Written by Dave Gerow
Goitse Mmeko, SFA Research Administrator for the Botswana Hub
“I used to perceive myself as just a learner, but ever since I involved myself with the network, my worldview has really changed. Now I never see myself like an island. I just see myself as part of that bigger family, part of a bigger world. And I see myself as someone who can bring a change, whether big or small. I see that life is an exchange: you live together, you benefit from each other, you help each other.”
Goitsemang Mmeko is the research administrator for Sustainable Futures in Africa’s (SFA) Botswana hub. She describes SFA as “a family of researchers from different backgrounds and disciplines with a common goal to achieve sustainable development by reaching out to communities and help solve problems through community engagement and involvement. A common goal is to have research impact, to leave impact out there in the communities.” But as well as impacting communities, Goitse credits SFA with having a positive impact on her own life, as she explained when she recently sat down with SFA co-director Dr. Deepa Pullanikkatil.
Goitse secured her Research Assistant (RA) position in March, 2017, just before SFA’s symposium in Botswana. She was a Masters student at the time, studying adult education. She graduated in 2018, an achievement she says was partly supported by her work with SFA, which has affected her worldview. “I used to perceive myself as just a learner,” Goitse says. “But ever since I involved myself with the network, my worldview has really changed. Now I never see myself like an island. I just see myself as part of that bigger family, part of a bigger world. And I see myself as someone who can bring a change, whether big or small. I see that life is an exchange: you live together, you benefit from each other, you help each other.”
The first major project Goitse collaborated on with SFA was the Botswana scoping study, which focused on human-wildlife conflict, particularly with elephants in a rural community at Mmadinare. Reflecting on her role in that project, Goitse says, “I’m so glad the hub coordinator involved me from the initial stage to the finish line. I was part of all the meetings, the community outreach, all the stages of the research trial.” Goitse was instrumental in establishing contacts with key stakeholders at Mmadinare. She contacted chiefs and sub-chiefs, members of the Village Development Committee, the Wildlife Department, Members of Parliament and non-governmental players. These contacts contributed not only to making the scoping study a success, but to Goitse’s own Masters: “It is out of this project, especially conducting the trials, that I started having my thesis idea.”
Goitse’s thesis is entitled Community Participation in Sustainable Tourism, and she considers her work on the Botswana scoping project an important factor in enabling her to conduct the necessary interviews for her research. “My entry point was the local leaders, whom I had already met (through the scoping project).
“That’s why my research was so fast-tracked, because I had already bonded, I had good relationships, I had established myself as a researcher.” These relationships made Goitse the only Masters student among the five in her department who managed to graduate within the projected time. “Indeed it was a miracle,” she says with confidence.
Goitse is quick to attribute some of the credit for her academic growth to her supervisor, SFA member MmaB Modise. “I’m grateful to MmaB because she mentored me in a lot of things. Nowadays, I am able to just draft a report and take it to her, then she edits and finishes it. Before I joined the SFA, I couldn’t even write a report.” Goitse also researches funding opportunities to present to MmaB and her colleagues, who make Goitse responsible for the application process. She then discusses her applications with MmaB and achieves a better understanding of how to find and obtain funding, another key skill that Goitse has developed with SFA.
Goitse also credits her SFA involvement with improving her communication skills and helping her learn about the world of IT-based communication platforms. Prior to securing her RA position, she primarily used IT to facilitate her learning, but she has now “seen the value” of e-platforms like Skype and has gained experience managing Google Drive, as well as blogging on behalf of SFA. Just as the SFA has benefitted Goitse, she has also benefitted the network with her hard work, her intelligence and her positive attitude. In the long-term, Goitse’s work with SFA has opened new horizons for her: “Now my worldview has expanded. I never thought I could be part of the academic world, but since I joined, I’m aspiring to do my PhD, I’m aspiring to write articles for journals. This has really developed me and I have no fear of doing my PhD. I’m so inspired.”