05 Nov Interview with Sedireng Serumola, Managing Director, Diamond Trading Company Botswana (DTCB)
Business Focus: Diamond Trading Company (DTC) Botswana has a new purpose, which is Unlocking Diamond Value and Adding Sparkle to Lives. I would like to know a little bit more about what does this concept of unlocking diamond value and adding sparkle to lives mean?
The Diamond Trading Company (DTC) Botswana is a 50/50 joint venture between the Government of the Republic of Botswana and De Beers Group. The company is a strategic asset for the Government of the Republic of Botswana (GRB) in partnership with De Beers Group. DTC Botswana is the largest and most sophisticated rough diamond sorting and valuing operation in the world. We take all Debswana production, clean the diamonds, sort them, value them, and then we sell them to two customers. Namely, the Okavango Diamond Company (ODC), which is 100% owned by the GRB, and the other customer is De Beers Global Sightholder Sales, whom you can simply call De Beers.
In 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic started, DTCB Botswana shutdown operations in April 2020 for about a month. Incidentally, at the time, we were looking at reviewing our company strategy, which was coming to an end that year. We took the opportunity to say what can we do with development of our new company strategy given the constraints that we were facing. We made a call to develop the new company strategy internally, using our people. For me, as the Managing Director, it was probably one of the best decisions that I ever made!. This means we didn’t use external facilitators at all. We just need to guide them appropriately. I played a big part of that process because I had previously gone through strategy development processes, and have experience in facilitation of focused group discussions, employees’ engagement, and change management initiatives.
At the early stages of developing a new company purpose, we came up with a new company purpose. Hence the new company of “Unlocking Diamond Value and Adding Sparkle to Lives” was born! Adding Sparkle to Livesis a metaphor for positive impact on people or communities. It also the sparkle in the literal sense; it is the bling-bling in the jewelry market! At the end of the day, the bigger part of it is the impact on people: impact on our employees; impact on Batswana (meaning people of Botswana) at large; and the impact on our customers, not only DTC Botswana customers but the diamond industry customers across the globe.
BF: DTC Botswana currently sells to De Beers Group and Okavango Diamond Company. Do you see opportunities for DTC Botswana to expand? What opportunities do you see for the United States in the diamond sector today?
As I said earlier, DTC Botswana is not an ordinary company. Our impact goes beyond this company; it is at a societal and national level, and therefore, we have an obligation to continuously look for growth for the benefit of the people of Botswana. We are committed to improving our operational processes and thereby release value from the diamond pipeline, and by so doing grow shareholder distribution. Revenue growth is one of our primary objectives.
The second opportunity is also tied to revenue. It is the opportunity to sort for other producers other than Debswana Diamond Company. We are negotiating with one of the producers if all goes well, we will start by the end of the year or early next year.
Ultimately, our vision is to be able to sort diamonds coming from other countries in the Sub-Saharan Africa and the international market. This facility has excess capacity, diamond sorting technology, and the requisite sorting and valuation skills.
United States is our biggest market, there is no doubt about it! Therefore, it is important for us to understand the needs of our customers and produce a product that meets their needs. Customers buying diamond jewellery, care about provenance, and sustainability issues. I am proud to say that the story of Botswana diamonds is a story of revenue from diamonds used responsibly to drive socio-economic developments.
BF: You’re looking to not only be an industry player, but an industry leader. Tell us a bit more about your development projects, but also especially about the DTC Botswana Diamond Academy.
Whilst DTC Botswana is a private entity, we have an important role to play in society. That role involves facilitating skills development and playing an active role in socio-economic development. My view is that the government can’t do it alone, and therefore, we must support national initiatives That’s where the DTC Botswana Diamond Academy comes in.
Botswana is one of the top diamond producing countries in the world. Critical to diamond production is value-chain growth and diamond beneficiation in Botswana is national priority.
The question that one may ask is where Batswana are going to learn the basics of diamond sorting and valuation? The answer is DTC Botswana is well-placed to do that. We have a fully-fledged Diamond Academy. We are changing it to make it accessible for training for other industry players in Botswana, that is, beyond the DTC Botswana workforce. In doing so, we will work the diamond manufacturing and jewelry sectors. In a nutshell, DTC Botswana, through the Diamond Academy will facilitate skills development in the diamond sector.
BF: Skills development, diversification, and downstream learning are very important points for His Excellency the President, and also the Honourable Minister. But so is cutting down the carbon footprint of the country, especially since the diamond industry is such a giant industrial sector. What is DTC Botswana doing to implement more sustainable methods in-house?
