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Q n A with Senator, Dr. Rasha Kelej, CEO of Merck Foundation

Dr. Rasha Kelej

Q.Tell us about yourself, your journey towards becoming the CEO of Merck Foundation?

I was born in Egypt, a simple girl who wanted one day to change the world and be successful; I spent most of my life in the United Arab Emirates, between Dubai and Abu Dhabi. I became a pharmacist and then I got my MBA from Scotland.

I was always determined to make an impact in the world.  I believed in our Africa’s potential and African talents and capabilities, but I realized that there are many challenges in the continent with regards to proper access to patient care, education, information and change of mindset, which I wanted to find a way to address effectively in a new and creative way.

I joined the international healthcare industry in 1994 then started establishing Merck Foundation in 2012. After many years, I finally broke the glass ceiling and became the CEO of one of the most important foundations in the world and the most influential in Africa, and led its establishment and creation and implemented its program myself for the first two years before I got my team that helps me execute and follow up now.

Being in this position, I genuinely feel that it is now my turn to support other women to reach their potential. Empowering women is in the spirit of everything I do personally or professionally.

Q. Tell us about your signature “More Than a Mother’ Campaign. How did it start and how did it reach where it is now?

I initiated “More Than a Mother” campaign in 2015, it aims to empower infertile and childless women through access to health, information, education and change of mindset. It defines interventions to break the stigma around infertile women and raises awareness about infertility prevention, management, and male infertility.

In partnership with 20 African First Ladies who work closely with us as our Ambassadors and together with the Ministries of Health, Information, Education & Gender, Media & Art, this campaign also provides training for the Fertility specialists and Embryologists in their countries to build and advance Fertility care capacity in Africa, Asia and developing countries. I am proud that we have provided more than 370 scholarships to doctors from 37 countries, with the aim to advance women’s health, Reproductive and Sexual care and Fertility Care Capacity in Africa and developing countries. However, Merck Foundation has provided more than 550 scholarships out of a total 1200 to female doctors in 42 countries, these are scholarships of one-year diploma and two-year master degree in underserved and critical specialties such as; Respiratory Care, Endocrinology, Fertility, Cardiovascular Preventive, Oncology and more with the aim to empower women in STEM.

We also support childless women by helping them start their own small businesses. It’s all about giving every woman the respect and the support she deserves to lead a fulfilling life, with or without a child.

I also started the initiative to train media. We have, so far, trained over 2000 media representatives from more than 35 countries, to raise community awareness and break the infertility stigma around women and support girls education and address other social issues related to women’s empowerment such as Gender Equality, Girls’ Education, Stopping GBV, Ending Child Marriage and Stopping FGM.

We have launched new initiatives as part of “More Than a Mother” COMMUNITY AWARENESS CAMPAIGN and I believe it is creative and out of the box, such as;

  • Media Recognition Awards, Fashion Awards, Film Awards and Song Awards
  • I have Produced and directed songs with local artists to address the cultural perception of infertility and how to change it. More than 25 songs have been created in English, French, and local languages in countries such as Sierra Leone, Kenya, Zambia, Ghana, Burundi, Rwanda, Gambia, Malawi, Liberia, Mozambique, Uganda. We are proud that we have special three songs created, composed, and sung by The President of Liberia, H.E. Mr. GEORGE WEAH and the daughter of President and First Lady of Burundi and even the former First Lady of Burundi. for More Than a Mother campaign to break the stigma around infertility and infertile women in particular.

Q. We have heard about the new TV show you are coming up with, can you talk about it.

I have created our African Community of Art and Fashion with Purpose. We will soon be launching a television program that is going to be the coolest in Africa. It is set to be the voice of the voiceless and break the silence about many social and health issues in Africa and create a culture shift together. I strongly believe that fashion and art should have a purpose beyond entertainment and looking good. They can contribute to sensitizing our communities about different social and health issues such as ending FGM, ending child marriage, stopping GBV, breaking Infertility stigma, supporting Girl Education, Diabetes awareness and healthy lifestyle, and more

