Since gaining independence in 1966, Botswana has emerged as one of the world’s fastest growing economies. It continues to gain momentum as one of the industry leaders in mining and manufacturing. Prudent management of the country’s resources, transition to a democratic political system, and good governance have contributed to Botswana’s sustained 5% growth per annum over the past decade, making this African nation a promising location for global businesses to expand and develop.
Though Botswana’s economy has undergone significant transformation since the 1960’s, certain social traditions remain at the forefront of Botswana’s business culture. While there are relatively few studies on the application of Geert Hofstede’s Cultural Dimensions theory to Botswana’s business culture, research by University of Texas anthropology professor James Denbow and Botho University business professor Ushe Makambe offer invaluable wisdom. Their research offers insight into how Botswana customs relate to those found in the U.S, and how business professionals can apply this knowledge toward successful global endeavors.
- Triumph of Tradition: While the power distance between authority figures and their subordinates tends to be much lower in the US, Botswana accords great importance to differences in seniority and age, with a strongly hierarchical business culture. Senior men are addressed as Rra followed by last name, and women as Mma followed by last name. Visiting business professionals will not be surprised to find a business culture based on formality, rank, and ceremony, and will want to adapt their behavior accordingly. Use proper titles, respect the decorum of each meeting, and strive to uphold cultural values of reverence for superiors.
- Networking is King: Botswanans enjoy strong intergroup ties, and as a result may often be wary or distrustful of international visitors. Uncertainty avoidance runs high according to Ushe Makambe, and engaging in business with newcomers is perceived as a risk. Ease into new relationships by respecting social protocol such as use of titles, punctuality, and formality. This will help build trust between you and your Botswana associates. Because locals may still be resistant to embarking on a business relationship with an unfamiliar international visitor, make contact through a mutually-trusted third party, and build rapport based on your connections as well as credentials.
- Consider Collectivism: Despite Botswana’s well-established organizational hierarchy, businesses tend to be collectivist in their decision making. In a groundbreaking study by Dr Richard Pfau, a contemporary of Geert Hofstede, many Botswanans expressed a preference for managers who take a group consensus or consult their subordinates before making a crucial decision. Likewise, Makambe’s 2014 research noted a high degree of interdependence among Botswanian business students at Botho University. Though adjusting to a collaborative business model may be difficult for professionals from individualist countries such as the U.S., visitors can adapt by being open to input, sharing ideas and welcoming new perspectives, and dividing tasks among team members according to skill sets.
Botswana’s culture varies from that of the U.S. in several ways. These three cross-cultural insights will help business travelers inspire trust, overcome differences and enjoy successful relationships in the region. Whether your travels take you to Gaborone or Francistown, keep an open mind and a deep respect for this country’s fascinating cultural traditions.
Sharon Schweitzer and Amanda Alden co-wrote this post. Sharon Schweitzer, J.D., is a cross-cultural trainer, modern manners expert, and the founder of Access to Culture. In addition to her accreditation in intercultural management from the HOFSTEDE centre, she serves as a Chinese Ceremonial Dining Etiquette Specialist in the documentary series Confucius was a Foodie, on Nat Geo People. She is the resident etiquette expert on two popular lifestyle shows: ABC Tampa Bay’s Morning Blend and CBS Austin’s We Are Austin. She is regularly quoted by BBC Capital, Investor’s Business Daily, Fortune, and the National Business Journals. Her Amazon #1 Best Selling book in International Business, Access to Asia: Your Multicultural Business Guide, now in its third printing, was named to Kirkus Reviews’ Best Books of 2015. She’s a winner of the British Airways International Trade Award at the 2016 Greater Austin Business Awards and the 2017 New York City Big Book Award for Multicultural Nonfiction.
Amanda Alden is an intercultural research assistant with Access to Culture. She graduated with honors from St. Edward’s University with a major in Global Studies and a minor in French, and is currently pursuing a master’s degree in Intercultural Mediations at l’Université de Lille III. Feel free to connect with Amanda at on LinkedIn.