Friday 21 August 2015

Reflections on CIRCLE Programme: Personal thoughts and experience

By Dr Ifeanyi Ndubuto Nwachukwu, Michael Okpara University of Agriculture, Nigeria

Dr Nwachukwu spent his fellowship year at Kenyatta University, Kenya. After settling back into his home institution, he reflects on his time on the CIRCLE Programme.

The Climate Impact Research Capacity and Leadership Enhancement (CIRCLE) programme was borne out of the need to build the capacity of early career African Researchers in the area of climate change and its local impacts on development. The point of departure from other fellowships lies in CIRCLE’s approach in ensuring overall professional development. A case in point is the introduction of the Researcher Development Framework (RDF) which is a monitoring and evaluation framework for assessing professional development. In addition the fellow has the support of a team of professionals with proven track records as mentors, supervisors, and special advisors The Institutional Strengthening Component of the programme which aims to re-model the development strategies and systems of the fellows’ home institutions is configured to sustain the professional revolution kick.

Coming from the background and tradition where the bulk of academic work rests on the shoulders of junior academics, it is sometimes difficult to plan and execute personal professional development programmes. The tripod of 40:40:20 (40% - teaching; 40% - research and 20% - community service) which characterizes an ideal academic life is predominantly obscured and truncated by the systemic “pull-him-down” syndrome encountered by my class of academics. This, along with academic brain-drain across the continent, helps explain why most of the tertiary institutions in Africa are bottom heavy. My participation in the CIRCLE programme has now reversed the ugly trend by re-awakening my dampened consciousness for professional growth.

In this context, CIRCLE has provided a whole new scholastic milieu which creates a window for rich, rewarding and alien experiences. This has come in the form of a rare, novel opportunity to understudy new systems, structures, practices, cultures, languages etc… while executing my research project in the host institution. Upon arrival in January, I was tasked by my supervisor to develop a quarterly work plan to maximize time-management and also to serve as a monitoring and evaluation framework. Part of the plan was to undertake desk-based research to assess the sectoral effect of climate change in a cross-regional comparative context using time series data alongside my CIRCLE research project.

I subsequently won a book chapter slot in a competitive book project using an abstract derived from the research, the book chapter draft underwent several rigorous reviews. I must confess that the review process was the toughest in my entire academic life. On a happy note, the chapter has been accepted and an honorarium of $2,525 paid. The book titled “Milestones in Climate Compatible Development in Selected Countries of Eastern and Southern Africa” is organized by the Organization for Social Science Research for Eastern and Southern Africa (OSSREA), Ethiopia and supported by Danish International Development Agency (DANIDA).

Within my eight months stay, I have participated in two training workshops and a conference here in Kenya; one was organized by Consortium of Advanced Research Training in Africa (CARTA) for young researchers in conjunction with African Population and Health Research Center (APHRC), Kenya and the University of the Witwaterand (WITS), South Africa. The second was on Didactics, E-learning and Quality Assurance for Integrated Watershed Management (IWM) lecturers and facilitated by Prof. Jenny Day University of Cape Town, South Africa and Dr. Stefan Thiemann (IWM Expert GmbH, Kempten, Germany). The conference was the 2nd Africa Ecosystem Based Adaptation for Food Security (EBAFOSC 2) conference organized by UNEP and held on 30 – 31 July, 2015 in Kenya. EBAFOSC – 2 paraded a good number of high profile researchers within and outside the continent who made very scintillating country specific presentations. I was able to gain greater insights into ecosystem based adaptation approaches and climate change situations in some parts of the continent which I find very useful in my research. The scientific discussion sessions were also very rewarding. The conference ended with the adoption of declaration for Nairobi Action Agenda on Africa’s Ecosystem Based Adaptation for Food Security.

Over the period under review, I have come in contact with a good number of researchers from different parts of the continent who are already collaborating with me on a number of research fronts. By the end of the CIRCLE programme, I hope that my skills and competences would have grown to champion the cause of climate change research in my home institution. The multiplier effect of this alien programme launch would be felt in the quantum and quality of research output emanating from the African continent in line with the vision and expectations of grooming home grown solutions to Africa’s development problems. I am most grateful to the DFID, ACU and AAS for this rare opportunity to be part of the CIRCLE programme.

Tuesday 11 August 2015

Role of ‘critical research friends’ in mentoring emerging researchers: Reflections from a mentorship workshop

By Joyce Maru, the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), Kenya
This post is re-posted with permission thanks to Joyce Maru from The International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI). For the original post, please follow this link.

