Beatrice Mary Selotlegeng
Photo courtesy of: Ohio University
Beatrice Mary Selotlegeng was the driving force behind last week's campus visit by former President of Botswana Festus Mogae.
Photographer: Kevin Riddell
Oct 6, 2010
It’s not every day that a former head of state makes his way to campus. But last week’s headlines were underscored by a rare university address by the former President of Botswana Festus Mogae.
So just how does a former president find his way to the heart of Appalachian Ohio? That story lies with one of OHIO’s own, Academic Advisor Beatrice Mary Selotlegeng.
Born and raised in Kenya, Selotlegeng relocated to Botswana at age 25. Here, she worked her way up the chain in the airline industry, from stewardess to acting CEO of Botswana’s national airline.
While rising through the ranks, Selotlegeng took on yet another role – serving as a mentor to an Ohio University student. As with all of her endeavors, Selotlegeng took the responsibility to heart – coaching her mentee with Selotlegeng’s characteristic passion and charm, despite her unfamiliarity with the institution.
Little did she realize at the time that those early contacts would pave the way to an eventual career at Ohio University – half a world away.
Today, Selotlegeng directs the Cardinal Health Junior Executive Business Program and coordinates diversity recruitment and retention programs in the College of Business. During her time at OHIO, she has drawn upon her networks to attract a number of prolific speakers to campus, including Mogae, and has initiated a memorandum of understanding between the University of Botswana and Ohio University.
Selotlegeng recently took time to speak with Compass about her career change, her cross-continental relocation, and her penchant for leveraging her connections to the benefit of the Ohio University community.
C: What inspired you to leave your post at Air Botswana and come to Athens?
BS: I thought, at the time, I had reached a level in my career where it would be appropriate to try something new. Starting a completely new career is intimidating but also challenging, and that’s why I came. I wanted to see if I could do it. I’m fearful of failure; I’m not fearful of challenges.
C: Was it difficult to leave your homeland?
BS: It was a humungous decision. In Botswana, I was commanding a lot of respect. My children were born there. My grandchildren are there. That was my community. That was my home. So it was a real tough decision to uproot myself and come here. And it took a little bit of coaxing and encouragement.
C: But this isn’t the first time you’ve forged a name for yourself in a foreign country. How did you achieve such success in Botswana?
BS: I come from a small city of Gaborone. When you live in a small community, and you’re self respecting and you’re professional in your approach, you can utilize the smallness of a place to achieve a lot. So I have access to decision-makers.
C: Including former presidents, it seems. How did that relationship come about?
BS: In 2007, I had traveled to South Africa on a very successful trade mission with the Ohio Department of Development. Botswana should have been a part of that, but I was told that the country was dragging their feet. So I paid a courtesy call on the president to tell him that we had lost out on a very lucrative business event.
C: How did this conversation evolve into a speaking engagement?
BS: When I was talking with [Mogae], he told me he was going to retire early. African leaders never retire before their time. If anything, they never retire at all. When he mentioned it, I asked him when he retired if he would be a speaker here at Ohio University. He said yes, and I’ve been following up with him since then.
C: That sounds gutsy.
BS: I am very professional in my approach. I’m a hard worker, self-respecting and regarded as a person who is sensible. So I have no problems calling the president or going to see him, which is an honor never to be abused. But one can never be arrogant about it. It’s very humbling, and it’s beautiful.
C: Why bring a dignitary, such as Mogae, to campus?
BS: A university is a humongous institution, and you need to find a niche where you can really add value. I think I have been able to add value through my ability to use my international connections to bring speakers.
C: Are there others?
BS: I’ve brought four, including former U.S. ambassador to Botswana Joseph Huggins, former world bank director for East Africa and founder of Transparency International Peter Eigen, Ghana’s former ambassador to the United States Koby A. Koomson, and high commissioner to Mozambique Thandi Lujabe Rankoe
C: It sounds like networking has been an important aspect of your professional career.
BS: Our students need to understand the importance of networking because you just never know where it’s going to lead.
C: Are you surprised by what you’ve been able to accomplish at OHIO?
BS: I came to Ohio University to do just two things: go to school and teach a class. And in a matter of five years, I’ve been busy. But I am just a blessed person. I’m not any better than the next person. It’s just that I am lucky in the many things that I do. And I’m honored and privileged to do them, because I know for many other people, it sounds like an impossibility.