Expatriate Entrepreneurs Must Stop Abusing African Innovation. But, It’s Harder than You Think.

Pierce Gordon, Ph.D.
5 min readFeb 1, 2021

Have you heard of a kgotla?

Depending on the context, it’s a public meeting, traditional law court, a community council of Botswana villages, or all of these at once. I hadn’t heard of one until I visited the country for my research. In 2016, at Botswana’s second International Development Design Summit, I witnessed how the kgotla in the village of D’Kar introduced foreign designers like me to the local community members, to receive the community’s blessing for our four-week summit.

It was clear that the kgotla was significant to the culture, institutions, and daily lives of Batswana. A traditional Setswana, clearly advocating for the kgotla’s values, states, ntwa kgolo ke ya molomo, or “The highest form of war is dialogue”.

How do you feel, then, about how Kgotla is also the name of a business consultancy run by a Netherlands entrepreneur? Founded in 2003, Kgotla.com uses Botswana’s system of tribal gathering and open dialogue to help “leaders and organizations deal with complex problems.”

The Amsterdam-based company has consulted for 79 organizations in 11 countries, engaging over 75,000 people in the process. The company has developed case studies, videos, books, and many other published resources on the Kgotla process. He’s even who trademarked the Kgotla mark in the United States and the European Union.

The founder of Kgotla®, Martijn de Liefde, deeply understands how his startup looks to Batswana. Years ago, he spent years and millions of dollars trying to gain local buy-in on how the method can revolutionize local business. By visiting village leaders all over the country, running a curated Kgotla workshop for RioTinto, a well-known South African mining group, and even by including the new Botswana Innovation Hub as a partner, he had an aim for Botswana’s future.

“Botswana is the Switzerland of Africa, and I’m invested in its change.” However, he was stymied at every turn; Botswana citizens saw their methods as traditional, and therefore disconnected from the world…