Defying all Odds: A woman’s journey to becoming a changemaker

As told to Lea Gabay

Goabaone Banyaditse is a social entrepreneur, activist, and a change-maker. She shares her story here with Lea Gabay. 

Goabaone Banyaditse
If I could describe myself in one word it would be: courageous. Where does this courage come from you may ask?  To that I want to answer that even though I may feel fearful in some situations, I don’t let this feeling stop me from getting things done.  

I grew up in Gaborone in Botswana and have always lived in a full household with extended family members. My dad worked for a diamond mining company while my mum was pursuing her studies in accounting. During that time, he was the sole breadwinner. Thanks to his job, we were able to live a comfortable life. All of that changed, however, when my dad passed away some years ago. We suddenly found ourselves on our own, which meant that my mother had to step into the role of breadwinner in order to provide for us. 

This meant that she had to abruptly end her studies and look for ways to take care of us.  I witnessed her struggles in this new role. I realize now that had she been empowered to manage her finances and make her own decisions, she would have perhaps made different choices that would have allowed us to lead a more financially stable life.  Seeing my mother experience hardship to support her family thus made me more aware of the difficulties that women in rural communities face when trying to assert themselves. It made me wonder why this kept happening.  

First steps into activism
    As I became older and relocated from Gaborone to a village after my mum remarried, I began to notice acute differences in treatment between men and women in rural communities. It seemed that men were generally more valued and had greater freedom to work and study, whereas women were expected to stay at home and raise a family. Further, many of these women were subjected to gender-based violence and HIV infections and were financially insecure due to limited education and lack of job opportunities.  It distressed me deeply to know that very little was being done to change this situation so much so that I decided that I could no longer ignore it. It was time to take action.

  Incidentally, my first fore into activism happened when I was a student at the university:  One day a classmate informed me that she knew of another classmate who had been raped and impregnated by her ex-boyfriend. She was an orphan from a less-privileged family and she did not have electricity or water at her home. When I found out about her situation, I  approached her and tried to help her as much as I could, offering for her to move in with me temporarily so that she could feel safe. During that time, I  helped her to complete her academic assignments and provided her with emotional and financial support. 

From that moment on, I knew that I had found my calling. I wanted to engage in work that would lift up the voices of women and youth from marginalized communities, this would include those in the urban areas like my former classmate just for as long as they are in need.  In order to move forward with my goal, I increasingly started to get involved in volunteer work and participated in a variety of projects after graduating from university. 

One example of this was when I helped to coordinate a staff volunteerism initiative called Collaborating for a Cause (CFC) as an intern at an international rough diamond sales company in 2016. Its aim was to use community engagement to unite employees despite their cultural differences. We led several volunteerism projects, but our most impactful project to date was when we collected donations of nappies to six hospitals with neonatal intensive care units across Botswana to relieve the economic burden on mothers who had recently given birth and to restore the dignity of disadvantaged women and girls. The company also made donations of school uniforms and basic toiletries to give to underserved students. 

I wrote those last year before I left, to remind myself why I have to endure though it all.

New opportunities on the horizon
I didn’t stop there. I was hungry for more opportunities to learn, collaborate, and exchange with other community organizers and activists, in particular female leaders. Little did I know that I would have a chance to do so in July 2017 by being selected to represent Botswana among 25 other young women who are influential change-makers in their countries and are also recognized to be Africa's promising young women leaders by Moremi Initiative for Young Women's Leadership in Africa.

A year later, I had yet another chance to engage with other female activists in March 2018 at the 62nd session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW62) at the United Nations Headquarters in New York which focuses on empowering rural women and girls. It was my dream to attend and meet other female grassroots leaders who are equally passionate about women’s rights and gender equality. I had hoped that I would receive some kind of financial support to participate in this conference. 

Unfortunately, there was none. I was thus left with no other alternative but to use my own savings and resign from my internship. While I considered the repercussions of leaving, I knew that I wanted to take this risk. So, I booked my flight and traveled on my own to New York. I didn’t know what to expect once I got there, having not made any kind of preparations for my trip. I was confident, though, that everything would work out, and indeed, it did. I connected with participants on my way to the conference who offered to share accommodations with me. I was even invited on a panel to talk about my projects and the situation of women in Botswana, and I made contact with influential women in the field of entrepreneurship and development. 

Developing my own social enterprise
CSW62 played a pivotal role in encouraging me to contribute to my community through my own means: It gave me the confidence to establish my own social enterprise, Like Pebbles, after my return to Botswana. Like Pebbles is a for-profit social enterprise that serves rural communities of the developing world through engaging impact investors to co-create and consume ecotourism to empower and sustain the livelihoods of marginalized rural communities. To this end,  the enterprise trains these communities in basic business skills in order to effectively help them to plan, execute, and manage their own small-medium ecotourism businesses, which are strategically setup to serve the visiting tourists while generating employment and income for the community.

I consider Like Pebbles to be just the beginning of my journey. I have so many other things that I would like to do:  My long term plans and aspirations include pursuing a Master’s degree in Sustainable Development, which will enable me to work closely with international development organizations such as the United Nations, African Union Commission, and World Bank. I also aim to advance my business model and replicate it by expanding the scope of Like Pebbles to empower indigenous people in other countries and continue to advocate for gender equality and sustainable enterprises as a solution to unemployment in other developing countries. 

I would like to end by saying that I draw my inspiration from being the first born in my family. I strive to be a good role model for my siblings, showing them that no matter what life throws at you, it is possible to defy all odds in order to lead the kind of life that you had planned for yourself. Indeed, as long as you set your mind to your goal and go after it full force, anything is attainable.