Gogontlejang Phaladi: Where there is passion, there is an undying spirit of persistence

Gogontlejang Phaladi is a philanthropist and development practitioner from Botswana. She is the founder and executive director of a non-profit making NGO called the Gogontlejang Phaladi Pillar of Hope Project (GPPHP). 

She founded the organization over 10 years ago in response to the needs of orphans and vulnerable children affected and infected with HIV in Botswana. She is currently a Board Member of the Global Partnership for Maternal, Newborn and Child Health (PMNCH), and a member of the National Vision 2036 Council.

GPPHP is an NGO that is mandated in capacity building, civic education, human rights advocacy, promoting gender equality and doing humanitarian work.

Gogontlejang is also the team leader of a company called SWAHIBA (PTY) LTD which provides leading Technology and Innovation solutions for human and social development issues and broad internet services.

In this interview, Gogontlejang talks about her humanitarian work, running a non-profit organization, and how she manages her leadership roles.


 

Tell us what we don’t know about Gogontlejang in detail

Gogontlejang Phaladi is an African woman leader who is passionate about transforming lives and believes a world free of poverty, with equity and dignity, is possible with more youth driving the development agenda as agents of change.

You can say I’m a seasoned human and social development expert who has served as a member of the African Union High Level Advisory Group on Humanitarian Effectiveness in Africa, Botswana Presidential Task Team of Vision 2036, UNICEF Botswana Child Ambassador, a former Radio Presenter, member of the WHO external advisory group on the Accelerated Action for the Health of Adolescents (AA-HA) Framework and a Motivational Speaker.

I am also a trained SRHR, CSE and HIV and AIDS educator, Governance and Leadership trainee and campaign facilitator having worked on several campaigns aligned with UNFPA, UNAIDS, WHO and UNESCO.

I am currently pursuing my undergraduate studies and doing humanitarian work, motivational speaking as well as development work consultancy. During my spare time, I mentor girls and women through an initiative dubbed #SIMI (She Is My Inspiration) and I also enjoy farming.

We must continue encouraging a culture of giving back no matter how trivial the gesture may seem Click To Tweet

You became a leader from the age of five. As a young woman now, what three personal values have you appreciated that are transcendental to the Gogontlejang Phaladi Pillar of Hope?

I think three things are essential for a leader regardless of at what level you are:

Discipline and integrity

These two values were central to my upbringing. My mom is a tough disciplinarian and continues to instill discipline in me and everyone around her. She is an innate leader and does not tolerate any form of indiscipline. So I have always known that wherever I want to get to in life, discipline is the vehicle to take me there

Doing my best to apply discipline in every aspect of my daily living has been very helpful in getting to where I am today. My dad believes in being a person of integrity so that part was instilled in me by him. He is a man of principle and consistency, often says little and shows more through his actions what he values most.

My parents have always taught me to do my best to stand by my principles no matter how compromising them may seem temporarily convenient.

Not leaning on your own understanding

It is important to appreciate that there is value in listening to others’ opinions. Even if you may not agree, they bring the much-needed objectivity to your point of view.

I value conversations with people who come from a different background from me. There is a lot of humility you learn through listening to others and allowing yourself to be guided by the wisdom of others. This also helped me a lot professionally, personally and socially.

Passion

If you don’t love what you do how will you get the motivation to keep doing it? Challenges are inevitable. Obstacles, setbacks and even sabotages are all things you will face in your workplace and as a leader.

If there is no passion you will quit, be consumed by your detractors’ negativity and give in to their predictions of your downfall. But where there is passion, there is an undying spirit of persistence, perseverance and a thirst to thrive and succeed.

 

What are the responsibilities of the GPPHP with being a member of these local and international organizations?

The GPPHP is a member of the UNFPA African Youth and Adolescent Network (AfriYAN) and of the Partnership for Maternal, Newborn &  Child Health (PMNCH) Adolescents and Youth Constituency.

Membership is sought once an organization believes they align with the core mandates of the global/ regional bodies. The purpose of belonging to such entities is to encourage a culture of fostering partnerships with stakeholders who work together in order to harness and enhance capacity.

The networks also enable a space of learning from all the other members.

There is strength in numbers when advocating for certain issues, in concerted efforts, consistent messaging and capacity building. Currently, the GPPHP is a member of the two networks and is involved in various initiatives of both networks. it is also in the executive leadership positions.

I am the board chair of the Adolescents and Youth Constituency of the PMNCH while one of my colleagues is an executive committee member of the AfriYAN network in Africa.

Give us an insight into how your typical day looks like

It’s difficult to say what a typical day looks like for me. To be honest I would be worried if I saw a 23-year-old with a typical day. We are at a lucrative and fertile time to take risks, try out new things, apply ourselves fully and be active.

I think at this point in my life, it makes sense to have days that add value and growth in all aspects of my life.

During the month I’m doing plenty of NGO work, the mentorship programme I run for young women, traveling locally or internationally, visiting the farms, spending time with my parents and nieces, watching a lot of comedy/ sarcastic shows and audio books and a lot of alone time which I value highly. Oh yes, watching football whenever I get a free weekend.

About twice a month I am traveling, either outside the country on UN, AU or NGO missions, or locally visiting local communities and doing community outreach initiatives. Every quarter, I spend the time at the Bokaa farm vaccinating livestock and dogs.

