Thursday, March 13, 2014

Applying Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs Theory to Botswana

In 1943 Abraham Maslow published a paper which stated that all human beings are motivated by a spectrum of physical and psychological needs which are hierarchical in nature.  Basic human needs (food, water, shelter) must be met before a person can be motivated to pursue a higher degree of needs, such as relationships, self-esteem or social status.  In other words, if you have an employee who is homeless you cannot expect to get that person to work harder with the promise of a promotion.  Your homeless employee doesn’t care about a promotion because he needs a place to live.  Here is Maslow’s Hierarchy if you are unfamiliar with it:
Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is typically taught in Organizational Behavior, Management and Human Resource classes in order to help students understand how people think and how they can (and cannot) be motivated.  I’ve taught this topic for years but I’ve never truly understood what it is like to be in a position to not have those basic human needs met.  When I used to teach about Maslow I would admittedly almost gloss over the bottom rung of the pyramid because my college students obviously were being fed and housed, they had families who were paying their tuition and taking care of them, and so they were at the bare minimum mid-way up the ladder.

However, my recent experience in Africa has made me realize that I need to pay more attention to the basic physiological needs because you never know when that will be your (or your employee’s) motivation.  Right now the most basic needs are my motivation.  I don’t care that I have money because I can’t use it to buy what I want.  Very few faculty members here are professors, most are lecturers.  Everyone calls me “Prof” as a sign of respect for the social standing I have attained.  But I don’t care about that either.  The ONLY thing I care about right now is food, water and shelter.

I do have a home here in Botswana.  And it is very nice.  Much nicer than I ever expected, or than I really need.  But I’ve come to realize that having a home and enjoying your home are two different things.  I’ve mentioned before we have water rationing.  I only have water in my house on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays.  Of course, I can’t drink the water anyway, but I do use it to take showers, wash clothes and clean.  Water rationing is inconvenient, but bearable because it is on a pretty reliable schedule and they seldom turn off the water on the three days we are assigned to receive it.

Electricity is different.  We have had unpredictable rolling power outages since I arrived in Botswana.  Over the past two months electricity has become even more inconsistent.  For the past two weeks we have only had about four hours of electricity a day (if we are lucky), normally between midnight/1am until about 4/5am.  But those four hours a day are not guaranteed.  We have had several days of 24hours+ of no electricity.  The longest was 74 hours with no power.  The challenge with the power is you don’t know when to expect it, so you can’t plan ahead like with the water.

The lack of power makes it impossible to cook as everything is electric.  But, even if you did cook something you would have to plan to eat it all immediately as the refrigerators don’t stay cold because they are off more often than they are on.  Of course, a lot of the stores don’t have fresh food available anyway because they can’t refrigerate it, and no one is buying it.

Today I went to the food store and was at a loss for what to do.  I didn’t want to buy anything perishable because I wasn’t sure when I would be able to cook it, I didn’t have anything to store it in until the electricity returned, and for that matter I wasn’t sure whether the food was actually good because I wasn’t confident it had been consistently refrigerated.  Of course, the options were pretty limited to begin with.

In the end I bought 7 avocados, 2 bananas, a bottle of cold water because I haven’t had anything cold to drink in I can’t even remember how long, a jar of pickled onions, a jar of pickled peppers, and two cans of tuna fish (no mayo because I can’t refrigerate it).

I attempted to follow Dorothy’s lead today, clicking my ruby red (pink?) slippers together three times and chanting, “There’s no place like home, there’s no place like home, there’s no place like home.”  In the end it didn’t work.  If nothing else, this has been a VERY educational experience.
***For anyone out there asking themselves, “If she has no electricity how does she post on her blog?” I write them ahead of time and then pre-schedule several blog posts when the electricity comes back on. 


  1. OH my gosh!. Love those shoes. Who is your stylist??

    1. Thank you. I bought them in Pretoria, SA last week.

  2. Oh Kelly; I will never look/teach at Maslow's Hierarchy the same way after reading your blog! I'd argue once you make it back home, you will have fully reached self-actualization! So, if you don't want to claim it yet, know that you've nailed the creativity component;)

    1. Thanks Lisa. I know, I will never teach Maslow's the same again either. I thought I had reached self-actualization at one point, but I have definitely backtracked, at least temporarily. :)

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