At the Botswana Communications and Regulatory Authority (BOCRA), Tsaone Ruth Thebe’s chairmanship is not by mistake; She is an accomplished Administrator and Manager, with extensive experience in directing the human resources, finance, administration as well as policies in the public sector for over 30 years.
It is under her leadership as Permanent Secretary – Ministry of Lands & Housing, that Government introduced the Land Administration Procedures, Capacity and Systems (LAPCAS) Programme – encompassing land administration processes, computerisation of land records, land registration and capacity building; She also served as the Permanent Secretary of the then Ministry of Transport & Communications, whose mandate included eGov and supervision of BOCRA, which she now leads as Board Chairperson
She successfully managed large organizations with employees of between 5 000 to 20,000 people. She also managed development and recurrent budgets in excess of P2 billion. At present, Thebe is but a captain of Botswana’s digital transformation strategy at BOCRA. As the Board Chair, her mandate is, among others, to: promote and ensure enhanced performance in the communications sector, the very sector central to the country’s digital transformation.
Further to that, she is mandated to ensure that BOCRA imposes a universal access and service levy on identified operators for purpose of funding universal access to communications as well as promote and ensure universal access in respect to provision of communications services and effective regulation of the regulated sectors.
It is no small task. In this era of the Fourth industrial Revolution (4IR), where the world is racing towards digital transformation, only a strong and visionary leader could be mandated with such a task. Thebe is one of the first women in Botswana to be entrusted with such a mammoth task. It can only prove her as a leader extraordinaire.
She leads a Board that is mandated to, among others; promote and ensure enhanced performance in the communications sector; impose a universal access and service levy on identified operators for purpose of funding universal access to communications; promote and ensure universal access in respect to provision of communications services; and effective regulation of regulated sectors.
Most importantly, BOCRA regulates the entire communications industry, a multi-billion Pula industry which envelopes three giant mobile phone companies; Further, BOCRA regulates private radio stations. The Authority also regulates several. Internet Service Providers (ISPs) in Botswana. Thebe joined the BOCRA board in March 2020, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Thebe’s arrival at BOCRA is rather complemented by her vast experience in governance, administration, management, strategic leadership and most importantly project development and implementation. Having been part of a team that enabled the births of Botswana’s LAPCAS and e-Government projects, her appointment could not have been more relevant.
“I knew that with my experience I would help enhance access to communication in Botswana, which is key in government’s digitization plans,” she opines. It was more so because her appointment came at a time when COVID-19 had just struck. Botswana at that time experienced its first lockdown. The economy was at a standstill, compelling almost all sectors to innovate and run businesses through digital means. Although COVID-19 disrupted BOCRA’s planned projects, Thebe and her team were not discouraged, for they knew, the time to innovate had come.
With the entire communications industry under her stewardship, Thebe and her team, influenced for data and broadband prices to be reduced to enhance affordability. The mobile phone companies obliged, which led to ease of access to information in Botswana, especially during COVID-19 where social distance physical interactions impossible. Mobile phone penetration and data usage soared as a result.
BOCRA PROJECTS IMPLEMENTED DESPITE COVID-19
Thebe says the Universal Access Service Fund (UASF) is a funding instrument designed to achieve universal access through monies collected from identified communications service providers. She adds that the Fund periodically develops strategic plans which guide the development and implementation of specific projects to assist in achieving ubiquitous services.
“Although it is overseen and managed by BOCRA, it is an independent Fund, governed through the Board of Trustees. The UASF seeks to ensure that all Batswana have access to a set of basic yet essential communications services at affordable prices.
While guarding against market distortions, the Fund focuses its assistance on areas which are beyond the reach of communications services, enabling underserved and unserved communities to connect with other populations and take advantage of the opportunities and benefits that come with access to broadband Internet and other ICT services,” explains Thebe.
To fulfil this mandate, the UASF periodically develops strategic plans that outline priority programmes or projects that would require financial assistance. This is done in consultation with industry stakeholders. Three key areas previously are schools connectivity, expansion of Voice Coverage and Expansion of Voice Coverage for Private Broadcasters.
Through the UASF Fund, one of the projects which BOCRA implemented was connectivity in 68 schools in the Kgalagadi, Mabutsane and Gantsi area. Currently, BOCRA is busy connecting schools in the Kweneng area. “We expect 119 schools to be connected. Our aim is to ensure that in areas which are beyond the reach of communications services, we bring connectivity,” she notes, adding that connectivity is also extended in some instances to commercial areas like farms.
BOCRA through the fund, according to Thebe, also subsidises private radio stations to ensure connectivity in areas where to the radio stations, there is no commercial value. “What we want to do, which also in line with the United Nations (UN) requirements, is to ensure that in all parts of Botswana, there is a certain minimum requirement of communication.” asserts Thebe.
In continued efforts to empower young students across Botswana through the Digital Schools Programme, Orange Botswana through the Orange Foundation don handed over digital equipment worth P53, 731.50 to Thankane Primary School, located in Jwaneng.
“We are excited to be in Jwaneng and to see yet another milestone for impact being delivered. This relationship began with a view towards working together – inclusively and sustainably – give children greater access to quality education. This is, after all, a key goal within our Vision 2036 and even of the UN Sustainable Development Goals. It is also core to our values and beliefs system at Orange Botswana. Our Digital Schools initiative is a true testament to the Orange Botswana Foundation’s unwavering commitment, loyalty, and support towards the youth of Botswana,” said Benson Lenong from Orange Botswana.
