This is a story about luck, chance, faith, and a world of possibilities. It began one Sunday when I was sitting with one of my mentors and an amazing leader - having spoken for hours non-stop in his closing remarks he suggested I try my luck and apply for the HB Antwerp Innovation Lab in partnership with WomHub that was coming to Gaborone in August 2022.
I said - “Sure”. Not much thought was put into that part of the conversation. I however did a Google search and to say the least - I was intrigued. A spark of curiosity and awe was born. I had not felt this feeling in weeks if not months. I did not apply. I shared the link with a couple of my friends & went about my day.
Two days later after the meeting with my mentor I decided to pass time and go over the WomHub & HB Antwerp websites and social media pages. It was then that by mistake or by fate I clicked the application link to the second edition of the HB Antwerp Innovation Lab. It was a straightforward form that was not time consuming. I browsed through it and a voice in my head said, “What do I have to lose?” I applied and, after a few minutes, got a confirmation email that I had applied - we all get these emails and it always ends here. Well not with WomHub and HB Antwerp.
I called a few friends whom I shared this with whom I suggested should apply - one actually did go on the site and try applying but because of pessimistic tendencies did not apply. My friend chuckled and said this could be a kidnapping syndicate or online scammers. I concurred; this was a compelling argument. How can a Belgian company and a Pan African non-profit work together to come to Botswana to help Batswana? What was the catch? What do they benefit? Surely, they will get us and sell us on the black market.
To move away from the heavy thoughts I had just had, I googled what a Hackathon was - I mean I knew it from the movie The Social Network. A bunch of tech gurus come together to build some cool, fancy tech product that one day ends up being a billion-dollar company. And I thought that was just what the HB Antwerp Innovation Lab Hackathon was. That is just what I had signed up for. I am excited, I am going to be at the Hackathon, I do not have any tech skills so most definitely me and my team will fail cause - I bring zero tech skills besides some knowledge I had gained from CodeAcademy.
Fast forward, a few weeks later an email comes through and to my amusement I am part of the 50 applicants selected to participate in the Hackathon. This was my “Mama, I made it” moment. This email detailed how the next coming weeks would include an intense series of virtual inductions with thought leaders on how to pitch, how hackathons work, sustainability and positive impact training, and the magnificent leadership from WomHub, HB Antwerp and the amazing work they have been doing across their various sectors.
Through these inductions I had come to realize that WomHub and HB Antwerp are about emancipation, empowerment, uplifting and upskilling the youth - women and men. HB Antwerp and WomHub actually care about the future - the next generation. The work that WomHub and HB Antwerp is centered around sustainability and value creation. This was where they caught my attention. If in a few weeks HB Antwerp was to come along with WomHub and abduct us, I sure was ready. Something about being in the space of people who share a common thing that makes you convinced that everything can be conquered by the right team and right mindset.
Hackathon Day comes - 2nd August 2022. I walked into the hall, and I was ushered into this big hall, and I could feel the energy. I know nobody here but something about everyone waking up bright and early that was so infectious. I take my sit and the proceedings begin shortly thereafter - I realize “No man, this is real, the Belgians (HB Antwerp) are here, WomHub is here everyone is here 49 other participants are here & we are about to begin” I am not worried about being kidnapped anymore. The hackathon is not anywhere close to what I thought it would be - nothing tech related but rather it is everything about being in a room with likeminded people with a common goal. The Hackathon was about diversity, learning - learning yourself and your team, and burning brain power to solve a challenge unique to Botswana with strangers who I now call my team.
The Hackathon taught me about how diversity is power. The fact that we did not know each other but trusted each other to work together in our groups to solve a common problem. It reinforced the sentiment that teamwork makes the dream work. I was here not feeling incompetent as I would have thought I felt at home, I felt accepted, I felt engaged and above all I learned more about myself and people than I had ever done in the past 3 months.
A major takeaway from the Hackathon was that in this big ball called earth we all have an obligation to do something that matters, something the next generation will appreciate we did now. We often care about ourselves; the Hackathon was designed to help us move out of our traditional boxes and think about how we can contribute in impactful ways and generate value for others and our community. It matters to do good in a world that has not been so good to us all. An experience that came at the right time, in the midst of COVID-19.
The Hackathon was not just a competition, it was more of an experience of connecting with others. It challenged me to be vulnerable and unleash my superpower and mixing it with other participants’ superpower to make a remarkable contribution. Having enjoyed the Hackathon, I had a moment when I was outside with other participants to reflect how this Hackathon has impacted me and my future work.
Working in the real estate industry and currently studying, the Hackathon has taught me to believe in collaboration. I know something that someone does not, and someone knows something I don’t and when we share this, we become stronger together. In the classroom the teacher knows something I don’t and on site the foreman knows something I don’t, and I don’t dismiss any contribution from anyone. There is value to be generated from all spectrums of the value chain. We are stronger together. In the end, ultimately what matters is that we contribute in a positive manner, and nobody is too small to make a significant contribution. In any undertaking I owe it to myself and those I work with to think long term and about the impact we bring, what value to offer back to those we serve. I came back feeling like a newborn - with curiosity and energy to explore. Like WomHub and HB Antwerp it is imperative that we serve. My first day at work after the Hackathon, I asked my principals – “how is this sustainable? Will it be there long after us?” and that is the legacy of the HB Antwerp Innovation Lab Hackathon. I am now a sustainable oriented type of individual. Sustainability through positive value generation and positive impact is the conversation the next generation of leaders need to be having.
Thanks to all the participants who took a chance to trust WomHub and HB Antwerp to facilitate this. We might not have all won the Hackathon but by virtue of being a part of this we were all winners. Special Shoutout to the alumni of the first HB Antwerp Innovation Lab for making our experience what it was. Special gratitude goes to everyone far and beyond who made this possible.
Larry O. Motshegwe