Sometimes, twice or three times in a week I can be found inside an office like any other employee and of course the usual meeting drills. I spend several afternoons and weekends doing school work. I spend many nights up working. Most of the time, I work at night as it is quiet and the internet is also faster at that time.

Listening to others also opens up your mind to other possibilities beyond your level of reasoning Click To Tweet.

What do you think is the biggest misconception about establishing a non-profit organization, especially with a small society?

The misconception that the main motive is money. I have been doing this for almost 20 years and have never received a pay cheque with my name on it for doing humanitarian work.

This has never stopped me from doing the work I love. When I started my organization, I was using my parent’s resources. I have since continued to do work and have successfully undertaken several projects using my own resources and kind efforts of people who are also passionate about human rights advocacy and philanthropic work.

I believe there are more people who are active agents of change and catalysts of development in good faith than those ulterior motives. Nevertheless, we must continue encouraging a culture of giving back no matter how trivial the gesture may seem – our collective efforts are what eventually make the world a better place.


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Imagine Africa at the center of our plates: Preserving, profiting and healing our roots through food

 

What does food, nutrition, and gender equity have in common for Africa and its diaspora?

Together they have the ability to transform the future of Africa’s food system by empowering women and girls who represent the vital engine of the economy.

Africa and its diaspora have a key opportunity to address the double burden of nutrition from diabetes, heart disease to malnutrition by promoting the health and beauty of African foods from teff, millet, moringa, baobab and hibiscus which can unlock economic potential and grow an emerging consumer market with the right policy, resources, infrastructure, packaging and promotion in place.

The World Economic Forum projected double-digit growth of Africa’s economy over the next 50 years. Like Asia and Latin America, the food and agricultural sectors will follow these projected trends.

Currently, a rise in Western fast-food chains has proliferated across the Continent in the name of job creation. Furthermore, the World Health Organization(WHO) reports heart disease and diabetes will outpace killing Africans more than AIDS.

Without a proper health care infrastructure to combat NCD, the economic returns from job creation in the fast food system will have to pay for the health of Africa’s people.  

What shift can happen on the continent to ensure that public health and economic growth are not in conflict?

Academic researchers have documented the positive role of the African heritage diet; therefore economic opportunities are prime for investment in the indigenous foodways while preserving the heritage and supporting a climate-smart and nutrition-sensitive agricultural landscape.

In addition, scholarly works and visionary leadership matched with the public will can ensure that Africa is truly at the center of the plate for Africa and not just on the menu.

How have I come to this belief?

After attending the 2014 African Union Summit which has a theme on ‘food security,’ I was inspired and challenged with how to contribute to the AU Agenda 2063 to address youth opportunities.

Traversing across the continent, I had the esteemed pleasure to tour and speak to colleagues in the health care systems, nutrition systems, and academic institutions along with parents and students about diet and non-communicable diseases.

That’s why I created WANDA: Women Advancing Nutrition Dietetics and Agriculture, to inspire a new generation of women and girls to lead in improving the food system for healthier, sustainable economies and communities in Africa and the Diaspora.

And our children’s generational icon is Little WANDA, a new girl character from the Diaspora, who uses her superpower of African foods to heal her communities with the help of women farmers, food producers, and nutritionists which we call them Big WANDAs.

By visiting the local markets in Ghana, I enjoyed the sights, sounds and buying from the entrepreneurial women selling their farm-fresh produce and packaged goods while I also concerned how the big box grocery stores may displace these micro food enterprises if we don’t see their value in our local food economy and tourism industry.

How can we build a food system that ensures local food entrepreneurs have equitable footing while multinational corporations join the food supply chain?

And what about Africa’s youth?

While giving a nutrition workshop with at a primary school in Nigeria, I saw the eagerness of the students to learn nutrition education after reading “Where’s WANDA?” bilingual book series.

One parent shared how her daughter shared healthy tips to help her Nana prevent diabetes; in a nutshell, she wanted to become food ‘shero’ like Little WANDA in the “Where’s WANDA?” series to help their Nana who has diabetes.

Over the last few decades, fast food chains with subsidized corn syrup, refined wheat and salts have become mainstay fixtures in urban diasporan communities with little healthy food access known as a ‘foodapartheidd,’ the same effect may happen in urban centers across Africa without intervention.

Proper comprehensive nutrition-centered agriculture policy preserving local foodways combined with nutrition edutainment, standardized food labeling, and promotional campaigns are key to keep at bay the unintended consequences particularly in middle-income countries with non-communicable diseases like hypertension while lowering health care costs.

If the African American experience is the ‘canary in the mine’ for Africa, what early intervention and visionary leadership can change the direction of this path? 

In creating WANDA, it was clear that investing in women and girls will be fundamental for Africa’s future!

And men’s role as gate openers of opportunity is key to unlock the resources to build workforce and leadership and combat the historical nutrition inequities and the stigma in the food system.

For too long the world publicly shunned the nutritional value of Africa’s indigenous foodways while using Africa’s food and labor to build their economy. Training more women and youth in nutrition and agribusiness is critical in improving health and economic opportunities for all.

Decolonizing our diet is not only good for the economy but our local food ways.

And agriculture needs an image makeover to inspire a new generation of food leaders with characters like Little WANDA to set course on a proper pathway for a healthy and wealthy Africa.


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