Captain Kgomotso Phatsima embodies the saying ‘Be the person you needed when you were younger’. Her impressive track record speaks to her bravery, social awareness, charitable nature and refusal to conform to societal expectations. Embracing her humble beginnings and understanding the harsher realities that exist for others in Sub-Saharan Africa has only fuelled her desire to seek the spaces in which she can be impactful. Phatsima has created a momentum that has propelled her to earn titles such as educator, lieutenant, captain, STEMpreneur, author and philanthropist.
Growing up in Ledumadumane, a small village in close proximity to the Sir Seretse Khama International airfield gave rise to her ambition to be a pilot. Her mother encouraged her to pursue more female appropriate opportunities. This led to a Mathematics based Bachelor of Education Science (BEd Science) at the University of Botswana and thereafter Phatsima was posted to Goodhope Senior Secondary School. Even with the comfort and safety net of a permanent job, she had to admit to her lack of fulfilment. In 2009, she took the plunge and made a huge career pivot into yearlong basic military training to become one of the first military female pilots in the Botswana Defence Force. She served her country diligently. Phatsima says she has no regrets about first becoming a teacher because a science degree was one of the requirements to join the military. She describes her BEd Science as the runway for her flying career because ultimately, becoming a pilot was simply a dream deferred. She goes on to advise women wanting to make a drastic career plunge with her catchphrase, “Be fearless in the pursuit of what sets your soul on fire”. She cautions that it won’t be easy but there’s no worthier pursuit than that of your dreams.
Upon deciding to leave, she seamlessly combined her teacher training and love for open skies to create Dare to dream. This is an initiative set to create hubs where African excellence can be nurtured and readied for global brilliance in the era of the 4th Industrial Revolution (IR) by creating programs centered on STEM Aviation and Aerospace. Phatsima says the major challenge with maintaining a social enterprise is raising funds in times of austerity particularly because investors are looking for more rapid, larger impact growth. It is easy to count Sub-Saharan, developing countries like Botswana out of the digital race when compared to more developed nations. For Africa, the 4th IR is about identifying and implementing solutions for localized problems by addressing the knowledge gaps.
Phatsima notes that although Botswana has exhibited substantial progress, a lot still needs to be done at a fast, deliberate pace to catch up with other countries. Africa’s issues are not at par with the rest of the world. It has never been a level playing field where STEM issues are concerned due to the prevailing social constructs that have labelled Africa as an underdog. This is why programs like Dare to Dream are so pivotal for this generation’s youth especially when Africa’s under-20 population has grown by more than 25% in the past decade and is expected to be the largest age group by 2070.
The youth are Africa’s greatest asset. Cultivating a culture of innovation by ingraining basic principles of programming and robotics coupled with entrepreneurship, leadership and career advice from an early age, sets participants up for more secure, strategic career trajectories. Showing the correlation between classroom subjects and real-world scenarios can only help to streamline the students’ efforts. From hosting both girls and boys empowerment summits, masterclass series as well as mobile interactive airshows, it is clear that Dare to Dream’s mandate wants no child left behind to further African development. This is the support and nurturing Phatsima wishes she had at a younger age to understand how best to apply her capabilities.
To date, Phatsima has been recognised in arenas that any socially conscious young African would covet. From being an African Union Center for Women and Girls Education in Africa (AU-CIEFFA) ambassador, best female Motswana Youth in 2017, to being dubbed an exceptional young emerging African leader which led to her participation in the Obama Foundation Africa Leadership Program. She shows no signs of slowing down and has consistently added to her qualifications. She is now a certified Commercial Pilot, licenced to fly under the Civil Aviation Authority of Botswana and working on a Commercial Drone Pilot license. She highlights that she has maintained her femininity in male-dominated spaces by knowing and understanding her strengths and capitalizing on what she knows best but wisely acknowledging her challenges and knowing when to ask for help.
Through the University of Derby, she also added a Master of Science in Strategic Management to her portfolio in 2014. Her life story has now been preserved through her autobiographical debut titled “Born To Fly: The Story of a Female Military Pilot Rising in Africa.” When she isn’t taking to the skies or inspiring tomorrow’s emerging giants, she reads, exercises and spends time in the village with family. When asked about creating a healthy work-life balance she replies “I have found my passion, I am doing something that I really love; flying and impacting young people. I push myself to do my best and then take breaks to refresh, rewind and re-strategize.”
Phatsima is now elevating Dare to Dream to a transnational social enterprise by expanding into Angola, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Namibia and South Africa with the Fly for Science Technology Engineering Arts Mathematics and Entrepreneurship (STEAME) Southern Africa initiative. Participants experience scenic flights and engaging workshops; the hope being to impact at least 10, 000 more students. This new phase has already been launched successfully in Botswana, showing great promise. As Dare To Dream has gained more traction and with titles such as 100 Most Influential Young Africans for Phatsima, both local and international partners have been attracted by the initiative with the likes of Air Botswana, FNBB Foundation, Civil Aviation Authority of Botswana, AIRBUS Foundation , Women in Aviation International and Botswana Innovation Hub jumping on board.
Although the pleasures or wonders of flight and travel might seem insignificant to some; it is simply a far-fetched afterthought for underprivileged children, particularly those in rural areas. Our scope of ambition is often limited by our reality and Phatsima has created a safe space that allows youth to unearth and explore the full extent of their potential. She is proof that the balance between living your wildest dreams and sharing wealth is possible. The British High Commission is right to have labelled her a Point of Light. Phatsima’s efforts should do nothing less than inspire the self-confrontation of what little you can do to empower the next generation of Africans.