Gaone Masire ’82 never passes up an opportunity. It’s a lesson she learned growing up in Botswana, where choices were few. “In Africa,” Masire says, “you don’t decide.” Rather, you take advantage of every opportunity that comes along. If you’re especially enterprising, you may end up rising higher than you ever imagined—in Masire’s case, to head of human resources for the African Union.
When it was time for Masire to think about college, a family friend recommended Luther. During her first year at Luther, her father, Ketumile Masire, a leading figure in the independence movement and new government in Botswana, became the country’s second president. Although she was proud, her father’s path had little bearing on her own. “He wanted us to have our own identity,” she says. “And every time I look back, I am so grateful. Because if I hadn’t had my own identity, maybe I wouldn’t have come as as far as I have.”
In finding her own path at Luther, Masire focused on management. Professor emeritus Richard Leake’s class on personnel management—in particular, his holistic approach—made an especially deep impression. “A person comes with baggage, so if you don’t care for the person as a totality, you don’t get results,” she says. “I’ve always believed in that. Human beings are complicated, so if you work in human resources, you have to understand people and the human being in its totality.” If her career track is any indication, it’s a philosophy that’s served Masire well. After earning a master’s degree in public administration at the University of Illinois–Springfield, she returned to Botswana. She hadn’t been home a week when she got a call that the national bank, the Bank of Botswana, was in crisis—would she consider coming to help?
She had been working at the Bank of Botswana for four years when she had the opportunity to serve as the Hubert H. Humphrey Fellow at the University of Washington–Seattle. She leapt at the chance, and she used the position to identify and fill gaps in her knowledge that would allow her to do her job better.
Self-improvement has been a steadfast practice for Masire. Throughout her career, she set aside 25 percent of her earnings for capacity-building and self-improvement. “So every time there was a conference I wanted to attend,” she says, “I looked to my savings and bought a ticket to go.” In this way, she traveled from Senegal to Japan building her body of knowledge.
Masire’s dedication to professional growth and her willingness to avail herself of every opportunity eventually landed her a job in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, at the helm of human resources for the African Union, a position from which she recently retired. While the scope of the job might sound overwhelming, Masire never doubted herself: “Self-belief is very important. If you don’t believe in yourself, nobody else will believe in you. I always believed in myself.”