 Q. We would want to know about your efforts towards supporting girls’ education in Africa.

I strongly believe in girl education and also that education is one of the most critical areas of women’s empowerment. When girls are educated, they can raise strong families, communities and countries. I realize there’s a need for more support as there are many brilliant girls out there who are struggling financially and socially to meet their educational needs. Therefore, we started “Educating Linda”, a pan African program that helps young girls who are unprivileged but brilliant to continue their education. The spirit of the project is to provide an opportunity to such girls to pursue their dreams and reach their potential through access to education. In partnership with African First Ladies, we have been contributing to the future of 100’s of girls by providing support in partnership with the African First Ladies through providing scholarships and grants that can cover school fees, school uniforms and other essentials including notebooks, pens and mathematical instruments. Moreover, we provide 3,000 sets of essential school items for girls’ schools to many countries yearly.

We also support and empower women in the areas of Science and Technology. Under-representation of women still exists in these fields, even though women have made tremendous participation and progress in their careers. Every year, we conduct the “Merck Foundation Africa Research Summit” in partnership with African Governments and African Union Scientific, Technical and Research Commission. Moreover, as I mentioned before, more than 550 out of 1200 scholarships we provided for young doctors through Merck Foundation were for female doctors, which is a huge milestone.





Q. How according to you educating girls can make a difference.

Educating a girl means changing the world — not just her world, but the world she lives in. Education is the key to unlocking access to economic opportunity and other life-giving resources for millions around the world. Educated girls grow into women who are empowered to care for themselves, their families, and their communities. When you invest in a girl, the dividends are immeasurable.

In my opinion, education is also a strong strategy to stop child marriage, GBV, FGM and STDs. I also believe that Girl education is the best vaccine for HIV.

So educating girls can really make a big difference.

Q.You have also launched storybooks, what are they about?

Together with our partners, the African First Ladies, we have launched many Children’s storybooks that we created to address key social issues such as ending child marriage, stopping GBV, supporting girl education, and breaking Infertility stigma. I invite all Africans to read them on our website

We have distributed thousands of copies of these storybooks in African schools.

Our storybooks address a wide range of social and health issues including breaking infertility stigma, supporting girl education, ending child marriage and Stopping GBV. The storybooks have been localized for each country to have a better connect with the young readers.  The inspiring storybooks released are:

“Educating Linda” and “Ride into Future” to emphasize on the importance of empowering girls through education,

“David’s Story” – emphasizes strong family values of love and respect from a young age which will reflect on eliminating the stigma of infertility and resulted domestic violence in the future,

“Jackline’s rescue” focuses on the importance of Girls Education and highlights the immoral practices of society including child marriage and the dowry system and

“Not Who You Are” to teach boys to love and respect their future wives and eliminate domestic violence.

Q.What is your message for all African women on this International Women’s Day?

I would like to tell every woman to believe in herself and be confident at every step of her life. Passion, hard work, putting heart, soul & mind in everything is the success factor. Also, as I always emphasize, when you make it in life, do not forget to support others around you!

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Jackdish Shah loses interest in BDP

17th May 2022

As the preparations for the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) congress are about to kick off, reports on the ground suggest that the party’s Deputy Treasurer Jackdish Shah will not defend the position in August as he contemplates relocation.

According to sources, the businessman who joined the BDP Central Committee in 2015 at the 36th Congress held in Mmadinare is ready to leave the party’s politburo. It is said he long made up his mind not to defend the position last year. A prominent businessman, Shah, when he won the position to assist Satar Dada in 2015 was expected to improve the party’s financial vibrancy. By then the party was under the leadership of Ian Khama.

According to close sources, Shah long decided not to contest because he has fallen out of favour with the party leadership. It is said he took the decision after some prominent businessmen who are BDP members and part of football syndicate decided to push him out and they used their proximity to President Mokgweetsi Masisi to badmouth him hence the decision.

“The fight at the Botswana Football Association (BFA) and Botswana Football League (BFL) has left him alone in the desert and some faces there used their close access to the President to isolate him,” said a source. Media reports say, Shah does not see eye to eye with BFA President MacLean Letshwiti who is also Masisi’s buddy hence the decision.

