A first-born daughter with five brothers and two sisters, Country Director for Institute of Development Management (IDM) Dr Onalenna Seitio-Kgokgwe attributes the person she is today to her upbringing in Ntlhantlhe, a small village in Ngwaketse District. Her late father, an avid believer of empowering the girl child, is her biggest hero because he always pushed the family towards excellence. From childhood, Dr Seitio-Kgokgwe knew that the only way of life is aiming to reach the top. She chats to STAFF WRITER VICTORIA MARUMO, touching base on her upbringing, her career as well as her present role as a leader of one of the top learning institutions in the country.
Affectionately known as Dr O to her peers, Dr Seitio-Kgokgwe is leading a multidisciplinary team to deliver training, education, research and consultancy in various sectors of the economy. She has over two decades experience as a practitioner, nurse educator, trainer and leader. She was awarded Women Super Achiever by the World Women Leadership Congress in India in 2020. In 2018 & 2019 she received several awards from CEO Global. She was named Africa’s Most Influential Woman in Business and Government, both at Country and Regional level.
Q: You assumed the role of Country Director in 2016 when IDM embarked on a 5-year strategy seeking to transform itself into a self-sustaining institution, please share the highlights of this journey.
A: It has been a challenging journey, but also exciting at the same time. I realized a lot needed to change so we embarked on this transformation journey to make sure IDM was fit for purpose. This involved developing human resource capacity, developing programmes, aligning human resource and IT infrastructure to enhance delivery of our services.
Q: IDM Botswana campus has experienced phenomenal growth during your tenure in office, what is your recipe? Please share your Growth Strategy.
A: A lot of the time we have good strategies and policies as an organization but fail to implement them. So, I focused on translating strategy into results. Our strength as IDM was implementation of the good strategies. This included providing services that attract our customers and equally benefit key stakeholders. Moreover, we had to define key priorities.
Q: You are a Nurse Practitioner by profession, how did you find yourself in the mainstream education sector, was it a big change for you?
A: Interesting question. I think I have always been a teacher at heart. I say this because shortly after O levels I was employed as a temporary teacher at Magotlhwane Primary School. At a later stage I would go on to pursue my Bachelor of Education majoring in Nursing. I then became a nursing educator in 1993. I am now at the wheel of IDM, coordinating different programmes and I can say it has truly been a fruitful journey.
Q: You have amassed several accolades from around the world, what do you think contributed to this success story? \
A: I think it depends on several factors; who you are as a person is influenced by a lot of things. I was brought up by parents who were hard workers. My father believed in excellence for the girl child and this influenced me to give everything I do my very best. Also, it depends on one’s working and interpersonal relationships. I don’t do everything, rather my team does. How I work with them is important. I make sure I support and motivate them. Family support should also not be taken for granted because that is where one draws the energy and zeal to look forward to the next day. I have an encouraging husband who gives me support at all times. I think the last but not least important factor is one’s environment. The environment should be stimulating for you to work. IDM has been very supportive towards me, I cannot complain.
Q: Just do a little throw-back and share a bit about your upbringing, who is Onalenna Seitio, where do you come from, what journey did you travel in your tender years, was it a normal journey?
A: Well, like I mentioned earlier, I grew up under an environment that challenged me to be the best I can be. I grew up between my home village Ntlhatlhe where I did my lower primary education and Kanye. My father did not believe in handouts and refused government bursaries. I often felt sorry for him when he opted to de-bush someone’s field or other odd jobs to pay my school fees. I could not understand at the time, why he didn’t want me receiving a government bursary and he would always say, for as long as he was still alive he would provide for his children. My father emphasized on the independence of a girl child, and that is why he invested a lot of his energy in our education.
Q: You are credited for a lot of research work, both locally and internationally. Being a fellow of the Afya Bora Global Health Leadership programme, please share highlights of your previous research work and the impact it carried.
A: I consider myself a public health practitioner and focus more on health systems and very little time on diseases. My point of interest is particularly how systems work. Impact is very difficult to measure because translating research into policy is not easy. I do however always make sure I deliberate my work with others. My papers draw attention, evidenced by the number of people that have read and cited the articles. What is especially exciting is that more Batswana are engaging with my work unlike in the past where I attracted mostly international readers. At a personal level, I try to make sure that the information influences what I do. For example at IDM we run a Public Health Programme which I am proud to have contributed towards.
I have done quite some extensive research and some of my papers include; Understanding Human Resource management practices in Botswana’s public health sector; Assessing Performance of Botswana’s Public Hospital System; Analyzing the stewardship in Botswana’s Health System: Reflecting on the past, Looking to the future; Utilization of the District Health Information Software (DHIS) in Botswana: From paper to electronic based system; Development of the National Health Information Systems in Botswana: Pitfalls, Prospects, and Lessons; and Redesigning a Ministry of Health’s organizational structure: exploring implementation challenges through Botswana’s experience, just to mention a few.
Q: Like other institutions of higher learning, IDM was impacted by Covid19, take us through your experience from the moment government issued a circular for schools to close early last year. What have been the lessons learnt?
A: We went through chaos, it was extremely chaotic because we were no longer in business, staff members were idling and everything was shaken up. This meant harnessing leadership skills and ability to try and mitigate the risk that was there in a bid to ensure that business continues. We were at a very low stage trying to implement our e-learning platform and there were no pressures. And suddenly we had to have it as a risk-mitigation strategy. There were a lot of challenges associated with it; teachers didn’t have access to internet at home. It was also difficult for the students. As IDM, we needed to have a continuity plan and a risk management plan. One lesson I learnt is that your human resources (people) are the most critical as they help the organization to be resilient and flexible. Their commitment needs to be applauded and we have to continue to motivate them.
Q: You are a Public Health expert, what do you think institutions of higher learning should do to survive this Covid19 storm?
A: It is important for us to be diligent on how we are managing people and students. We need to protect our staff and students. ICT use is a must and services should be offered online. Moreover, we need to re-configure our services and think of how we can reduce the spread of the Covid-19 virus. People should receive everything from one point where possible. Again, we should support our students. I know resources are a challenge but we have to be able to provide what we can to ensure continuity, after all lessons must go on.
Q: As a takeaway, what free advice can you give Batswana during this pandemic?
A: They key thing is that Batswana should follow the rules. It is so disturbing to find people not adhering to the rules. We are living under hard times they need to be prudent in using their resources. We do not know when the pandemic is going to last and it is affecting us on a personal level and at a family level and we can’t continue to depend on government alone.