Debswana Diamond Company Managing Director, Balisi Bonyongo, has called on government and other stakeholders to position the country’s education system and talent development interventions appropriately to capture opportunities.
Bonyongo was speaking during the 18th annual University of Botswana (UB) Dinner Dance held in Gaborone last Friday. Referring to the use of digital technologies, artificial intelligence and robotics in agriculture, health, education, manufacturing, retail and financial services sector, Bonyongo said they can revolutionalise work and deliver breakthrough efficiencies. "We should not fear the capital intensive orientation of technology because it offers significant employment of ICT skills,” said Bonyongo.
Most importantly the Debswana MD said stakeholders should collaborate with the right partners in order to succeed in these aspirations; partners who are technological and innovative in orientation. This approach he said is being used to great effect in countries like Australia, where through the Cooperative Research Centers (CRC) program, which support industry led collaborations between industry, researchers and the community. According to Bonyongo the CRC program is a proven model for linking researchers with industry to focus on research and development towards use and commercialization.
“The outcomes of this CRC programme include new technologies, products and services, and very importantly the enhanced competitiveness, productivity and sustainability of Australian industries, especially where Australia has a competitive strength and in line with its government priorities,” he said.
Bonyongo had also challenged all stakeholders to be actively engaged in the country‘s economy in order to bring about the desired change. On the theme for the Dinner,“Nurturing a Knowledge based economy through alumni engagement”, Bonyongo said it should resonate with most, if not all, for Batswana are either direct or indirect products of the University of Botswana. “This lineage imposes an unavoidable responsibility upon us all to be the initiators of a knowledge revolution that moves Botswana forward with a sense of formation and urgency,” he said.
He bemoaned that since the discovery and mining of minerals, Botswana’s economy has become predominantly reliant on mining as its main revenue driver, in particular diamonds, notwithstanding the fact that minerals are both finite and increasingly vulnerable to macro-economic turbulence that has become a norm in recent years.
“This makes it imperative for us to think very, very differently about a new development trajectory for Botswana’s economic progression into the second half of its century post 1966,” he said.
According to Bonyongo it is therefore imperative for the alumni to think differently about a new development trajectory for Botswana’s economic progression into the second half of its century post 1966. Saying that although diamonds had ensured the country’s success, they alone could not retract the nation from what was described as the middle-income trap and therefore had to face and overcome some challenges which the country was facing.
Stating that the challenges included high unemployment levels, especially among the young people, and income inequality, another challenge, he noted, was that poverty levels were still high for an upper middle-income country, especially in rural areas and affecting mostly women-led households. Further, extreme weather conditions also made access to clean water extremely costly in the more arid parts of the country.
When giving an overview of the UB Foundation, UB Chancellor and Deputy Chairperson of the UB Foundation Linah Mohohlo explained that the Foundation strives to ensure that many Batswana access postgraduate studies, which are indispensable in furthering the needs of the country’s economy. This she said is largely achieved by growing a graduate scholarship endowment fund to sponsor students from year to year and that the annual fundraising dinner dance is the primary fundraiser for the fund
According to Mohohlo the endowment fund has grown to just about P8 million , and through the interest generated from investing the endowment money, over 300 students have been awarded scholarships to undertake Master’s Degree study programmes. “Many, if not all the beneficiaries have since graduated and are contributing to the development of the country in more ways than one,” she said.
The UB Foundation was officially launched in March 2000, with a view to raising funds to augment the resources set aside to finance higher education.