Okavango Diamond Company – Encouraging Entrepreneurship in Botswana – Two Young Women’s Journeys
Boitshoko’s Story – The Steady Rise to Creating ‘House of Divinity’
Growing up in Maseru, Lesotho with her mother and step-father, Boitshoko Kebakile recognized from a young age her affinity for craft and design. In dealing with an abusive home situation, she recalls finding solace in solitude as a child. “[Being alone] is where I felt safest and where I began to explore my imagination and creativity,” she says. “I have vivid memories of walking back home from school, whilst picking up waist high reeds along the path, which I’d then braid into reed bracelets.”
Eventually returning to her birthplace of Botswana for high school, Boitshoko first encountered Art and Design and Technology in an educational setting, allowing her creativity to blossom. It was during this time that she was also introduced to beadwork, giving way to what she calls “an instant love affair that has lasted ever since.”
Though she went on to pursue a double major in international relations and applied economics, Boitshoko never lost her love for craft, designing and making her own jewelry throughout high school and college. She recalls a profound moment at University when everything seemed to click into place, when a fellow student asked where she got her earrings. “I made them,” was her response. “As if by some divine synchronicity,” she recalls, “my economics lecture on supply and demand became a eureka moment for the potential of a young enterprise in jewelry making.”
However, the road to where she is now was not a short or easy one. The challenges she faced during childhood taught her to learn to trust her intuition as well as build a foundation of self-love and self-worth that are critical to navigate the journey of her evolution into entrepreneurship. “My story isn’t unique in that we all go through challenges that can either make or break us, but when we realize how challenges can be a potent source of inner power, we transmute them into seeds of strength. I sought to remind myself that I have all within me to succeed (particularly divine power, if you will)” It is these sentiments that gave birth to the name ‘House of Divinity “, which boasts gorgeous handmade pieces bursting with color and vibrancy, truly embodying the strong and powerful woman she has grown to be.
Being in the jewelry industry, Botswana’s status as a top gem producer is not lost on Boitshoko. In fact, she credits the industry with contributing to the development of her brand and paving the path to future success. In March of 2017, Boitshoko graduated from the Okavango Diamond Company Youth Entrepreneurship Programme. A 7-month part-time programme, Okavango Diamond Company Youth Entrepreneurship Programme was developed in partnership with the University of Stellenbosch Business School-Executive Development (USB-ED) and diamond consultants World Diamond Manufacturers (WDM) Botswana designed to expose Batswana aged 18 to 35 years to the diamond value chain and provide formal entrepreneurship training to assist them in exploring and developing their entrepreneurial ambitions.
“Okavango Diamond Company Youth Entrepreneurship Programme provides participants the opportunity to develop a greater appreciation of the diamond industry through extensive workshops and field trips covering exploration through to diamond jewelry retail,” says Kutlo Thathana, the Programme’s Managing Director. “As part of their learning each participant has been equipped to refine their own unique business idea,” she adds. Boitshoko credits Okavango Diamond Company Youth Entrepreneurship Programme with providing her not only the tools, but the encouragement to succeed. “In all honestly it has brought a lot of hope about what I want to make of myself and has related that hope to practical action.” The ability to attend lectures and interact with local diamond entrepreneurs in retail, cutting and polishing was a critical turning point in her journey toward building the House of Divinity brand in that they not only provided knowledge and experience, but the feeling that her dreams of taking her business into the fine jewelry market were closer than she ever thought possible.
In continuing her business, she plans to build an ethical brand boasting ethically sourced custom-made fine jewelry, with the possibility of expanding to home décor as well. She notes that a very heavy emphasis on corporate responsibility is necessary to the success of the economy as well as ensuring that the entirety of the [Botswana] populous benefit from the country’s status as a top gem producer. That is why she is dedicated to ensuring the ethical sourcing of all her stones and focusing on sustainability and greenness as it pertains to her supply chain.
Beyond ensuring her stones are sourced ethically, however, Boitshoko hopes to use her business to empower and employ youth in her country, “I would really love to bring on board technically trained young people from [Botswana] because my country has done a stellar job in investing in youth such that they are technically trained to manufacture the jewelry,” she says. She looks forward to creating a platform to curate future master craftsmen and women from her home country under the House of Divinity brand. “I don’t feel like anything is impossible,” she says, and I know the vision of House of Divinity as an ethical luxury brand is in hand. It is just a matter of time and strategy.”
Tito’s Story: Connecting Botswana’s Diamonds with a Career as a Healthcare Entrepreneur.
As a young child, Tito’s knowledge of the diamond industry was limited. She recalls hearing the story of success that followed the discovery of diamonds after Botswana gained independence and her interest was piqued. “Botswana is one of the richest diamond producers in the world,” she says, “but we find that Batswana don’t know much about diamonds.”
Growing up in Gaborone, Botswana with her younger sister, Tito’s life revolved around family, church and education. Grateful to have been provided with all of life’s basic necessities, including free education from the government, a direct result of Botswana’s prosperity following the discovery of diamonds, Tito recalls her small family of four being very close. She looked forward to spending school vacations up North in the Francistown area with her grandparents and cousins. “We enjoyed priceless, care-free moments of joy and laughter during school vacations,” she recalls, “and definitely played our hearts out! School vacations were something to look forward to – more so that we had the chance to meet and reconnect with other relatives.”
Family was one of the few things more important than education, something that Tito recalls was always heavily emphasized. “We were told that education was the only way to a better future,” she says, “so we diligently worked hard to attain good grades.” The competitive nature of her schooling and her natural intellect motivated Tito to excel through high school, after which she worked as an administrative assistant in a lab with the Botswana Harvard AIDS Institute Partnership. It was then that she made the decision to become a physiotherapist, as it would allow her to become a healthcare entrepreneur and create jobs, while simultaneously improving people’s quality of life, something she was always passionate about. Her hard work throughout school and knowledge gained in the workforce afforded Tito a scholarship from the Botswana Ministry of Education to study physiotherapy at the University of Cape Town. Upon graduation she immediately started work at the Botswana Ministry of Health as a physiotherapist.
Though she is currently happy in her work providing healthcare consultancy services and customer relationship management in the health insurance industry, her constant ambition and the urge to learn more about the diamond industry was what lead her to apply for the Okavango Diamond Company Youth Entrepreneurship Programme in 2017.
During her time with the programme, she has gained a tremendous amount of insight into the diamond industry from attending lectures and speaking to industry professionals, as well as business management and leadership principles that will help carry her to future success as an entrepreneur. “I think the knowledge and skills I learned are vital for any start-up or existing business. The skills will enable me to start up and run my business professionally while keeping abreast with the changing trends and demands of the health and wellness industry,” she says.
Tito hopes to open her own practice as an integrated physiotherapy and wellness facility with a focus on improving the health and wellbeing of diamond manufacturing industry workers in Gaborone. “There is no physiotherapy practice in Gaborone that specifically targets diamond manufacturing industry workers,” she explains. “Diamond manufacturing employees are predisposed to repetitive strain and overuse injuries due to the technical and precise nature of their work. Her goal is to offer customized preventative and curative physiotherapy and wellness services on-site as well as individual sessions for those who require ongoing therapy.
And her growth will not stop there. Though wanting to initially focus on the diamond manufacturing industry, Tito hopes to later expand into other manufacturing industries like textile and food production, as well as other market sectors such as the law enforcement agencies, university and professional sports teams and corporate sector organizations.
Both Tito and Boitshoko are excellent examples of the promise of Botswana’s youth, and the role companies like the Okavango Diamond Company are taking to help fulfill this promise for a sustainable future.