Funded by the Islamic Development Bank and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, an international center for agriculture is promising to lay the ground work for a women empowerment initiative aimed at scientists, reportedly the first of its kind in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region.
The International Center for Biosaline Agriculture (ICBA) launched the design phase of the Young Arab Women Scientists Leadership Programme, dubbed Tamkeen (literally meaning empowerment in Arabic) this month.
Nature Middle East speaks to Setta Tutundjian, director of partnerships and knowledge management at ICBA, about the potential of this gender-specific science programme.
NME: How will your programme empower women involved in scientific research across the Middle East?
Setta Tutundjian: The objective of the Tamkeen program is to encourage young Arab women scientists to pursue a life-long career within the field of scientific research and development. The programme also aims to help women scientists interested in pursuing leadership positions to acquire the skills necessary to assume such leadership position within research institutes across the region.
The programme will develop leadership and soft skills among participants in key areas such as negotiation, human resource management, science writing, proposal writing, planning, presentation, mentoring, deeper understanding of self-esteem and so on.
We expect this to be achieved through a careful mix of classroom training, online training, coaching and mentoring.
NME: You’re still designing the programme, correct?
ST: Yes. And a critical part of this phase includes conducting focus group discussions and interviews with young women scientists to fully understand the challenges and opportunities they currently face within their careers, as well as to hear from them on the elements of an ideal leadership program that can help them address some of the challenges they face. We want to build a program primarily based around their needs and aspirations.
NME: By identifying the barriers and challenges, do you mean that you plan to launch country-specific investigations into how women are faring in the research and development field?
ST: Besides focus group discussions and interviews with the women, the design phase will also include an assessment of current academic programmes on offer in the region and whether these programmes cater to leadership development among graduates. There will also be an assessment of regional and international capacity building programmes to leverage learning and best practices.
During the coming months, a gender expert, a leadership expert and an expert in training activities will gather to prepare modules and produce a detailed framework of the leadership programme incorporating the results of the various assessments.
NME: I can imagine that women in a country like Egypt would be facing starkly different challenges than, say, the women of the United Arab Emirates …
ST: We do have a unique understanding of the region and the differences that exist between the different countries, specifically when it comes to research and development. Our focus group sessions will be divided among three sub-regions (the Gulf, the Levant and North Africa) in order to cater to the differences among the regions and target countries.
NME: How do you plan to measure progress?
ST: Measuring short-term results will include references to quantity and quality of workshops, participant feedback, network reach and similar metrics. Measuring long-terms results and impact will consider the number of women leaders over time in research institutions in the region, and the increase in number of scientific publications of women scientists.