University of Pittsburgh

Alumni Spotlight: Mmasekgoa Masire-Mwamba 2015 Thought Leader

Monday, April 27, 2015

In Mmasekgoa Masire-Mwamba’s (MBA ’90) native Botswana, an African nation of 2 million people, the effects of technology are inescapable. Cattle farmers in remote areas are now using GPS-enabled smartphone apps to track down missing livestock.

Economic and social development is a huge focus for Masire-Mwamba, the former deputy secretary general of the Commonwealth Secretariat, an independent association of 53 independent and equal sovereign states committed to promoting democracy and development all over the world. In April, Masire-Mwamba travelled from her home in Botswana to speak to a group of more than 100 Pitt Business students, faculty, and staff as part of the school’s 2015 Thought Leader in Business lecture series. The following day she was honored as the Pitt Business 2015 International Distinguished Alumna, an award presented by Pitt’s Business Alumni Association.

“We’re seeing heightened interest in Africa. The question is, ‘What does Africa want to achieve?’” Masire-Mwamba said during her presentation, titled “The Africa Report: How a Continent is Striving to Leverage Education and Innovation in the Face of Emerging Global Challenges.”

In her presentation, Masire-Mwamba spoke of the need for technology to work hand in hand with education to create new opportunities for Africa. She then laid out some challenges faced by African nations. For one, territories are vast and people are spread out. Building roads, telephone lines, and Internet cables to connect everyone ranges from difficult to impossible. By Masire-Mwamba’s estimates, only about 10 percent of Africans have Internet access.

Challenges and Opportunities of a Continent

Another challenge is that Africa’s more than 50 countries are shaped by different histories and cultures. Significant divides exist with religious beliefs, attitudes toward the equal rights of women and men, and the influence of whether a country is a former European colony or whether it developed as an independent territory. In her presentation, Masire-Mwamba used her own country of Botswana to illustrate these points. A former British protectorate located in southern Africa, Botswana was once one of the poorest countries in the world until its mineral wealth was discovered in 1966, after the country established its independence. Since then, Botswana has been one of the most stable economies in Africa, aided by uninterrupted civilian leadership, significant capital investment, comparably progressive social policies, and growth in the tourism sector.

Masire-Mwamba noted that, despite its challenges, Africa has attracted considerable investment from foreign companies in recent years. The continent offers favorable demographics with a large, growing young population, and a healthy economic growth rate of a 4.5 percent increase in gross domestic product. Cities such as Nairobi, Kenya, which is home to more than 100 major international companies, have become economic hubs.

Masire-Mwamba said for Africa to achieve its full potential it must invest heavily in education and technology transfer. At this time, the largest form of foreign investment is in mineral extraction, accounting for a 30 percent share, with Chinese countries being the most active.

“Constructing new roads and bridges is important to Africa’s future, but technology is part of the wider solution to the challenge. It will create more opportunity for growth and sustainability, especially when combined with education,” Masire-Mwamba says.

A Legacy of Exemplary Service

While serving at the Commonwealth Secretariat, Masire-Mwamba was responsible for building relationships with heads of state and private sector clients, as well as pushing for progress in human rights, legal issues, and youth development. As the highest-ranking woman in the organization, she empowered women to be agents of change.

Prior to joining the Commonwealth, Ms. Masire-Mwamba was chief executive officer of the Botswana Export Development and Investment Authority. In this role, she helped to attract foreign direct investment and to diversify the country's economy away from diamond mining. Ms. Masire-Mwamba also held a variety of managerial roles with the Botswana Telecommunications Corporation. She has served on the boards of the Civil Aviation Authority of Botswana, the Standard Chartered Bank Botswana, and the Botswana Tourism Board, where she served as chair. Her father, Quett Masire, was the second president of Botswana and served with distinction from 1980 to 1998.

Ms. Masire-Mwamba received a Bachelor's Degree in Physics and Electronics from the University of London and a Bachelor's Degree in Law from the University of South Africa. She also completed the Advanced Management Programme of the IESE Business School at the University of Navarra. Ms. Masire-Mwamba is an Honorary Bencher of the Honourable Society of the Middle Temple in London.

The Pitt Business Thought Leaders in Business forum, established in 2005 by Katz alumni Shekar Narasimhan (MBA ‘75) and Ed Hurley (MBA ‘78), has exposed hundreds of students to executive-level insights from leading business thinkers. Past speakers have included senior executives from PAE, StarbucksPNC Financial ServicesMinerals Technologies Inc., and BNY Mellon. The forum is made possible through the financial support of Narasimhan and Hurley.

Masire-Mwamba closed her presentation with a call to action to the students in the audience: “I challenge you to look at the community around you and say, ‘What am I doing to impact it?’”