The visionary who conceived it all
Odirile Gabasiane attended the University of Botswana, where he graduated in 1986.
After teaching history at Moeng College, his alma mater where him and his wife, Ruth Tsetsane were both departmental heads, he joined the diplomatic service as Education Attache at the Botswana High Commission in London in 1990.
“My role at the High Commission was to place and look after Batswana students in institutions of higher learning in the UK, Ireland, Europe, Australia, and New Zealand who were pursuing various programmes ranging from diplomas, first degrees up to postgraduate studies,” he says.
Gabasiane did make quite a mark. During the seven years he was in London, student enrolment rose from over 300 to 3000. In 1997, he was transferred to Pretoria, South Africa to establish the office of an Education Attache following the dawn of a new political dispensation in that country, which had seen Nelson Mandela ascend to the reigns as the first democratically elected president in 1994. Again, the numbers rose exponentially. In the space of only two years, student enrolment grew tenfold from 300 to over 3000. Whilst in Pretoria, Gabasiane was not only was placing students sponsored by Government, but also assisted privately sponsored students.
In 1999, Government terminated the Tirelo Sechaba Programme (TSP), whereby high school leavers did one year of compulsory community service to gain out-of- school experience in the many sectors of the public service before proceeding to tertiary level education. A perspicacious Gabasiane promptly began to weigh options to exploit this highly tantalising opportunity.
“When Government announced that TSP would end, my wife and I saw a business opportunity to provide service to Government. We knew the capacity for placing students would be a massive challenge for Government and with our background as educators in the diplomatic service and our own passion to develop young people, we decided to go for it hammer and tongs. That’s how BA ISAGO University was born.”
Gabasiane indeed calculated correctly. At the end of 1999, there was a deluge of a backlog of students who needed placement. They numbered upwards of 6000. BA ISAGO offered student placement services, career guidance and counseling to high school leavers, and tuition services for A-Levels, IGCSE, and BGCSE students. It also held Education Career Fairs for institutions of higher learning from across the SADC region which “created a platform for students to connect with institutions and get exposed to the scope of possibilities for career prospects”. The BA ISAGO initiative was noted far and wide. At one point, 57 institutions from within the region converged at Boipuso Hall to showcase their credentials before thousands of prospective students.
Then suddenly, Government pulled the plug. It stopped using external placing agents anywhere, opting instead to deploy its own personnel both locally and at its missions abroad to fulfill the same role BA ISAGO had been playing. The goose that laid the golden eggs had been strangled. Regrets Gabasiane: “This decision was made abruptly without due consideration for the survival of our business as well as our interests. We had no prior warning and no fall-back position. It was a huge setback which left us crippled and with huge liabilities as the lion’s share of our revenues went up in smoke.” But BA ISAGO wasn’t giving up the ghost yet. Gabasiane thought long and hard and decided to reinvent himself.
“We decided to turn our new business challenges into opportunities. We knew that even though so many of our students were going to South Africa, the long-term sustainability of exporting students was still questionable. We noted the need for more institutions of higher learning in Botswana. That is when BA ISAGO University College was born in 2002 – out of extreme challenges and possibilities.”
Gabasiane salutes three parties for helping him make BA ISAGO the reputable and viable institution it is today. They are his wife Ruth, the BA ISAGO Board Chairperson, for “being a pillar through the years and for not being one to stand on the sides but who is willing to get her hands dirty and make things happen”; other shareholders “who happen to be family and who have been supportive through all these trials and tribulations and stayed on when others abandoned us”; and other stakeholders such as BQA, HRDC, sponsors such as Government, parents, and employers across the board, and students themselves “for supporting and believing in our project which has now become a national vehicle in the promotion and enhancement of human capital development in Botswana and beyond”.