The release of “AWARD Through the Years” comes at a critical junction in AWARD’s journey. Recently AWARD experienced major personnel changes, with new leadership and ideas for the future. Also, AWARD is at a key moment to reflect, learn, and develop an evidenced-based and well-informed strategy for future years.
This publication is the result of years of data collection, analysis, and reflection. It is a reference document that tells the story of how AWARD is organized, what it set out to do and what it has accomplished since it was founded in 2008. And it is also a success story of how AWARD Fellowships have given women researchers the tools they need to improve their science and leadership skills, recognize gender issues and bring new understanding to their efforts supporting women smallholders, and to take their careers in new directions.
Looking back, I get nostalgic… When AWARD started out in 2008, few people knew about the program. We had to do a lot of “hard selling”. We even had to advertise in newspapers in various parts of the continent in order to get fellowship applications. Fast-forward several years and AWARD is now widely known and recognized as a successful and respected capacity building program. Last year we received more than 1,100 applications for just 70 fellowships, reflecting a 40% increase in applicants.
There is a bigger, much more important change that has happened since the start of AWARD. There is now strong and growing interest among Agricultural Research and Development organizations and their leadership to partner and develop the kinds of empowerment and gender-responsiveness AWARD is focused on. Of course that is not just due to AWARD, but I do believe that our holistic approach of developing both hard and soft skills has created a powerful experience and catalyzed a movement.
In preparation for this publication, we worked through tens of thousands of pieces of data, information, and feedback we received from our fellows. I recall one fellow saying, “AWARD has been the backbone of who I am today and it has given my life a new meaning.” When you get testimonials like this over and over and over again, you know something is happening. In her own words, “I remember when I started my National Service after school at a Research Institution, I felt all hope was lost and there was nothing I could do to contribute to the growth and development of the country. However, with my experience and exposure through AWARD, I have become more confident, more aware of myself, very assertive and above all more visible. I really felt I was a different person on stage when I was making my presentation for the role modeling event because as feeble as I was now I’m able to stand in front of about 350 students and speak with confidence.”
An inspiring reflection is from a male mentor who has been a senior leader for years, before joining AWARD. He shared that through his AWARD experience, it was the first time he got to see things from a woman’s perspective. He got a deeper understanding and appreciation of the challenges a lot of these women researchers are facing in their organizations (including his own) and careers. He said, “Not only have I become a better mentor and leader; this experience also has made me a better husband and father.” Sometimes the most powerful consequences are unintended….
Someone asked me if it is now becoming any easier for African women scientists to engage in Agricultural Research and Development? Honestly, I don’t know if it’s becoming easier or not, but I do know that organizational climate and awareness have changed in many institutions. I also realize that there is still a lot more work to do. I am convinced that AWARD is uniquely positioned to continue to drive positive and meaningful change for the betterment of the careers of women scientists in African Agricultural Research and Development, their organizations, and the sector at large. AWARD’s task now, is to find committed partner organizations and investors who want to join on that journey in the coming years.