Our meeting has Dorcas Makgato-Malesu written all over. About 11 am, she was on the other end of the phone, listening to my request for an interview.
At 12 noon, she was opening the door of her office to let me in: “Ah! The brother” she said giving me the high five and embracing me in a gentle bear hug before guiding me to an empty seat.
All this sums up the part action woman, part go-getter and part socially savvy doyenne that make up the persona of the new assistant minister of Trade and Industry.
The past few weeks have all been a blur of surprises. She reported for work on the morning of October 22 as Chief Executive Officer of BEDIA. When she knocked off in the evening, she was a specially elected member of parliament. The following morning she parked her Audi Q7, jumped on to the back seat of a chauffer driven black BMW 5 series and was whisked off to the Ministry of Trade and Industry where she reported for work as assistant minister.
It must take an extra-ordinary woman to take it all in her stride. Makgato-Malesu leans back against her two seater couch and explains how much fun she is having, riding the whirlwind: “I enjoy it because it is a steep learning curve for me. You see, I start getting bored when you can call me in the middle of the night, and I am able to give you all the answers with my eyes closed.”
Makgato-Malesu, however, has no delusions about her new job. She knows that she is now playing in the big league. A few weeks ago, part of her job involved preparing periodic briefs for the Minister of Trade and Industry. Now she is on the other side, receiving regular briefings not only from BEDIA, but from a host of other parastatals and departments under the Ministry of Trade and Industry.
“At BEDIA it was easier to lay blame on government when things did not go well. I was looking only at the interest of BEDIA. But now I am taking care of the bigger picture. You see, when you take decisions in government, they have to be thoroughly researched. There has to be broad based consultations because a decision in one department would affect a lot of other departments and ministries.”
She has had to learn very fast and come to speed with a host of bilateral and multi-lateral agreements that Botswana has signed. She is already raring to stamp her go-getter style of doing business and says things like: “We have to be streetwise. We have to look at the laws and regulations of these agreements and exploit them to the fullest. We have to find ways which work best for us within the system.”
One of the first things on her “IN” tray is to push the citizen empowerment agenda.
“We have to come up with programmes which will benefit all Batswana and which Batswana can take ownership of. I do not want us to go the route of South Africa where citizen empowerment benefits a few citizens. It has to be every Motswana.
“I am going to drive the development of a real entrepreneurship culture. Batswana should be encouraged to think big. Every Motswana should be encouraged to think big and go into big businesses. This should not be reserved for a few individuals and the super league.
“We have a lot of young upcoming Batswana who are very bold. We should create an environment that will facilitate their dreams. I am not talking about throwing money into risky ventures, but we have to encourage calculated risk.”
Makgato-Malesu also plans to push for branding. “We should have branding rights to sell that which we are good at. Once we are done with branding, a lot of things will fall in place,” she says.
She should know better. She was with Martex when it rebranded to Barloworld. She joined BEDIA from Barloworld which is one of the largest private sector holding groups in Botswana. She rose through the ranks from Group Executive Human Resources, where she established the Group Human Resources function, to Director Corporate Services, responsible for strategic positioning of the organization in the market, with emphasis on change management to align the business strategy with the new global identity of Barloworld. She was also Executive Director overseeing Nashua Franchise and was responsible for the strategic direction and performance of the company. “We were able to build a very strong brand at Barloworld,” she remembers.
She was also Chairperson of the Botswana National Sports Council when it underwent rebranding. “We had to think of the kind of image we wanted to build. We came up with a brand that would position us to compete effectively.”
Makgato-Malesu may have been a surprise choice for assistant Minister of Trade and Industry but it could well prove to be an inspired decision. The corporate high-flyer turned cabinet minister has held various board membership roles in and outside Botswana. She was vice Chairperson of the Botswana College of Distance and Opening Learning (BOCODOL), vice Chairperson of the Supreme Council for Sport in Africa (Zone1V). She is also a member of the African Union Ad hoc Committee tasked with the responsibility of restructuring the Supreme Council for Sport in Africa. She was a member of the Tripartite Task Force (ILO Swiss Project) tasked with aligning Botswana Labour Laws with ratified Conventions. She is also a member of the Labour Advisory Council.
Other board memberships included Barclays Bank of Botswana where she chairs the Barclays Pension Fund, the Barloworld Botswana Trading, Technique Botswana and Sponsor-a-Child Trust.
She holds a Bachelors of Science in Catering Systems, and is currently pursuing her Masters of Science in Finance with the University of Leicester, United Kingdom.