In November 2013 IkamvaYouth was fortunate to be invited to present on the theme of collaboration at the first Botswana Library Innovation Summit. It gathered a wonderful group of innovators from libraries all across Botswana.

Each library presented their innovative project, which ranged from the preservation of history and culture, to mobile buses equipped with internet, to providing services for the visually impaired. The projects are inspiring and the people that are dreaming them up and making them happen are even more impressive. Like many grassroots organisations and projects, they are driven by unbelievable individuals and their passion alone.

Muan and Kasane Public Libraries showcasing their projects

What the Botswana Department of Library Services are doing exceptionally well is recognising and supporting these passionate individuals that know best what is needed in their communities. This model of support produces highly relevant and workable projects.  The question of “What is needed here?” is asked by the stakeholders, rather than outsiders making assumptions as to what is best.

This speaks to IkamvaYouth’s own vision for collaboration, which is to form mutually beneficial partnerships with passionate organisations and individuals who want to work towards a collective impact. To truly support this vision the relationships between the partners need be honest and open and above all must be supportive.

Sesigo is one such partnership, formed between the government of Botswana National Library Service, and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to provide free internet services to all 78 public libraries across the country. So far they have extended services to 24 libraries and the impact has been incredible; reflected by the broad range of internet aided projects. The key to its success is that the Botswana government is hugely supportive of the initiative and is open to sharing local knowledge and facilitating conversations. In turn the Gates Foundation is providing training and mentorship to strengthen the local technological capacity and increase the sustainability of the project.

An internet facility enabled by Sesigo in northern Botswana 

This idea of mentorship came out time and time again over the 3 days. In the inaugural speech Stella Monageng, former Head of Libraries at the Institute of Development Management, spoke about the importance of mentorship for innovation. That there are two roles needed for innovation to flourish; the learner and the teacher. What was emphasised is that for real innovation to occur we must all be comfortable to play each of these roles and to move between them. We all need to teach and provide information to assist others, but we also need to makes sure that we listen and learn from others, regardless of where we lie in the hierarchical structures of societies and organisations.

I really respect these comments and it set the tone for the week. Ms Monageng encouraged extremely shy presenters to get up on the podium and know they were being listened to by their peers, by representatives from other countries, and by governmental officials. It also opened eyes and ears to new opportunities. The idea of libraries running tutoring programmes was very much seeded. IkamvaYouth Botswana….maybe one day!?

I came away from the week feeling rejuvenated and excited to start IkamvaYouth’s collaboration project with similarly amazing organisations and individuals, while holding the idea of mentorship as central to the process. The rollercoaster ride on the final day of the summit may have also contributed to this excitement!