Taking Risks to Break New Ground in Botswana
I was born with an entrepreneurial spirit.
It all began when I started plaiting the hair of women in my community as a girl, including teachers at my school for a small fee. I would take the income home to help my family.
I grew up in Botswana, in a small old town with my parents and six siblings. In my society, teaching and nursing are common careers for educated women. As girls, we aspired to follow these professions. I completed high school with the enthusiasm of challenging the status quo and entering new professions such as law. Unfortunately, my peers and I had no career guidance or mentors. I didn’t go to law school, despite strong grades, and took other university courses.
After helping to organise successful events for others, I saw a need to start a company focusing on women’s professional and entrepreneurial development. My business, 360 Events Affair, aims to provide support, training, networking and learning opportunities for women in traditionally male-dominated fields. I did a year’s worth of research on my concept while working full time, using my salary to help register and launch my business.
Getting started was not easy, especially professionalising my operations and finding sponsors. This is a common challenge for many Botswana women. When we share our dreams with friends and relatives, we brace ourselves for criticism. People say, “95% of all businesses fail in Botswana,” “I do not think that’s a good move in this economy and our culture” and “Aren’t you worried about wrecking your life?” Women in Botswana face discouragement, and often have no support or mentoring.
Mentorship is critical to help women nurture their initiatives. At a networking evening, I met Allison and Giulia of the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women, and soon after, I joined the Mentoring Women in Business Programme. I needed business and financial planning support, as well as help navigating the stressful start-up process. I was matched with Cherie Arruda, a Bank of America credit and banking executive from the US.
Cherie and I set out an action plan and communicated regularly over email and Skype. Cherie’s input helped me to focus and structure my vision. We created a budget and set up cash flow. We discussed how to prepare a business plan, write proposals, advertise and negotiate sponsorship deals.
After finishing my year with Cherie, I opted to stay on for a second year and was matched with Jenny Garrett, an executive coach and trainer from the UK who has helped me continue to develop my enterprise. Through the programme’s global platform, I have connected with other mentees from Kenya, Malaysia and South Africa doing similar work.
I am now working full time on my business. I closed a deal with a newspaper to sponsor advertising for my events. I have hosted more events and increased my visibility on social media. I launched a social corporate initiative called She-Transformed, which aims to curb barriers for young women entering business, especially from rural areas. My business has been able to break even for the first time and I have support to help me continue to build the business, even when times get tough. Women who attend my events tell me that they feel rejuvenated, inspired to share with other entrepreneurs seeking solutions. One said, “Onty is phenomenal at what she does – helping women create unshakable businesses and unleash their potential that could last a lifetime. She has transformed me when I thought things had fallen apart.”
I consider this positive progress on my business dream of offering business networking events to women across Botswana and connecting them to the outside world. I want to help young women develop strong self-esteem so that they make informed decisions and define their own success, thus inspiring others.
I advise women that the only way to break new ground is by taking a risk, being a shameless dreamer and opening up to new experiences. Sustain a constant curiosity about life, converse with other successful women and know that you do not meet business challenges alone. Give critical thought on your business ideas and conduct detailed research to know what works. Seeking out mentorship has shaped the success of my business.
Onty is part of the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women Mentoring Programme, made possible by supporters such as Bank of America. Find out more at cherieblairfoundation.org/mentoring.