African Women in Agricultural Research and Development (AWARD) is investing in African scientists, agricultural research institutions and agribusinesses to deliver gender-responsive research and innovations that can effectively address the needs and priorities of African smallholder farmers.
Speaking at a recent seminar at CTLGH’s Edinburgh node, Dr Michèle Mbo’o-Tchouawou, a development economist and Deputy Director, Programs at AWARD, gave an overview of AWARD’s work and particularly the AWARD Fellowship initiative which has benefited more than 1,300 scientists across Africa.
“Gender equality is about inclusiveness and equal opportunities. It is about counting and making visible all the contributions regardless of whether they are from men or women, and acknowledging the differences in characteristics that define each and every one of us in society.”
Dr Michele Mbo’o-Tchouawou, AWARD
Fixing the Leaky Pipeline of Female African Scientists
“Gender equality is about inclusiveness and equal opportunities. It is about counting and making visible all the contributions regardless of whether they are from men or women, and acknowledging the differences in characteristics that define each and every one of us in society.” Said Dr Mbo’o-Tchouawou.
She added: “In sub-Saharan Africa only 30% of women work in agricultural research and this percentage drops to just 7% in senior management level positions. We need to support the development of capable, confident and influential African women scientists who can lead critical advances and innovations in agricultural research and development.”
AWARD has been investing in Africa’s female scientists offering them tailored two-year career development fellowships to sharpen their science and leadership skills and foster mentoring partnerships.
Since its launch in 2008, over 600 female scientists from 28 African countries have participated in and benefited from the flagship initiative. The AWARD Fellowship continues to be hugely popular, with each cohort attracting over 1,000 applications.
Mentoring is a key element of the Fellowship. Each AWARD Fellow is paired with a mentor, an experienced professional in the Fellow’s area of expertise, with whom they go through a one-year mentoring programme. After being mentored for a year, the Fellow takes on a junior scientist as her mentee which not only allows the Fellow to pass on her own knowledge but also provides an opportunity for her to practice the mentoring skills gained and leadership skills.
AWARD Fellows also attend leadership skills courses that focus on enhancing their leadership and managerial effectiveness. They also have access to a range of interventions designed to improve their ability to communicate and share knowledge and to access networks through AWARD-sponsored travel to scientific conferences and workshops. Strengthening the scientific research skills of the Fellows is a critical component of the AWARD Fellowship. Advanced Scientific Training (AST) enables the Fellows to participate in research placements for periods of between two weeks and nine months at global state-of-the-art research institutes, to sharpen their scientific knowledge and skills.
Impact and Outcomes
The success of the AWARD career development programme shines through in the impact it has on the Fellows personal and professional development. Empirical evidence reveals that 89% of AWARD Fellows reported that they had increased in confidence, with 78% reporting an improvement in their communication and networking skills too. Professionally, 60% of AWARD Fellows have increased their publication record and over 30% have been promoted. 28% have successfully attracted another award or fellowship and 27% have seen an increase in successful grant submissions. Many have gone on to mentor other female researchers at their own institutes or elsewhere.
One Planet Fellowship
Following the tremendous impact and learnings from the Fellowship, AWARD has scaled up and extended the benefits of its flagship initiative to include male scientists and emerging European scientists to develop their personal and professional skills. Through its new initiative, the One Planet Fellowship, AWARD is bringing together young African and European scientists in a unique three-year career development programme to build a robust pipeline of scientists leading climate change research in Africa. The One Planet Fellowship is developing the capacity of the next generation of scientists to tackle climate change and agriculture-related challenges through the development of ground-breaking and contextualised innovations.
Developing Gender Responsive Institutions
AWARD is also investing in African agricultural research institutions so that they can promote and embrace change needed for individuals and institutions to become more gender responsive.
“Only when we have an enabling environment can we build and empower individuals and move towards gender equality,” said Dr Mbo’o-Tchouawou.
Under its Gender Responsive Agricultural Research and Development (GRARD) initiative, AWARD has supported eight (8) African research institutions in Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, Nigeria and Tanzania on their journey towards institutional transformation. The collaboration with the Ethiopian Institute for Agricultural Research (EIAR) was informed by a gender audit that revealed that women accounted for only 24% of the institute’s workforce and that only 7% had a bachelor’s degree and above. Keen to address the issue, EIAR recruited over 100 female scientists at the beginning of 2019 and partnered with AWARD to support 20 women agricultural scientists in a customised AWARD Fellowship programme that commenced in January 2019.
Dr Mbo’o-Tchouawou’s visit to Edinburgh coincided with the arrival of two AWARD-EIAR Fellows who began their Advanced Science Training (AST) placement at the Roslin Institute and CTLGH. Supported by the Global Challenge Research Fund’s Strategic Training Awards for Research Skills (GCRF Stars) programme funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), Ruth Bekele and Wude Tsega, both from EIAR are spending a month in Edinburgh working with Roslin and CTLGH researchers to strengthen their own scientific skills.
Whilst in the UK, Dr Mbo’o-Tchouawou visited AWARD’s main UK partners; the Roslin Institute, CTLGH and the John Innes Centre in Norwich, to discuss progress and future opportunities for collaboration.
Whilst in Edinburgh, Dr Mbo’o-Tchouawou also spoke at a reception at the Scottish Parliament that celebrated the efforts of the Roslin Institute and the University of Edinburgh to advance gender equality in science. For more information about the reception click here