By: Bose Maposa*
Our current blog theme urges us to consider ways in which we can change the world without taking power and specifically “we should be thinking of change beyond the confines of state power, whose failure at facilitating a space where individuals can live creative and dignified lives can be deduced from the growing and harrowing levels of global inequality.” I however find myself at odds with the idea of the exclusion of the state because as I look at a fundamental impact in my life I can’t help but see how the government has enabled me to attempt to effect change. I am, like many others of my generation, a product of free education, primary school all the way to tertiary, made possible by the government of Botswana.
While many have acknowledged the role and value that education plays in leveling the playing field, the importance of free basic education, and the benefits of tuition grants, not often do we pay attention to the added benefits of stipends, which accompany university level funding. For me, and many other Batswana, tuition grants and stipends are offered by the government for those who have passed and are accepted into a university. This funding has been crucial and the stipends furthermore provided a multiplier effect opportunity.
Income, personal income, fills a very important niche that sometimes tends to be overlooked. What these stipends did for many of us, in addition to the fact that we did have a ‘personal income’ that gave us independence, it managed to remove a heavy burden from our parents in that they no longer had to provide as much for us than they would have had to without it (often on strained incomes). Furthermore, we could contribute to household production and also start preparing better financially for the future. These stipends also increase the chances of individuals staying even longer at university beyond undergraduate studies.
With my interest in public policy, I was thrilled to read Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers: The story of success , where he argues that the personal explanations that are often given about outliers are limited, as no one ever makes it in this life alone but rather access or opportunity, skills, and cultural legacy play a crucial role. He states that outliers are “beneficiaries of hidden advantages and extraordinary opportunities and cultural legacies” (p. 19). Gladwell gives as examples Bill Gates, The Beatles, and many others but I was mostly struck with the example of the Canadian ice hockey elite players the most. What Gladwell observes is that the majority of these players are born in the first few months of the year and this stems from the eligibility calendar which is based on years; thus children born later in the year usually fall out of the system as they compete with their counterparts born earlier in the year who are bigger and more mature.
I believe the book can form baseline thinking for everyone trying to effect change as it highlights the need for good public policies which are the basis for multiplier effects. Gladwell, most importantly, makes a call for a policy change that instead of leaving success to those who have opportunity, the goal he tells us should be rather to make sure that all are given opportunity to succeed despite the background they may hail from. This will also assist us to shift from reducing success to individual efforts and focus on the day to day structural limitations of access. I believe the education grant policy by the government of Botswana is indeed a way to reduce limitations that may hinder university education.
So, as we grapple with ways in which we can effect change, let us also consider ways in which we can use state power and make a change within its framework. Even when we make the change outside state power through education, as in the case of the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls in South Africa, the policy framework by the state still needs to create an enabling environment for private capital to be able to create schools. And indeed it has been said that Oprah herself admitted more than once that the school came to fruition because the then-Minister of Education, Kader Asmal, created the enabling environment for her to be able to create the school in the way she saw fit. I believe governments, unlike private entities, through good public policies hold the greatest potential of the multiplier effect.
*Bose Maposa is a regular Bokamoso Leadership Forum Contributor. Read her short biography and previous articles here .