Our company strategy focuses on four (4) strategic priorities, and these are: Customer Experience; Technology & Innovation; Organisational Capability; and Sustainability. In line with our Sustainability strategic priority, DTC Botswana has installed solar PV panels on the roofs of the car park, walk-ways as well as on top of the building. This allows us to operate our business off the national grid, therefore contributing significantly to carbon neutrality.
Our vision is to be able to extend this to the wider community, targeting rural communities; and give them solar connectivity and thus enabling them to undertake various economic activities that can transform their lives sustainably.
We are one of the few companies who have started acquiring hybrid-electric vehicles. Going forward, as we replace our diesel-powered vehicles, we will get either hybrid or fully electric ones. We wanted to start with fully electric vehicles, but experienced challenges with infrastructure in Botswana.
We are looking at other areas such as water conservation, i.e., how can we use less water in our business. We are looking into other areas such as biodiversity and determine how we can work with the Department of Wildlife, to make a difference in this area.
Lastly, we are fully committed to accelerating equal opportunities, inclusion and diversity, and ensuring gender parity within our workforce. These are core elements of our Sustainability strategy. We aspire to have more women and people with disability appointed in key decision-making positions with the organization.
When I look at sustainability, I look at a broader aspect, from the environmental point of view, from skills development, and giving people in remote areas the opportunity to be able to provide and contribute to society.
BF: As you’re speaking about this, we did want to know what your role is in helping local communities in Botswana and a description of your company’s ESG initiatives.
Through our Social Impact commitment, we have undertaken several initiatives to support the community. One of the key initiatives in this regard is our sponsorship of women’s football in Botswana, including grassroots development for the girl-child. Women’s football in Botswana has been struggling over the years to get support. One may look at it and say, oh well, it is just football. No. It is really about livelihoods and women empowerment. In fact, the President of the Botswana Football Association has confirmed that as a result of the sponsorship, some of these women and girls are starting to have trials outside Botswana, some of them are now in North America, some of them are in Europe. That is key and demonstrate sustainable partnership.
We are also looking at education, which is key for us. We have sponsored Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) initiatives, especially for youngsters, so that we look at grassroots development and give people the opportunity to get into these areas for the future development of this country.
And of course, green technology is one of our interest areas as well.
BF: What are your personal priorities as the Managing Director of DTC Botswana? What’s your vision for the future of Botswana’s diamond sector and DTC Botswana inside of it?
My role, at DTC Botswana is to create an opportunity for my colleagues to be able to do their work to the best of their ability, and to steer DTC Botswana to be a great contributor to Botswana’s success story. Beyond that, I spoke earlier about organizational capability. You can come back in a couple of years and ask me a direct question of who I have helped to grow as an individual. The success of Botswana, where it’s coming from, is attributed to the leadership that this country has had. That aspect of leadership must continue. It’s not only the role of the government or national leadership. In the private sector, for somebody in my position, it’s one of my core responsibilities. Every member of society, including yourself in the media, you have the right to be able to challenge us to make sure we are providing effective leadership and keep us on track to ensure that we are helping people to develop, to grow professionally. I’m very passionate about that. I create time for mentoring and coaching; for anybody who calls me and asks if we can have a conversation, I’ll try and create that time for them.
People say Botswana still has the potential to grow. I agree, but that window of growth can close very quickly. Therefore, whilst still I’m in DTC Botswana, my role is to make sure that these diamonds that we clean, sort, and value, are finally sold in a manner that supports our developmental agenda.
Tied to that, we also need to be able to work with other industries to make sure that we grow, not only as a company but that the sector grows as well. I’m very much interested in the beneficiation sector; I fully support the ideas and initiatives around the beneficiation sector. But I also think that we can also get into what I would call diamond tourism. When you come to Botswana, you also want to be able to touch and feel the diamonds besides the other things that you see here. Therefore, we need to collaborate with the other sectors and entities like the Botswana Tourism Organization to develop diamond tourism. We can even make it more exciting, getting into the virtual reality side of things to experience diamond sorting and valuation.
BF: Do you have a message that you would like to pass to the readers of this report, either about DTC Botswana or Botswana?
Botswana is a nation that is eager and hungry to achieve more success. You might have heard from the Minister or His Excellency himself about the national priorities that they have put forward as a government. Botswana has a young, vibrant, innovative, and highly educated people. There are limitless opportunities in our country, and I can confidently say to any investor willing to collaborate with Botswana-based companies that Botswana is a great country to invest in. There is potential for partnerships in key areas of the economy including the diamond industry, and mining in general.
Botswana is a nation that has done well and is very conscious of what is happening around the world. We are committed to sustainable development and to human social development.
There are exciting opportunities for growth in Botswana. With these opportunities, we can say that, in 10 years’ time, in 20 years’ time, in terms of economic output, Botswana can grow double figures beyond what we’re seeing now.