.
“Girls are not encouraged to be adventurous and more expressive in their choices hence they grow up preferring to be safe within culturally selected roles. This flawed mentality carries on from the home and into the school system.”
Through Women in Science, Setlhogile and her counterparts hope to dispel this myth.
“Girls are just as capable. We need to ensure they are confident and willing to take the plunge in the Sciences. Often when participating in Science fairs and expos, the girls shy away from asking questions and when they do comment, it is often in the negative citing that Sciences are for boys. Who teaches them that?” she asks rhetorically.
“Society shapes these young minds,” she offers after a reflective pause.
“We can all start embracing the value girls can make in these historically perceived male dominated fields. Botswana and indeed the world need both men and women to solve all the challenges we face.
“The trip to Paris afforded me a chance to engage with other young women with a passion to bring about a positive change in our communities. It was also a reminder that it doesn’t matter where one is from,hard work always shines through,” quips the Tshane girl from Kgalagadi.
“The road ahead will be steep but the fruits that lie on the other side are worth pursuing.”