Matshidiso Masire recently joined Baird’s CMC as a full associate. Along with her deep expertise in programme development and public affairs, communication and advocacy strategy, Matshidiso also brings to the table her passion for sustainable change in Africa.
In Part 3 of this three-part series (read parts 1 and part 2 ), Matshidiso tells us about the benefits and frustrations that go with being a global citizen, shares how her family shaped her core values, and gives advice for newcomers in her field.
Q. Your colleagues often call you a true global citizen. Tell us a bit about the advantages and disadvantages of that. And how have you managed to bridge the cultural divide between the West and Africa?
MM: I suppose I am a global citizen of sorts! I studied in Botswana, Swaziland, the UK and the US. And I worked in the US for many years before returning to Africa. Although, as I mentioned earlier, I always worked with African countries – no matter where I lived. That physical distance really helped me understand the lay of the land in many ways… Many people think Africa is one homogenous country of sorts but that’s not true at all, of course. What happens in South Africa is very different from what happens in Botswana. Or Zambia. Or Nigeria. Each country has its own government, culture, way of doing business… Many times, multiple cultures exist within the country – Nigeria has over 300 languages! Working with a plethora of African countries helped me learn tolerance and understanding. Yours in not always the right way to do things, there are many valid approaches. Many of us would take different routes to reach the same end goal.
Coming back to my country after nearly two decades in the West, my greatest adjustment was to understand that the country did not freeze when I left, things did not stand still while I was away. People grew in all kinds of directions all kinds of influences entered the country… Botswana is a small country and we all know or know of each other (in some cases, we think we know more than we actually do!), but the people I went to school with, grew up with, kept in touch with have a very different way of thinking than I do. I have had to learn to manage my expectations because my way of doing things is not necessarily the way people do things here.
Q. You come from a very illustrious family. How did this influence you, shape your values?
MM: My father is one of the founding fathers of Botswana. By the time I was born he was already vice president, and he became president soon after. He always told my siblings and me to get an education, because no one can take that away from you – you control how you use your education. The second thing he continuously told us was that there’s something to be said for being humble. We learned to be humble in our family. We needed to recognise that as a family we were in a very fortunate position. Our parents encouraged us to go out and build our own lives and follow our own passions. Finally, my father always says that one of the most important things is to be able to go to sleep at night knowing that you have not done anything to harm anyone.
We are six siblings, and today we are all in very different positions and places. We grew in different directions but our foundation is the same – a solid education, humility and compassion.
Q. What tips would you give to a newcomer entering your field?
MM: I think in some ways, it goes back to humility. Be humble enough to listen; be the elephant in the room, with the big ears. Listening and understanding is crucial, because a lot of what we do has a direct and significant impact on people’s lives. You want to make sure as far as possible that the decisions and recommendations you give are really for the betterment of others.
Even later in your later career, this open attitude is important. We need to continue learning. It’s very easy to get stuck in our day-to-day jobs and start lacking creativity and innovation, so we need to take the initiative and keep exploring – what else is happening out there, how are things being done differently, what new skills can I acquire? It is important to keep growing.
The final piece of advice I would offer is: persevere. I come from a family of very strong women. Strong as in determined. My grandmother, mother and sisters (who are all older than me) are hardworking, don’t give up easily and stand up and fight for what they believe in. If you want to get anything in this world then you have to put your mind to it, work hard, persevere – and don’t give up just because there are obstacles in your way. Find a way around the obstacle. Make it happen.