BFL Chairman Nicholas Zackhem is said to be not in good terms with Shah, who at one point Chaired the then Botswana Premier League (BPL). “He is seriously considering quitting because of what is unfolding at the team (Township Rollers) which is slowly not making financial gains and might be relegated and he wants to sell while it is still worth the investment,” said a highly placed source.

Shah is a renowned businessman who runs internet providing company Zebra net, H &G, game farm in Kasane, cattle farm in Ghanzi region and lot of properties in Gaborone. He also has two hotels in USA, his advisors have given him thumbs up on the possible decision of relocating provided he does not sell some of the investments that are doing well.

Asked about whether he will be contesting Shah could not confirm nor deny the reports. It is said for now it is too early as a public decision will have to be taken after the national council meeting and prior to the national congress. “As a BDP Central Committee member he cannot make that announcement now,” a BDP source said.

BDP is expected to assemble for the National Council during the July holidays while the National Congress is billed for August. It is then that the party will elect a new CC members. The last time BDP held elective congress was at Kang in 2019. The party is yet to issue writ.

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Govt ignores own agreements to improve public service

17th May 2022

The government has failed to implement some commitments and agreements that it had entered into with unions to improve conditions of public servants.

Three years after the government and public made commitments aimed at improving conditions of work and services it has emerged that the government has ignored and failed to implement all commitments on conditions of service emanating from the 2019 round of negotiations.

In its position paper that saw public service salaries being increased by 5%, the government the government has also signalled its intention to renege on some of the commitments it had made.
“Government aspires to look into all outstanding issues contained in the Labour Agreement signed between the Employer and recognised Trade Union on the 27th August 2019 and that it be reviewed, revised and delinked by both Parties with a view to agree on those whose implementation that can be realistically executed during the financial years 2022/23, 2023/24 and 2024/25 respectively,” the government said.

Furthermore, in addition to reviewing, revising and de-linking of the outstanding issues contained in the Collective Labour Agreement alluded to above and taking on a progressive proposal, government desires to review revise, develop and implement human resource policies as listed below during the financial year 2022/23,2023/24,2024/25

They include selection and appointment policy, learning and development policy, transfer guidelines, conditions of service, permanent and pensionable, temporary and part time, Foreign Service, expatriate and disciplinary procedures.

In their proposal paper, the unions which had proposed an 11 percent salary increase but eventually settled for 5% percent indicated that the government has not, and without explanation, acted on some of the key commitments from the 2019/2020 and 2021/22 round of negotiations.  The essential elements of these commitments include among others the remuneration Policy for the Public Service.

The paper states that a Remuneration Policy will be developed to inform decision making on remuneration in the Public Service. It is envisaged that consultations between the government and relevant key stakeholders on the policy was to start on 1st September 2019, and the development of the policy should be concluded by 30th June 2020.

The public sector unions said the Remuneration Policy is yet to be developed. The Cooperating Unions suggested that the process should commence without delay and that it should be as participatory as it was originally conceived. Another agreement relate to Medical Aid Contribution for employees on salary Grades A and B.

The employer contribution towards medical aid for employees on salary Grades A and B will be increased from 50% to 80% for the Standard Option of the Botswana Public
“Officers’ Medical Aid Scheme effective 1st October 2019; the cooperating unions insist that, in fulfilling this commitment, there should be no discrimination between those on the high benefit and those on the medium benefit plan,” the unions proposal paper says.

Another agreement involves the standardisation of gratuities across the Public Service. “Gratuities for all employees on fixed term contracts of 12 months but not exceeding 5 years, including former Industrial class employees be standardized at 30% across the Public Service in order to remove the existing inequalities and secure long-term financial security for Public Service Employees at lower grades with immediate effect,” the paper states.

The other agreement signed by the public sector unions and the government was the development of fan-shaped Salary Structure. The paper says the Public Service will adopt a best practice fan-shaped and overlapping structure, with modification to suit the Botswana context. The Parties (government and unions) to this agreement will jointly agree on the ranges of salary grades to allow for employees’ progression without a promotion to the available position on the next management level.

