Efforts to create new science, technology and innovation (STI) initiatives that aim to reduce gender inequality should be complemented by scaling up existing local initiatives with a proven ability to innovate and evolve, argues Calestous Juma.
A policy statement recently published by the US Agency for International Development (USAID) says gender equality is key to prosperity, and stresses the role of STI in closing the gap. This can be achieved by identifying the "many local experiments around the world that could be upgraded with modest additional resources", says Juma.
For example, the African Rural University (ARU) for Women in Uganda — developed by the Uganda Rural Development and Training Initiative (URDT) — helps empower women through agricultural education, with programmes that meet local needs while allowing take-up of new technologies.
USAID and other development cooperation agencies can make use of such initiatives, writes Juma. The ARU is the first women-only African university, and builds on the URDT's history of improving food security, raising family incomes and improving nutrition. A key feature of this approach is community-university interaction that focuses on women and agriculture.
Other initiatives include an experimental farm where new agricultural techniques can be developed; a local radio programme that shares agricultural information; and a programme that connects communities and international scientists to develop new agricultural tools and improve productivity.
These initiatives show that nongovernmental organisations "do not always have to stay small and have great potential to grow into pioneering universities, hospitals and public corporations", says Juma.