Donated equipment includes but is not limited to:
50 tablets loaded with local syllabus content
1 Video projector
1 Raspberry servers
1 JBL Speaker
1 Case (to contain the package)
The Orange Botswana Foundation, in partnership with the Government of the Republic Botswana, embarked on a quest to empower and educate the youth of the country through giving them better access to technology through Government’s Education & Training Sector Strategic Plan (ETSSP). Orange Botswana signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the Ministry of Basic Education and Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development in 2017, to kickstart a pilot of the Digital Schools Programme in 2018. The programme has seen 16,225 students benefiting from deployed schools, with 102 teachers trained in using digital kits as a mode of teaching. Thankane Primary is the 52nd school being engaged as part of the nationwide initiative.
The Orange Digital Schools Project is all about utilisation and integration of ICTs in learning, while at the same time addressing issues of digital inclusion and digital literacy. The Programme aims to bridge the digital gap by leveraging technology to improve access to education in primary schools such as Thankane.
Thankane Primary School was established in 1989 with 324 learners enrolled from Jwaneng and surrounding communities. The school continues to perform well in the Primary School Leaving Examinations (PSLE), and consistently works to ensure children learn vital life lessons both inside and outside the classroom. As one of the highest-ranked academic schools in the South region, Thankane Primary boasts excellent academics, leadership, sports, and culture.
The Botswana International University of Science and Technology (BIUST) last week held it 7th graduation since its inception with the theme ‘Building a University of industry through a well-rounded ecosystem of economic transformation and innovative entrepreneurship’. 297 students graduated from the class of 2022 compared to the 58 from their first graduation as an institution.
The Assistant Minister of Education and Skills Development, Aubrey Lesaso commended the University as the strides made in the midst of the difficult conditions imposed by the Covid-19 pandemic with potentially devastating impact on the learning of students were thrilling. “Some of the challenges experienced during this period include having to change the learning spaces the school was accustomed to, study remotely without adequate preparations and with limited resources,” said Lesaso.
He acknowledged that the Government through his Ministry is committed to ensuring that they provide quality education to the citizens of Botswana, which is in line with one of the aspirations of Vision 2036 that addresses the need for Development of Human Capital.
“I wish to call upon the BIUST leadership and all stakeholders involved, to remain dedicated to driving the BIUST mission and vision and contribute to achieving the targets outlined in the Vision 2036 National Transformation Agenda,” added Lesaso.
The Founder and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of The Bulb World (PTY) Ltd, Ketshephaone Jacob noted that for decades entrepreneurs have been identified as the critical change agents in socio-economic development, and some countries have been a lot more intentional and successful in promoting enterprising. “It’s only in the last decade that our Government has put in concrete measures towards the citizen enterprising and this is where BIUST plays an integral role, not only in terms of provision of much needed manpower but also as a provider and stimulant of innovative solutions needed for today’s smart manufacturing,” said Jacob.
In addition to this, the University’s Vice Chancellor, Professor Otlogetswe Totolo noted that BIUST has embraced innovative entrepreneurship as part of its core mandate. “Innovation is our focus in promoting inclusive and sustainable industrialization, to not only encourage more innovations in the University, but to encourage innovations that bring sustainable development,” he added.
The University has not only embraced innovative entrepreneurship but has enshrined it as its vision which states, ‘to produce world class research and innovation in science, engineering and technology contributing to industry growth and development and advancement of a diversified knowledge-based economy.
It is said that challenging times bring to life the resilience of the human spirit and some of the most important innovations. The advent of COVID-19 brought tremendous challenges to the global economy, and the tourism sector was not spared.
It is during this period, that the Tourism Business Coaching & Mentorship Programme was born. Ms. Tshepiso Mganga upon realising the need for tourism operators to get back on track after the slump leveraged her network to assemble a team of professionals across the various disciplines that are critical for the operation of a tourism enterprise. The programme has to date mentored and coached over 70 tourism and hospitality enterprises in Botswana. The programme imparts practical skills to aspiring entrepreneurs who wish to venture into the tourism and hospitality industry, as well as tourism businesses that are already in operation including but not limited to hotels, lodges, guest houses, mobile safari operators, travel agents, tour operators, and travel photographers. In addition, the benefits to start-ups include the enhancement of awareness on issues such as product development and branding, while existing businesses can use insights to reposition their brands and offerings in the market. The programme covers topics such as understanding the tourism value chain, what is takes to operate lodge in remote area, importance of belonging to an association, moving from idea to action, defining target markets, business planning, financial planning, developing digital marketing strategy, branding tourism business, business insurance, customer service excellence, design & guest experiences, travel show readiness.
The bi-weekly sessions are delivered virtually by several experts and professionals within the tourism industry, with the hope that there will be more in-person sessions in the future. The 3-month programme concluded with educational tours to Chobe Game Lodge. The tour brought practical elements to the programme learning, specifically on running a sustainable facility in a remote area. The tour demonstrated the value of environmental sustainability, with the participants being sensitised on level of investment that goes into developing and running an ecotourism product, including encapsulating aspects of reduce, re-use, and recycle in relation to all inputs of running the business. The participants also got to appreciate the return on investment of ecotourism in terms of reduction of costs of operations, enhanced profitability, as well as conservation of the ecosystem. The tour was sponsored by Desert & Delta Safaris, who have been a valuable partner of the programme.
The Citizen Entrepreneurial Development Agency (CEDA) is another valuable partner, and this year (2022), sponsored thirteen (13) participants to be part of the programme.
The programme is sponsored by City & Safari International, a Destination Management Company (DMC) established in 2017. City & Safari International specialises in Meetings, Incentives, Conferences, and Exhibitions, as well as luxury safari planning & bookings covering Botswana and extending to Cape Town, Livingstone, Victoria, and Namibia.
The next cohort is scheduled for 13 May to 30 July 2023. Further information will be shared on Tourism Business Coaching & Mentorship Programme Facebook and Instagram pages.