The Botswana Investment and Trade Centre (BITC) has plans to revitalise business process outsourcing (BPO) initiatives mooted 14 years ago by the then Botswana International Financial Services Company (IFSC) before its merger with Botswana Export Development and Investment Authority (BEDIA), as part of efforts to fight unemployment scourge in the country.
Reginald Selelo, Acting BITC Chief Executive Officer said the current administration’s decision to place youth unemployment at the apex of its agenda has led to identifying BPO as a critical sector for the development of the economy.
“There is willingness by the government to create employment which is one of the biggest priorities particularly for the youth demographic.
“We do not need to look any further than the BPO sector particularly domestic and international contact centres which have a proven track record in creating labour intensive sustainable job opportunities particularly for the youth,” said Selelo highlighting that the country’s spiraling youth unemployment currently sits at 20 percent.
He said the recent decoupling of the network from Botswana Telecommunication(BTC) to form Botswana Fibre Networks (BoFiNet)followed by heavy investments on network infrastructure and other advantages should spur the industry through low data and voice cost.
“Botswana also offers an abundance of IT graduates, other graduates and form five leavers available who are currently unemployed can be employed in the sector,” said Selelo, adding that Batswana have a neutral English speaking accent which can attract international companies to set up call centres in Botswana. Since 2015, BITC has hosted five reputable contact centre companies employing a combined 10, 000 agents in both India and South Africa to benchmark.
“It was evident from the interactions that despite our investment offering being a compelling one there was need to further enable investment attraction through availing tailor-made incentives targeting the BPO sector, if as a country we are keen to grow the sector locally,” said Selelo.
Selelo’s sentiments were also echoed by Asnath Breseno, Direct BPO Managing Director who highlighted that a BPO skills gap exists in the local market. “The labour force is there but people that are skilled are not many and we need to develop that,” said Breseno highlighting that skills development will enable Botswana to compete international in the BPO sector.
Currently only one course is registered with Botswana Qualifications Authority (BQA) and few individuals are accredited trainers.“If Botswana is to succeed in BPO, we need to have people trained so that we do not struggle to get skilled people” emphasized Breseno. Direct BPO, a subsidiary of telecommunications operator Mascom, set up in 2017 as an alternative revenue stream offering multi-channel contact service, not only limited to voice calls and employing 120 agents, has already started scanning the international market.
“We have already started engaging regional companies. This is not a cast in stone industry, we hope to break into the international market by the 5th year,” said Breseno. Breseno is optimistic that Direct BPO will move from 60 seats to 800/1000 seats in the next four to five years.“It’s something that can be done,” said Breseno.
With a total of 14 call centres currently active in the country, the domestic industry also offers more opportunities for utilities companies, insurance, banking, retail, travel and hospitality sectors offers the BPO sector an opportunity to grow fast and wide. Gareth Pritchard, BPESA Western CapeChief Executive Officer an industry association also encouraged Botswana invests in skills development for the BPO industry.
“Central to the BPO ecosystem is the talent pool,” said Pritchard citing that South Africa is not having any major competition on the continent in the BPO industry. “Most countries are fairly small and on the start up phase, the supply chain is massive,” said Pritchard urging Botswana to come up with a value proposition that will immensely kick off the sector.