As a GREAT mentor, I have had a wonderful opportunity to support GREAT participants through their journey of conducting gender research by sharing my knowledge, skills, experience and encouraging them along the way. I happened to have been matched with two wonderful researchers – Lilian Nkengla Asi, working with IITA, Cameroon, and Bonaventure Aman of Bioversity International, Uganda. The team is currently working on a gender-focused project titled: Understanding gender relations in Banana Bunchy Top Disease (BBTD) Containment and recovery, aimed at understanding how gender differences shape decisions of men and women in the banana value chain in BBTD affected areas in Ambam District, Cameroon.
The Week 1 training of the GREAT course gave me an opportunity to interact with my mentee team for the first time and enabled us to engage more deeply with the topic, specifically, refining their research question, methods and budget for gender responsiveness. The team portrayed a lot of enthusiasm during this process and was always keen to apply what they had learnt to their actual project. Indeed, the enthusiasm and hard work paid off! They won a $4,200 competitive seed grant from the GREAT project to enable them to practically apply gender-responsive research knowledge and skills acquired during the training with special attention to the use of mixed research methods and collection of sex-disaggregated data. Only 5 out of 11 teams won this top grant while the rest received $1,500 apiece.
My interaction with the team continued immediately after the week 1 training in September 2016, where we mainly focused on designing relevant tools for the group’s research question, and coming up with an appropriate budget and work plan. While the team drafted these documents, I continuously provided timely comments that they revised and bounced back to me for review and endorsement. So far, they have the focus group discussion and key informant interview schedules ready and are finalizing the survey before they can embark on data collection, hopefully during this month (December, 2016).
GREAT mentorship requires us to engage at least one hour a week, using agreed upon mediums of communication such as email, dropbox and skype. While I tried very much to follow the requirements, I realized that my mentees instead preferred email exchanges which I gladly adapted to. Generally, the communication was very productive especially up to November 2016. Beyond this (December, 2016), I have realized that the morale has been affected by the competing demands on the part of my mentees with one having gone on leave and expected back on the 19th December and another one busy with work schedules. Unfortunately, this has slowed down our progress and may affect the early start of fieldwork.
Interestingly, while my mentees have become busy, I feel happy that I still have the time and enthusiasm to follow on. This experience has become a challenge to me as a mentor such that sometimes I feel I am encroaching too much on my mentees space with my several check in emails to ignite their enthusiasm.
All in all, as a mentor, it has been and continues to be a fulfilling experience driven by my personal passion to share, learn and be part of the GREAT goal to strengthen the capacity of agricultural researchers in sub-Saharan Africa to conduct gender-responsive research, and transform societies.