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New partnership with Canada to support Early Career Women Scientists in the developing world

September 01, 2017

OWSD and Canada partner to empower Early Career Women Scientists to become leaders in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) through a new fellowship programme.

Canada’s International Development Research Centre (IDRC) has pledged approximately USD6 million to OWSD over the next five years, matching the contribution renewed by long-term donor Sweden. The agreement was signed by UNESCO and IDRC in August 2017.

The two donors, IDRC and the Swedish International Development Agency (Sida) agreed to pool resources in order to provide a comprehensive career development programme for women scientists from 66 of the world's least developed and scientifically lagging countries (STLCs). OWSD now has two major fellowship strands: an existing PhD training programme funded since 1998 by Sida, and the new Early Career Women Scientist (ECWS) programme, funded by IDRC. The aim of the PhD programme is to enable women from STLCs to leave their home countries and travel to better equipped laboratories and departments in other developing countries in order to complete their training to internationally competitive standards. The aim of the Early Career programme is to enable women with PhDs to stay in their home countries and continue their research, while training new PhDs and building a research team and centre of excellence in their field.

"PhD graduates often return to their home institutions only to find themselves in a scientific vacuum," explains OWSD President Jennifer Thomson, emeritus professor of Biotechnology based at the University of Cape Town, South Africa. "This new funding from IDRC aims to fill that vacuum and assist young women scientists to gain a foothold on the ladder to scientific development and future excellence. It aims to help these women not only to become leaders in their field of research, but also to become influential voices in their country for women in science."

Naser Faruqui, Director of Technology and Innovation at IDRC, commented that "IDRC is most pleased to join Sida in enabling OWSD to extend its longstanding graduate fellowships programme now to early-career women scientists. OWSD's expanded programme should encourage more young women to pursue and advance in their research career, through leading research teams at home, participating in international networks and collaborating with industry for their results to help build more inclusive societies."  

OWSD can now offer a full suite of mechanisms to support women scientists throughout their careers, increase their influence as scientific leaders in their field or institution, and engage them in innovation through partnership with industry. With IDRC funding, OWSD will target early career women employed at their home institutes in the South and provide the individual and institutional support they need to make sustainable links with industry and the private sector. A total of 60 women are expected to start and complete their fellowships by 2021, receiving support and training to set up laboratories and head research teams as well as transform their research ideas into marketable products. The first call for applications will go online in March 2018 and the first cohort of 20 fellows announced by October 2018.

Tonya Blowers, OWSD Coordinator, will be working with members of the OWSD Secretariat to put the plan into action. She echoed the enthusiasm about the collaboration: “This new funding from IDRC takes the support OWSD can give to women scientists from developing countries to another level. We can now offer opportunities to women to enable them to stay in or return to academic institutes in their home countries and build up research laboratories or departments with international reputations for scientific excellence. These centres will become places that scientists from all over the world will want to visit and in this way more women from developing countries will become leaders and influential voices in science: choosing not just the kind of research that is done, but how, why and where it is done.”

For the past 20 years, with Sida funding, OWSD has awarded over 400 PhD fellowships in least developed countries and sub-Saharan Africa, and over 210 of these awarded fellows have graduated; there are currently over 160 women completing their fellowships. With renewed Sida funding, OWSD will support an additional 140 women from STLCs to obtain PhDs over the next five years. OWSD alumnae have often overcome great challenges to achieve research excellence and many are now lecturers and principle investigators in their home institutions. However, they still face many challenges.

With the new ECWS award at postdoctoral level, awardees (who may have received an OWSD PhD fellowships in the past although this is not a pre-requisite) will be able to invest their energy and scholarship in building a research environment both at regional and international level. The award will have an important impact on local research cultures as well as on the awardees themselves, enhancing the visibility of their past work and creating new opportunities for the future.

Other donors may wish to expand existing strands or create new ones (mentoring, national chapter support, regional networking, professorial chairs, industry-to-academia fellowships, discipline-based groups). The Elsevier Foundation already funds a highly successful awards scheme run by OWSD to annually reward 5 Early Career Women Scientists from developing countries.

About the Partners

The International Development Research Centre (IDRC)

Part of Canada's foreign affairs and development efforts, IDRC invests in knowledge, innovation, and solutions to improve the lives of people in the developing world. IDRC supports leading thinkers who advance knowledge and solve practical development problems. It providing the resources, advice, and training they need to implement and share their solutions with those who need them most. Working with its development partners, it multiplies the impact of its investments and brings innovations to more people in more countries around the world. IDRC also offers fellowships and awards to nurture a new generation of development leaders. Established by an act of Canada's parliament in 1970, its head office is located in Ottawa, Canada, with four regional offices in Cairo, Egypt; Montevideo, Uruguay; Nairobi, Kenya; and New Delhi, India.

The Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida)

Sida has supported OWSD financially since 1998. Sida is a government agency working on behalf of the Swedish parliament and government, with the mission to reduce poverty in the world. Through its work, and its cooperation with a total of 36 countries in Africa, Asia, Europe and Latin America, it contributes to implementing Sweden’s Policy for Global Development (PGU) by allocating aid and other funding to enable poor people to improve their lives. Sida assists the government with assessments and information gathering, in order to decide and implement development assistance according to priorities identified by the Swedish government. Sida is tax-funded and administers approximately half of Sweden’s total development aid budget. Its work is performed in a cost-effective way with a strong focus on results. Sida has more than 700 employees, located in three offices in Sweden as well as abroad in its cooperation countries.

Click here for more details about the Early Career Women Scientists Fellowship Programme.