The International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI)/CGIAR graduate fellowship program provides practical, hands-on mentorship support in well-resourced ILRI research laboratories and facilities in Kenya, Ethiopia and in other countries where ILRI operates.
This hands-on mentoring, usually in periods ranging from six months to three years, is an important component in developing the capacity of emerging developing-world leaders in agricultural research (at MSc, PhDs and postdoc levels). It also supports production of high-quality of research outputs from ILRI.

A key consideration in the graduate fellowship program is the need to understand and respond to the career and capacity needs of research fellows so that the mentoring supports them appropriately in designing and carrying out their work in developing-country contexts.
One of the ways in which ILRI is helping fellows is by giving them access to groups of ‘critical research friends’ made up of various mentoring supervisors. According to Costa and Kallick (1993) a critical friend is ‘a trusted person who asks provocative questions, provides data to be examined through another lens, and offers critique of a person’s work as a friend.’ The term is mostly applied in critical pedagogy and in contexts of mentoring and coaching to refer to support provided to individuals and groups undertaking a certain project. In ILRI’s context, graduate fellows or early-career researchers could, therefore, refer to their mentoring supervisors as their critical research friends.

I recently attended a training of trainers (ToT) workshop on mentorship in Johannesburg, South Africa, which was conducted by Vitae UK and organized through the CIRCLE fellowship program. In this blog post, I reflect on the key learnings I derived from the workshop and how I think they can be used to enhance ILRI’s approach to mentorship.
As a starting point, it is vital to clarify the different terminologies that are loosely and interchangeably used to refer to ‘mentorship support’ in research. For example, it is important to clarify whether when using that term, we mean ‘graduate fellow supervisors, mentoring supervisors, supervisors, line managers or coaches.

I prefer the term ‘critical research friend’ or ‘mentoring supervisor’ because, for example in ILRI’s case, graduate fellow supervisors often assume a hybrid role of mentoring graduate fellows although other informal mentoring relationships may emerge stemming from friendships with work colleagues.
Irrespective of approach used, however, the important question is what makes a good mentor? Is it correct to assume that line management relationships automatically become mentoring relationships? And moreover, how can we encourage line manages to take a mentoring approach to supervision? 

Qualities of a good mentor

During group discussions at the Johannesburg workshop, a mentor was portrayed as one with an ideal personality and demonstrating a long wish list of qualities, behaviour and competencies, but the top five qualities that I think a critical research friend should demonstrate include:
  • Generosity of spirit – mentoring is ingrained in their value system and they are always willing to share skills, knowledge and expertise with their mentees i.e. they are available as a resource and a sounding board;
  •;postID=47371528094188807;onPublishedMenu=posts;onClosedMenu=posts;postNum=0;src=linkThey always encourage and inspire their mentees to learn, improve and conduct cutting-edge research withintegrity;
  • Self-reflective and values ongoing learning and growth in the field;
  • Helps the mentees to set and meet ongoing personal and professional development Mentors continuously help their mentees to develop by highlighting, through constructive feedback, the areas that need improvement and by objectively focusing on the mentee’s behaviour and not their character;
  • Well respected and admired by colleagues and employees in all levels of the organization.

Making ILRI a centre of excellence in mentoring emerging/early career researcher

If we aspire to become a centre of excellent in mentoring and supporting emerging career researchers, some important considerations and reflections could include:
  • How does the mentorship scheme align with the strategic direction of the organization?
  • How do we identify and support those who have the values and qualities to become mentors?
  • Is there a strategic plan, leadership and champions for mentoring?
  • Is there a clear, formal policy and guidelines on mentorship? (Defined roles of mentor/mentee, implementation plan, mentoring support, evaluation and feedback mechanism);
  • Is it sustainable?
  • Is it a coordinated approach? Who leads the initiative?
  • How do we continue to develop mentoring skills and capabilities?
  • Can we demonstrate output and impact?
  • How do we reward and incentivize best practice?
  • How do we institutionally support good mentors with integrity and without exploitation?
  • How do we set boundaries for the institution, the mentor and the mentees?
  • How do we create a critical mass of mentors?
  • What alternative models can we create for a mentoring experience when resources are scarce?
  • Is it inclusive? (Gender sensitive, interdisciplinary, diversity);
Here a question can be posed on the extent of the need to have, in place, a unified/formalized mentoring system that allows equality of access and is quality assured. I think that quality assurance underpins effective mentoring relationships and, therefore, there is need for more systematic and constructive support and mentoring for emerging research leaders.
Joyce Maru is a capacity development officer at ILRI.