“The fan-shaped structure is envisaged to be in place by 1st June 2020, to enable factoring into the budgetary cycle for the financial year 2021/22,” the unions’ proposal paper states. It says the following steps are critical, capacity building of key stakeholders (September – December 2019), commission remuneration market survey (3 months from September to November 2019), design of the fan-shaped structure (2 to 3 months from January to March2020) and consultations with all key stakeholders (March to April 2020).

The unions and government had also signed an agreement on performance management and development: A rigorous performance management and reward system based on a 5-point rating system will be adopted as an integral part of the operationalization of the new Remuneration System.

Performance Management and Development (PMD) will be used to reward workers based on performance. The review of the Performance Management System was to be undertaken in order to close the gaps identified by PEMANDU and other previous reports on PMS between 1st September 2019 and 30th June 2020 as follows; internal process to update and revise the current Performance Management System by January 2020.

A job evaluation exercise in the Public Service will also be undertaken to among others establish internal equity, and will also cover the grading of all supervisory positions within the Public Service.
Another agreement included overtime Management. The Directorate of Public Service Management (DPSM) was to facilitate the conclusion of consultations on management of overtime, including consideration of the Overtime Management Task Team’s report on the same by 30th November 2019.

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Health Expert rejects ‘death rates’ links to low population growth

17th May 2022

A public health expert, Dr Edward Maganu who is also the former Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Health has said that unlike many who are expressing shock at the population census growth decline results, he is not, because the 2022 results represents his expectations.

He rushed to dismiss the position by Statistics Botswana in which thy partly attributes the low growth rates to mortality rates for the past ten years. “I don’t think there is any undercounting. I also don’t think death rates have much to do with it since the excessive deaths from HIV/AIDS have been controlled by ARVs and our life expectancy isn’t lower than it was in the 1990s,” he said in an interview with this publication post the release of the results.

Preliminary results released by Statistics Botswana this week indicated that Botswana’s population is now estimated to be 2,346,179 – a figure that the state owned data agency expressed worry over saying it’s below their projected growth. The general decline in the population growth rate is attributed to ‘fertility’ and ‘mortality’ rates that the country registered on the past ten years since the last census in 2011.

Maganu explained that with an enlightened or educated society and the country’s total fertility rate, there was no way the country’s population census was going to match the previous growth rates.
“The results of the census make sense and is exactly what I expected. Our Total Fertility Rate ( the average number of children born to a woman) is now around 2.

This is what happens as society develops and educates its women. The enlightened women don’t want to bear many children, they want to work and earn a living, have free time, and give their few children good care. So, there is no under- counting. Census procedures are standard so that results are comparable between countries.

That is why the UN is involved through UNFPA, the UN Agency responsible for population matters,” said Maganu who is also the former adviser to the World Health Organisation. Maganu ruled out undercounting concerns, “I see a lot of Batswana are worried about the census results. Above is what I have always stated.”

Given the disadvantages that accompany low population for countries, some have suggested that perhaps a time has come for the government to consider population growth policies or incentives, suggestions Maganu deems ineffective.

“It has never worked anywhere. The number of children born to a woman are a very private decision of the woman and the husband in an enlightened society. And as I indicated, the more the women of a society get educated, the higher the tendency to have fewer children. All developed countries have a problem of zero population growth or even negative growth.

The replacement level is regarded as 2 children per woman; once the fertility level falls below that, then the population stops growing. That’s why developed countries are depending so much on immigration,” he said.

According to him, a lot of developing countries that are educating their women are heading there, including ourselves-Botswana. “Countries that have had a policy of encouraging women to have more children have failed dismally. A good example is some countries of Eastern Europe (Romania is a good example) that wanted to grow their populations by rewarding women who had more children. It didn’t work. The number of children is a very private matter,” said Maganu

For those who may be worried about the impact of problems associated with low growth rate, Maganu said: “The challenge is to develop society so that it can take care of its dependency ratio, the children and the aged. In developed countries the ratio of people over 60 years is now more than 20%, ours is still less than 10%.”

The preliminary results show that Mogoditshane with (88,098) is now the biggest village in the country with Maun coming second (85,293) and Molepolole at third position with 74,719. Population growth is associated with many economic advantages because more people leads to greater human capital, higher economic growth, economies of scale, the efficiency of higher population density and the improved demographic structure of society, among many others.

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