Gorata Kgathi returned from New Zealand in November with more motivation than ever to grow opportunities for women in rugby in Botswana.
Kgathi had travelled to Auckland to attend the World Rugby Women in Rugby International Summit and Events and watch the Rugby World Cup 2021 final.
It was the third foreign trip she had made since being confirmed as a participant on the Capgemini Women in Rugby Leadership Programme in March, following study visits to Dubai and Malaysia.
Prior to enrolling on the programme, Kgathi had never travelled outside of Africa, but those trips provided an opportunity to get to know fellow participants and share experiences.
During her month in Malaysia, she attended a World Rugby ACTIVATE and Training and Education Superweek, where she completed an educator course and met fellow alumni Ada Milby, Nahid Biyarjomandi and Karina Soerjanatamihardja.
Kgathi caught up with Milby again in Auckland, where she was also able to put faces to names of participants she had only previously met in online sessions or on WhatsApp chats.
“Some of the women that we would usually read about here and there, I was able to meet them,” she told World Rugby.
“Everyone there was really honest and really excited. They wanted to learn about each other's experiences in the countries where we come from and how we're doing in terms of rugby.
“They were just offering help. If you needed to talk, you could just speak to them, so it was a really remarkable and interactive experience with opportunities for networking.
“Also, the topics that we talked about, female participation, training and education and all related issues, were some of the things that as a participant, you would want to take home with you and share with others and see how you can implement them so that you grow the game of rugby.
“The Rugby World Cup final, obviously, was at a perfect time of history when they filled the stadium. It is crazy, it was a wonderful moment, really and yeah, New Zealand was the best experience of my life.”
On attending the Black Ferns’ dramatic defeat of England at a sold-out Eden Park, Kgathi added: “It was very emotional and very inspiring.
“When you've been there… what you feel is you could take on the world any day, any time. You're not afraid because you've seen the possibilities.”
Grassroots to Global
Once back in Botswana, Kgathi put her energy to use by hosting a ChildFund Rugby Grassroots to Global programme.
Her goal for her time on the Women in Rugby Leadership Programme is to increase participation in playing, coaching, refereeing and administration, especially outside of the capital, Gaborone.
Grassroots to Global offered Kgathi that opportunity to engage with women from different areas of Botswana.
“I've met other women that have received the scholarship in Africa, and we have a group of our own. So, we are always talking and sharing ideas,” Kgathi said.
“That's how after New Zealand I was able to do the ChildFund programme here in Botswana. It was because of the network that I have built, and a collective effort from the women’s committee and the union made the event a success.”
She added: “We had 25 participants and most of them were coming from outside the city and that was girls between the ages of 18 and 30.
“They came together over two days, and they looked at the barriers that they're facing in terms of advancing in rugby leadership or in their rugby journey.
“And so, they looked at the barriers and the drivers and their rugby journeys so far and eventually they had to come up with a project proposal that could be funded if it is sound.”
Kgathi’s work towards that ultimate goal has also been aided by the opportunities and courses offered by Capgemini.
“Capgemini presented a great opportunity for career leadership, for our leadership career,” she explained. “I can say today [those courses] have really shaped the way I see, the way I want to lead, and my leadership style. It's been very instrumental in that regard.”
“An immense responsibility”
Kgathi, who played table tennis until attending a rugby training session with a friend, says the game has taught her to be brave and stand up for herself.
Those are certainly traits she has needed during her time as the women’s representative on the Botswana Rugby Union (BRU) board.
Despite captaining her club, working hard to grow participation and founding her own team, Savage Rugby Club, Kgathi has faced challenges since assuming the role in 2019.
“It does get so exhausting,” she explained. “But then also you think about all the people that are looking up to you.
“You think about why you started in the first place, and there's just an immense responsibility that comes with it, and you can't quit.
“So, it's easier sometimes when you call others and they tell you that, ‘We're really doing the same thing. You know, keep the faith, hold on. If this is happening, do that’. You know, at that time you feel like you're not alone.”
Kgathi, the first woman from Botswana to become a World Rugby-qualified coach, is certainly not alone.
She has created a pathway for women to follow in her footsteps, and the BRU has since accredited 10 female coaches.
Although Kgathi admits women are still playing catch-up, she has big plans for her final year on the women’s committee in 2023. She is therefore determined to use her experience on the Capgemini Women in Rugby Leadership Programme to provide those opportunities.
“I have been in a room with powerful women in rugby, women that have broken the glass ceiling and exceeded expectation. I have never felt more alive,” Kgathi said.
“I am ready to take on this year to bring about change and support women to cement their place within the rugby structures.”