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Celebrating the graduating class of AWARD Fellows

It was pomp and color in Kampala and Accra, where 2014 and 2015 AWARD Fellows, and mentors met to report on their career, research, and personal development transformation, over the course of their two-year AWARD fellowship.

Focused on three themes (collaboration, innovation, and transformation), this year’s regional meetings saw AWARD Fellows share their individual progress, building on their uniquely designed career purpose road maps.

Looking back on her fellowship experience, 2014 fellow Olaitan Olajuyigbe is proud of the transformation that has come her way, thanks to AWARD. “My experience within AWARD has really been wonderful. This is indeed a fellowship for fast-tracking the careers of women scientists. I would never have been where I am without all the trainings, and opportunities I got from AWARD,” explains Olajuyigbe. “Prior to AWARD, research was just research. Thanks to the training at AWARD however, I have learnt that I need to carry along the end users of my studies, right from the proposal stages, including some of the considerations in ensuring gender-responsive research is carried out.”

Apart from their showcase, the Fellows were also treated to a special panel session with some of the participating AWARD Mentors, who took time to motivate fellows along their career growth, from their own successes, and the challenges they faced on their way to becoming successful researchers and scientists, innovating for agricultural impact on the continent.

“All of us face challenges at one point or another in life, but it is possible to convert these challenges into opportunities, which could be a turning point in your life,” shared AWARD Mentor Dr. Teklu Jijo.

Revealing how his career began from a junior employee level, to becoming one of the managers for development projects, Ethiopian AWARD Mentor, Yaregal Mandefro, reflected with participants on the importance of being systematic, diplomatic, and very intentional about ones goals, and how to present knowledge and ideas. “From this meeting, I have seen a lot of wisdom among you, and it is how you use this wisdom, that you will be able to climb the ladder. It is very easy to talk in such gatherings, but are you really walking the talk? The best thing is to be a hard thinker. Think of how you communicate, your knowledge, skills, and attitude. The combination of these things can help you realize your goals.”

 “My greatest insight from this meeting has been the sheer volume of work that I can see these women engaged in. The impact of AWARD in this continent in a couple of years will be overwhelming,” explains AWARD Trainer, Titilope Fakoya. “In Nigeria for example, a lot of emphasis now is being placed on the non-fossils sector, and for all this to be happening in agriculture is mind-blowing; I see geneticists, agronomists, aquaculture people, and other areas; all women doing great work, and this has been very impactful,” she explains. “I am also seeing the fellowship having a pivotal role among the mentors, even as they develop the fellows. There is a lot of learning amongst them and this is such a unique thing about this program.”

The regional meeting participants also got an opportunity to listen to the AWARD monitoring and evaluation team, on some of the emerging results, and key issues arising from AWARD data regarding the fellowship implementation, and impact of AWARD activities.

“It was so helpful to understand how fellows individually relate with data aggregated on fellowship performance,” explains Dr. Apollo Nkwake, AWARD Senior Manager for M&E. “For example, we learned that fellows’ gains in self-confidence, motivation, and sense of direction are more profound than the data told us. Self-confident, motivated and focused fellows are able to make much of their fellowship experiences and be better researchers and collaborators.”

AWARD Regional Progress Monitoring Meetings are a unique, and critical activity to the fellowship, as it offers an opportunity for fellowship participants to realize the impact of collaboration, not just within AWARD, but the global agricultural research and development field. As they graduate from their engagement as fellows and continue on as alumni, AWARD Fellows and mentors are also motivated to continue to strive for excellence in their research, and active networking, as means of ensuring their work contributes to transforming Africa.