Friday 7 August 2015

Shifting from the Binary: Analyzing Climate Change Adaptation through the Intersectionality Lens

By Catherine Mungai, International Livestock Research Institute and Mercy Derkyi, University of Energy and Natural Resources 
Cohort 1 CIRCLE Visiting Fellows

Catherine Mungai (left) and Mercy Derkyi (right)

Understanding the diversities and interactions in men and women groups is the concept of intersectionality’
It is now widely recognized that the impacts of climate change and variability are not uniformly felt amongst communities in Africa. For example, based on their roles and responsibilities, female farmers and male farmers have differentiated vulnerabilities to climate change and consequently develop differentiated coping and adaptation strategies. However, it is important to recognize that addressing climate change impacts goes beyond whether one is a female or a male.  For a long time now, the issue of gender in climate change has been addressed through the binary lens i.e. male vis a vis female. While using this lens has brought to the fore that adaptation and mitigation strategies should address issues of equity, it is now increasingly becoming apparent that there are other dimensions such as religion, ethnicity, age, race, educational level and socio-economic levels that need to be considered during the development and implementation of adaptation and mitigation strategies. This was the main message emerging from the presentations made by Mercy Derkyi and Catherine Mungai during the Gender mainstreaming session at the 4th Climate Change and Population Conference on Africa (CC POP-Ghana 2015). The conference which was held at the University of Ghana from 29 - 31 July 2015, created an ideal platform to share ongoing research on climate change in Africa ahead of the upcoming 21st session of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP 21). Dr Derkyi and Ms Mungai were supported to attend the conference as part of their Climate Impact Research Capacity and Leadership Enhancement in Sub-Saharan Africa (CIRCLE) fellowship programme.

Experiences from the forest and agriculture sectors in Ghana

During her presentation on “Exploring Gender, Climate Change Vulnerability and Adaptive Capacity through an Intersectionality Lens,” on behalf of co-authors, Mercy emphasized the need for using an intersectionality lens to analyze climate change adaptation in the forest and agriculture sectors.  She pointed out that in most rural settings, the roles and responsibilities of gender are socially and culturally defined and these determine how communities experience and respond to climate change and variability. She further added that, disaggregated data by gender and more specifically its intersection with other social groups like class, age and wealth in Ghana are scarce. Most studies tend to focus on single variable such as gender thus projecting it as binary and such focus obscures the fact that gender takes meaning from its intersections with other identities. Through a literature review, she explains what intersectionality is and why it is needed; principles governing it and comparative analysis with other approaches; Gender as intersectionality and empirical evidence; Intersectionality in climate issues and steps to integrate intersectionality in academic research. Quoting Hankivsky (2014) she said People’s lives are multi-dimensional and complex thus shaped by different factors and social dynamics operating together’. She concludes that Intersectionality may not be a ‘’cure for all’’ but if explicitly oriented, it transforms, build coalitions among different groups and work towards social justice especially among gender and intersecting categories in the era of climate change.

Experiences on Climate-Smart Agriculture from Nyando, Kenya

Focusing on the agricultural sector, Catherine gave a presentation under the topic “Engendering Climate-Smart Agricultural Innovations in Kenya.” In her presentation, Catherine focused on the use of the intersectionality lens to analyze the uptake of climate-smart agricultural (CSA) technologies and practices in Nyando, Kenya. Catherine pointed out that the adoption of CSA, supported by enabling frameworks and institutions, is crucial to transforming African agriculture into a long-term and sustainable system. She further added that studies undertaken amongst farmers in Africa have shown that gender relations determine the ways in which the changing climate is experienced by small holder farmers. However, she also emphasized that not all women (nor all men) are the same in that they do not all have the same roles, levels of access to, and control over, resources or power in decision-making, since gender norms are also related to race, class, ethnicity, religion, and age. Using Nyando as a case study, emerging results from her studies reveal that there are differences in the uptake of climate-smart agricultural technologies and practices between different categories of men and women farmers. Nyando in Kisumu, Kenya is one of the learning sites where ongoing research on climate-smart agricultural technologies and practices, is being undertaken by the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS).

As a way forward both presenters emphasized the need to use the intersectionality lens to enhance the understanding of the synergies between gender and climate change in order to ensure that polices, strategies and plans on adaptation and mitigation to climate change yield equitable results for communities.

Please click on the following links to access the presentations:
This blog story was written by :

Catherine Mungai, Post-Masters Fellow
Home institution: International Livestock Research Institute/The CGIAR Research Programme on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security
Host institution: University of Nairobi/ Institute of Climate Change and Adaptation


Mercy Afua Adutwumwaa Derkyi (PhD), Post-Doctoral Fellow
Home Institution: University of Energy and Natural Resources
Host Institution: University of Ghana