Kaene Disepo: Inspiring Botswana’s Youth to Develop 21st Century Skills

21st century skills sdg4 youth development Jan 25, 2023
Inspiring Botswana’s Youth to Develop 21st Century Skills

Ladderworks is a publishing platform of diverse stories with the mission to inspire kids and youth around the world to become empathetic entrepreneurs.

Welcome back! Spiffy here, your interplanetary journalist reporting from Planet Earth with an eye on entrepreneurs working to make this world more equitable. Today I’m super excited to be in Botswana where I will speak with visionary Kaene Disepo, founder of Inspired Horizons Association. Are you ready to be inspired?

Spiffy: Hi Kaene! This is my first time in Botswana, what an amazing country! I’m especially thrilled to be talking to you—thanks so much for taking the time to tell me about your work! Can you start by describing the challenges you’re addressing?

Kaene: Welcome, Spiffy! It’s great to have you here! Well, I am extremely passionate about improving access to quality education and youth inclusion in national decision-making platforms of development agenda setting, implementation, and accountability. Botswana suffers from the plight of structural youth unemployment figures, often perpetuated by an outdated education system that doesn’t train job-ready graduates and thought leaders. To achieve a culture of inclusive development, I focus on youth capacity building, skills training, and career guidance and counseling in schools. To date, we’ve reached over 4,000 students.

Spiffy: Oh wow, that’s amazing, Kaene! What motivated you to work with the next generation of students?

Kaene: As a child of a teacher and a retired military officer, my humble beginnings inspired my will for inclusive leadership. After my parents separated when I was 15-years-old, I lived in one room, in one of the country’s poorest neighborhoods—I called it my “four in one” because it was my bedroom, kitchen, living room, and bathroom all in one! Although my parents finalized their divorce in the middle of my GCSEs, I shocked a lot of people when I was awarded Botswana’s Top Achievers’ Scholarship for attaining the second-best results in the country. Through a scholarship, I furthered my studies in Europe and learned the power of acquiring an education relevant to addressing 21st-century challenges, hence the motivation to bridge that international divide.

Spiffy: I see, and how are you and your organization working to make your country, and the world, more equitable?

Kaene: Inspired Horizons Association upscales and upskills young people by offering them 21st-century skills such as entrepreneurship and critical thinking to identify, nurture and develop well-rounded young leaders of value. We also advocate for students of government schools in Botswana to gain free access to resources such as past examination papers—a campaign we successfully achieved in 2019 when the Botswana Examinations Council availed the papers online. We have also championed the Young Mothers Support Network aimed at amplifying voices of pregnant adolescent girls and young mothers from rural communities, by jointly developing the tools to empower themselves to better engage in policy making and improve on their representation.

Spiffy: This is amazing, Kaene. Is there any recent milestone that Inspired Horizons Association has achieved?

Kaene: We recently launched the #Youngmothersmatter campaign, which calls for society to embrace a culture shift in the way it continues to marginalize, discriminate and oppress the rights of adolescent girls and young women. The campaign has had a series of dialogues with experts and stakeholders of key decision-making platforms to address various issues, including gender-based violence. We successfully partnered with the Ministry of Nationality, Immigration and Gender Affairs and the former Member of Parliament that brought the National Sexual Offenders Registry Bill to parliament. To date, we have three young mothers in the national technical working group of the Inter-Ministerial Committee on Gender-Based Violence.

Spiffy: That’s no small feat! Congratulations! What about failure? Can you tell me about a time when you faced failure and didn't give up? What did you learn from failure?

Kaene: One of the areas we focus on is cross-sector alliance-building, which we believe is the cornerstone to achieving a more sustainable development impact. In 2018, I wanted to find a way that Botswana could benefit from the international world, particularly in research, science, and innovation. As a cost-effective strategy, I approached the government with a proposal for sponsorship to host an education fair specifically for international universities. This was rejected. Then I decided to pitch to universities directly. In 2019, we successfully hosted the country's first International Universities Career Fair, bringing together over 20 universities. Sometimes, we knock, but on the wrong doors.

Kaene Disepo moderating a panel discussion with founders and directors on “Collaborative Networks in Developing 21st Century Learners”. (Image courtesy of Kaene Disepo)

Spiffy: Can you tell me about a startup or project you’ve worked with that exemplifies the impact you’re striving to make?

Kaene: Inspired Horizons believes that improving youth employability and thought leadership requires a collective effort. We offer business mentorship for youth entrepreneurs. We have successfully assisted over 50 unemployed youths to become SMMEs (small, medium, and micro enterprises) in different sectors. Principally, the NGO co-created the country’s toughest debate platform, Debating Botswana. Debating Botswana creates policy guides from safe youth-led debates on key national issues, with industry-leading experts as judges and mentors.

Spiffy: I’m curious if you’re learned any lessons from the people you work with—something especially impactful.

Kaene: Yes, Spiffy, one of the young mothers we work with from the Young Mothers Support Network program was raped by her cousin at the age of 14 and became pregnant. When she tried to report it, the family refused, saying it is a private matter. This not only bred resentment within the family but, surprisingly, it inspired her to join law enforcement. She now has a 14-year-old son, is a police officer, and works on sexual assault cases. I find this remarkable. What I learned from her was that we are never defined by our circumstances—great leadership is nurtured in spite of and not because of them.

Spiffy: Is there anything else you would love to tell our audience?

Kaene: In his book, “Tiny Hands: the small changes that change everything”, Dr. Fogg points out that "one tiny action, one small bite, might feel insignificant at first, but it allows you to gain the momentum you need  to ramp up to bigger challenges and faster progress." When I founded Inspired Horizons, I began by offering motivational talks and study guides in schools. To date, I have given motivational talks to over 200,000 students worldwide and I’ve assisted over 100 students to get scholarships into top international universities. As the youngest member of the Botswana Top Achievers Review Committee at the Ministry of Tertiary Education, I actively design inclusive education policies for Botswana. Start small, dream big.

Spiffy: You are showing us how to do it, Kaene! Thanks so much for sharing about your work, and inspiring each of us to go out and make the world a better place! It’s been an honor!


Kaene Disepo is a development consultant and the founder of Inspired Horizons Association and Change Africa, a leadership development consultancy firm that provides services for sustainable livelihood. Kaene received an MSc in Development Management and a BSc in International Relations from the London School of Economics. He currently serves as a board member of the Botswana National Youth Council. (Nominated by One Young World)

Subscribe to our Newsletter

Get a weekly dose of inspiration! Join our vibrant community of forward-thinking educators!

We respect your privacy.