Resilience pays

SHARE   |   Monday, 07 December 2015   |   By Staff Writer
Dr Mampane Dr Mampane

At just 38, Dr. Tiro Mampane has emerged as one of the country’s leading medical entrepreneurs. With his company, Boitekanelo extending its footprint regionally and literally soaring, even the sky may not be the limit. When he realised that his medical work at the country’s leading public hospital offered him only P7000 a month compared to the P20 000 he was making from his small business, Dr. Tiro Mampane knew he had to do something about work priorities.
In the bigger scheme of things, unfolding before his own eyes on a daily basis was the devastation of the HIV/AIDS scourge. Far too many patients than could be accommodated by the hospital poured in and some ended roughing it on the floor of medical wards. All were fighting for survival. It broke Mampane’s heart that the auxiliary staff was not adequately prepared to deal with this medical emergency. 

At the time (around 2003), Botswana had to watch helplessly as huge numbers of doctors and nurses migrated to better pastures in the west, with the United Kingdom being the destination of choice for the latter group. It occurred to Mampane that there desperate need to close the skills gap that existed in the lower tiers of the health profession because at the time, the government was primarily focused on training high- and mid-tier health professionals like doctors, nurses and laboratory technicians only.
Entrepreneurship bug
The entrepreneurship bug hit Mampane very early on in life. Growing up on the streets of Bontleng in Gaborone, he helped out at the family kiosk, in the process making a little money for himself. The survival instincts he developed then hardened his character and attitude towards life, inculcating in him a work ethic that would prepare him for adult life. He likes to think that this phase was when he was inducted into hassling and when he burnished his smarts. 
A city boy all the way round, Mampane did both his primary and secondary school education in Gaborone: …. Primary School, Maikano Community Junior Secondary School and Gaborone Secondary School. He did particularly well in Mathematics and Science, thus paving his way to Medusa University in South Africa where he studied medicine. However, even as he coasted through his MBBS programme, Mampane retained deep fascination for the world of commerce. He was particularly intrigued by people he had grown up with who quit school to venture into entrepreneurship. While his heart told him to follow suit, his mind restrained him. Upon completing his studies, he joined Princess Marina Hospital.
Away from the hospital, Mampane worked as a tutor for a Mathematics and Science Clinic which catered for Form 3s and Form 5s. The latter paid him thrice the money he was getting from his full-time job. At the same time, he invested some of his free time in researching and doing a business case for his school project.
Taking the plunge
Two years later, Mampane resigned from Princess Marina Hospital to launch a private clinic at East Gate Mall with two other doctors. Even as he worked hard to make the clinic succeed, his eyes and mind were fixed on the bigger dream. This explains why he would shortly get bored. He approached Dr. Gagoitsiwe Saleshando and proposed that he join him in setting up Boitekanelo College. “We took a year and half to develop the business plan. Life became too difficult at this time because I had to struggle with managing debts,” he recalled.
The age factor did not work for them. They were seen as too young and naïve to be attempting what they so much believed in. For that reason, support was in short supply. He was forced to do the only thing he could in the circumstances – sell some of his shares for finances that the business so urgently and desperately needed to survive. This is how some of the current directors came into the business. Mampane has a problem with the fact that while private education institutions have always been regarded highly, when it came to his project most people became doubtful about its worth and quality.  
“I am more thankful that a lady – MmaWendy Mookodi – agreed to invest with us when there was barely anyone who gave us a chance,” Mampane said.  Their first offices were at Extension 5 where they rented Dr. Patson Mazonde’s house. 
First intake – 50 students
And so the institution finally opened its doors for its first intake of 50 students in 2007. The students enrolled for a six-month Health Assistant course that included a three-month attachment at a government hospital. All applicants had to pay an administration fee and those who were admitted also paid a registration fee. This went a long way in boosting the otherwise strained finances of the business. 
Getting attachment for the students became unbelievably difficult. Although he insisted that his students were adequately grilled to serve in all situations they would be encounter in health facilities, no one was eager to take chances.  After hopelessly knocking on doors, he trekked – like many other desperate people at the time – to the highest office in the land. He joined the queue but when his turn came, he saw neither the president nor the vice president. However, a senior official at the Office of President listened to his plea and within days, his students were interning at government hospitals. He rejoiced over this as it was a major vote of confidence in his programme.
In those early days, resources were limited and so Mampane had to multi-task, doing almost everything. He was CEO, lab technician, lecturer and any other thing demanded by the moment and circumstances. On staff he had a lecturer, cleaner and receptionist. Students had to bankroll their studies as the government had not formally accredited the institution at the time.
The turning point
It took three long hard years before the scales tilted. After applying in 2008 to the Tertiary Education Council (precursor to the present-day Botswana Qualifications Authority) for accreditation, the approval came three years later. This represented a major turning point in the school’s operations as it opened the way for government to start sponsoring students to the institution.
Since then the institution has gone into an expansion overdrive, moving from Kopano House at the Gaborone railway station to Mogoditshane and now to Tlokweng where it has a main campus that sits on 1.2 hectares of land. Of the 350 or so staff members, 98 percent of them are locals. Mampane is thankful of the opportunity that the government gave him to develop and trained critically needed health personnel. Boitekanelo has moved from short six-month courses to longer ones, including degree programmes.

The student population has grown to about 2 600, with over 100 drawn from Namibia, Lesotho, Swaziland and Zambia. The school has a satellite campus in Swaziland and plans to set up another one in Zambia. The latter explains why Mampane is hardly ever in the country. He is constantly on the road to expand his brand and footprint regionally. His lecturers’ work is not limited to classroom teaching; some are highly-rated consultants.
“We do a lot of consultancies and research for SADC and its member countries with our research team,” he said. Boitekanelo now exists as a holding group of four entities: College, Emergency, Catering and Health Solutions. “The students needed to have some form of attachment for the academic courses they are doing; these were set up for that purpose,” he said, adding that these companies also serve external organisations.
Recently, the institution launched its emergency services arm by unveiling … helicopters as well as a fleet of ambulances and emergency assist cars. The institution also provides services to other educational institutions, having recently won a catering contract to supply Botswana Accountancy College (BAC) with food.
His biggest lesson
He has come to embrace the value of hard work, resilience and consistency. He points to his achievements to demonstrate the great worth of these values. For inspiration, he reads a lot and cannot single out a specific mentor from whom he has drawn strength and wisdom. An ardent member of the Seventh Day Adventist Church, Mampane is married with two children.