GFAR blog

No pausing for the pandemic – e-Mentoring for inclusive, equitable agriculture

Blog post by Cathy Reade, Director of Outreach, Crawford Fund

The arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the cessation of international travel in early 2020 dramatically impacted the Crawford Fund’s mentoring, training and Master Class activities. The Fund’s capacity building program has involved over 13,000 developing country agricultural scientists, extension staff and farmers in a diverse range of topics in over 55 countries.

To fill the gap and continue to build relationships and capacity, the Crawford Fund launched an e-mentoring program to ensure it could continue to help develop the technical and organisational skills and expertise of agricultural researchers, scientists and policy makers in developing countries.

“We were confident there are wonderful Australian senior or recently retired scientists and managers who might be interested in contributing a small amount of their time to serve as mentors to colleagues in developing countries,” said the Fund’s CEO, Dr Colin Chartres when announcing the e-mentoring program. 

He was right. The pilot of this initiative quickly filled to include 35 e-mentor-mentee pairings, with mentees based around the world in Bangladesh, Bhutan, Fiji, Ghana, India, Indonesia, Iran, Japan, Malaysia, Myanmar, Nepal, Pakistan, Philippines, PNG, Samoa and Uzbekistan.

The focus of the mentoring was not limited and ranged from management through to very technical research skills. Examples of topics covered included science communication, project proposal writing, research leadership and management, interdisciplinary gender research, genetic resources, scaling up innovation, international research collaboration, soil and microbe interactions, climate-smart agriculture, agricultural extension, irrigation technology, agricultural economics, experimental design, food safety, post-harvest product storage, plant breeding, labor-saving agronomic systems, market and value chain analysis and socio economics in agricultural research.

We have been presenting some reflections from mentors and mentees on their experience working together. One pairing committed to extending their partnership beyond the current initiative is Associate Professor Jes Sammut from the University of New South Wales and his e-mentee Kamrul Hassan Suman, Research Assistant-Environment & Aquatic Biology division, ABEx Bio-Research Center, Bangladesh.

“I have seen the benefits of informal mentoring of my ACIAR  project team members – mentoring not only builds professional skills; it also builds self-worth, self-esteem and belief in a mentee’s capacity to do more and better than they might think they are capable of,” said Jes.

“I feel lucky and honoured to have a great mentor, Professor Jes Sammut for guiding me on the right path. He is not only a good teacher but also a nice leader and friend. I really appreciate the e-mentorship program offered by The Crawford Fund. I firmly believe this award would help me not only professionally succeed but also make me a person of value,” said Kamrul.

The e-mentoring program not only delivered benefits to the international recipients, but also to the Australian mentors according to Mark Peoples, formerly Research Director at CSIRO Agriculture & Food.

When asked about his experience mentoring Abigail May Retuta, a Science Research Specialist, at the Department of Science and Technology, Philippine Council for Agriculture, Aquatic and Natural Resources Research and Development, he said he “gained asense of satisfaction from assisting the career and personal development of a young international scientist, and that he also valued the additional training to improve his mentoring skills as he had never formally received any such guidance before.”

“I am developing more leadership skills across diverse cultures, gaining a personal sense of satisfaction from knowing that I am transferring my knowledge to help someone, and it is helping my own self-reflection and development in mentoring the younger generation in my professional field,” said Dr Robert Mensah, Senior Principal Research Scientist & Director Australian Cotton Research Institute at the NSW Department of Primary Industries, reflecting on his experience as an e-mentor.

“I received a lot of guidance from my mentor in solving issues related to my research work and workplace. I was also exposed to a different perspective and culture, and it has broadened my knowledge as a leader,” said his e-mentee Dr Farah Farhanah Haron, Deputy Director of the Malaysian Agricultural Research and Development Institute (MARDI).

Despite the lack of face-to-face opportunities, the online partnerships continued the Fund’s vital work to build inclusive, equitable agricultural and food systems.

This initiative has been very worthwhile during a global pandemic to maintain connection; develop the capacity; and hear the voices of young and early career scientists operating in key positions across many developing nations for life beyond COVID.

Webinars aimed at providing insights on the e-mentoring experience and gathering suggestions for shaping and improving the initiative will be held on 30 September, as this initial round of e-mentoring draws to a close.

The Crawford Fund will soon call for expressions of interest for the second round of e-mentoring and would welcome approaches. Follow @Crawfordfund to hear when the next round of e-mentoring opens and what life is like for our e-mentees back in the field.

As a Partner in GFAR, Crawford Fund recognizes the crucial need to prepare young people to face the challenges and seize the opportunities emerging within our quickly evolving agri-food systems. For more on GFAR’s focus area on strengthening organizational and individual capacities, click HERE.

This blog is part of the GFAR Partners in Action series, celebrating the achievements of our diverse network of partners who are working together to shape a new, sustainable future for agriculture and food. Each month we will be showcasing stories related to a key theme in agri-food research and innovation. The theme for September is ‘Safe and nutritious food systems for all’.

Join the conversation in the comments below or share this article on social media using #GFARinAction.

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