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IDRC, OWSD join on fellowships for women

IDRC, OWSD join on fellowships for women

A new OWSD programme to provide fellowships to women scientists in the early stages of their careers has been launched thanks to a generous commitment from Canada’s International Development Research Centre.

A new programme from the Organization for Women in Science for the Developing World (OWSD) will provide 60 women in developing countries with much-needed support for their postdoctoral careers. The aim: Open future opportunities in academia and bring greater gender balance to scientific institutions throughout the South.

The Early Career Women Scientists Fellowship Programme is made possible by an investment of about US$6 million over 4.5 years, provided by Canada’s International Development Research Centre (IDRC). The fellowships support women who have already earned their science PhDs and are now working at academic institutes in their home countries – drawn from a list of 66 eligible developing nations. The new programme will be the focus on a strategic workshop starting 20 November in Trieste, Italy, that will feature discussions among OWSD alumnae, education and business leaders and IDRC officials on the upcoming launch of the fellowships.

The first call for applications is anticipated in March 2018, and the first 20 fellows will be announced by October 2018. Sixty women in all are expected to begin or complete their fellowships by 2021. 

IDRC committed to the investment in August, matching the contribution already provided by the Swedish International Development Agency (Sida) for OWSD’s existing PhD training programme. The funds will support an innovative new programme that provides comprehensive career development for women at a stage in their careers when they are vulnerable to disillusionment resulting from the difficulties of acquiring funds and other support for their work. 

OWSD and IDRC joined to announce the new programme at the 11th Gender Summit that took place 6-8 November in Montreal. 

"IDRC is most pleased to join Sida in enabling OWSD to extend its longstanding graduate fellowships programme now to early-career women scientists,” said Naser Faruqui, director of technology and innovation at IDRC. “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."  

"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 at the University of Cape Town in 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."

The fellowship is designed to help provide these women with resources, allowing them to conduct their research as they establish their careers. Grants issued under the programme can be used for a variety of career-building uses, including child and family care. The women will get  individual and institutional support to make sustainable links with industry and the private sector. This will help them stay in scientific careers by providing them with more opportunities to work and publish, expanding their future opportunities, and preventing their isolation from the rest of the scientific community. 

The Sida-funded PhD fellowship programme has already provided OWSD with a record of success. It awarded over 400 PhD fellowships in Least Developed Countries and sub-Saharan Africa, and over 210 of these fellows have graduated. Many alumnae are now lecturers and principal investigators in their home institutions. 

“This new funding from IDRC takes the support OWSD can give to women scientists from developing countries to another level,” said OWSD Coordinator Tonya Blowers. “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.”

While women make up 52% of the undergraduates in science globally, at the PhD level that number shrinks to 43%. And beyond the PhD level, only 28% of researchers are women. 

The strategic workshop, from 20-24 November, 10 OWSD alumnae as well as representatives from IDRC, academic institutes in developing countries and experts in relevant fields and the private sector will discuss the new programme, providing feedback that will help shape and fine-tune the programme. Representatives from private companies and industry with strong links to academia and experience in converting research into marketable products have also been invited.

Details about the new programme are available here. More information on the new programme will become available in January, following the inception workshop.

OWSD and The World Academy of Sciences (TWAS) are affiliated organisations, with TWAS hosting OWSD offices in Trieste, Italy.


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.

The Organization for Women in Science for the Developing World (OWSD)

The Organization for Women in Science for the Developing World is an independent, nonprofit and non-governmental body based at the offices of TWAS, in Trieste, Italy. Founded in 1987, OWSD is the first international forum to unite women scientists from the developing world with the objective of strengthening their role in the development process and promoting their representation in scientific and technological leadership. OWSD has over 6,000 members, and over 90% of them are women living and working in developing countries who have masters degrees or PhDs in science-related fields.