Jun 15, 2016
AWARD Director, Dr. Wanjiru Kamau-Rutenberg, reflects on AWARD’s ambitious plans for the future

Just over two years ago Dr. Wanjiru Kamau-Rutenberg took the helm as AWARD’s Director. In this interview she describes the journey and articulates a bold new vision for AWARD’s future.

You joined AWARD from a career academia as a Political Scientist and running Akili Dada, a young women’s leadership incubator. How would you describe your transition to the agriculture sector over the past 2 years?

The last 2 years have been full of excitement and learning. I have grown tremendously as a leader, and my passion for AWARD’s mission, and our vision of agriculture-led prosperity for Africa has never been stronger. I always knew that agriculture is critical to Africa’s prosperity, which is why I made the move to AWARD, but the past 2 years have really fired up my passion for the role of science and innovation in fully unlocking Africa’s agricultural potential. I’m excited to be at AWARD at this moment. I feel that we are addressing the right challenges, in the right ways, and at exactly the right moment in in Africa’s history. This truly feels like we have a magical date with destiny and I’m honoured to be part of the story we are currently writing for this continent and its farmers.

AWARD has been undergoing a strategic planning process. How are you connecting the dots between scientific innovation, gender responsiveness, and African prosperity?

We are preparing for an exciting new Phase III of AWARD (2017-2022) and have been engaging our vibrant AWARD community in a strategic planning process. We are now at the tail end of this process and I’m very excited for AWARD’s new direction.

Here is the big picture: An agriculture-driven transformation for Africa requires a long-term perspective which values the critical role of research and development in building agribusinesses that provide employment and food security to drive African prosperity. Agricultural value chains begin at the research stage and Africa cannot afford to ignore, or outsource its agricultural innovation needs. We must continue building a sustainable and resilient agricultural innovation system, ensuring that African agripreneurs, especially the farmers, have access to appropriate innovations that help them respond to Africa’s unique challenges.

AWARD Phase III will focus on supporting Africa’s agricultural innovation system to become more gender responsive: comprised of institutions and scientists whose research agendas respond to the needs and priorities of both men and women across the entire agricultural value chain. The new strategy is built on three pillars: 1; Continuing our investments in high potential African women scientists, 2; Supporting African ARD institutions to become more gender responsive, and, 3; Collating the evidence and convening conversations on the role of gender responsiveness in improve the efficiency and efficacy of African ARD.

AWARD is renowned for investing in African women scientists. Are women still essential to AWARD’s vision, and how important is their role in agriculture in Africa?

Investing in women scientists will remain critical to AWARD’s work in Phase III and is captured under Pillar 1 of the new strategy. I often make reference to an analogy that U.S. President, Barak Obama, a son of Africa’s soil, made during his last visit to the African continent. He compared failure to leverage the talents of women to a football team that fails to field 50% of its players during a critical match. When it comes to agriculture, Africa is playing a life-or-death match. We cannot affort to play with half a team. As a continent, we must avail ourselves of the talents, expertise, and experiences of our female scientists. Phase III of AWARD will see us continue investing in unlocking the talents of high potential African women scientists, but with a greater recognition that these scientists’ work within the larger context of agricultural research institutions and we cannot ignore that larger institutional context. That is why Pillar 2 and 3 of the new strategy focus on the larger conversation of the role of gender responsiveness within the larger agricultural innovation system.



African Women in Agricultural Research and Development (AWARD). Hosted by World Agroforestry Centre, United Nations Avenue, Gigiri. P.O Box 30677-00100 Nairobi, Kenya.

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