Making women central to increased innovation in Africa

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[NAIROBI] As I interact with scientists and development experts, I am convinced that embracing science, technology and innovation (STI) is an integral component of Africa’s social and economic growth.
My conviction of STI’s importance to Africa’s development was given impetus when I attended the Grand Challenges Africa meeting in Kenya last month (24-26 February).  
The meeting hosted 475 members of the scientific community from 43 countries around the world.

Women and girls are central to the connection between STI and development in Africa.

Sam Otieno

Grand Challenges Africa is a family of grant initiatives designed to foster innovation in solving key global health and development problems. The initiative has invested in 380 projects across Africa to develop, launch and manage Africa-specific innovations for addressing development challenges that could prevent African countries from reaching the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
The meeting was convened by the African Academy of Sciences’ Alliance for Accelerating Excellence in Science in Africa platform, in partnership with the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) Agency and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
The key message that struck me most at the Grand Challenges Africa meeting was that women and girls are central to the connection between STI and development in Africa. Experts at the meeting emphasised that women and girls should not be sidelined but must be placed at the centre of development.
I met Ruth Kagia, a senior adviser in the Office of the President of Kenya at the meeting, and she told me that it is necessary for African governments and policymakers to support the commercialisation of innovations and create a platform where women are given equal opportunities as men in the innovation sectors.
“Putting women and girls at the centre of development ensures an improvement in women’s access to resources, which will increase their productivity and output in the economic sectors that they are involved in,” Kagia noted. “This will in turn translate into higher incomes, healthier families and better education.”
Indeed, as we celebrate this year’s International Women’s Day today (8 March), I hope that the theme — Pledge for Parity — will not end today. In particular, we should back pledging for gender parity in investing in innovations with real action.
Kagia said that innovation is not for men alone, and I concurred as I recalled that African women and girls face many barriers restricting them from progressing effectively and reaching their full potential, yet they make more than 50 per cent the continent’s population.

Listening to Kagia reinforced my belief that encouraging women and girl innovators would ensure that the innovations they develop are in line with the SDGs and also relevant to the needs of societies in which the innovations are being developed.
As the Grand Challenges Africa meeting closed, I was convinced that there is a need for African governments to ensure the scale-up of innovations created by women researchers and scientists to reach the intended users and beneficiaries — in most cases women and girls.
This piece was produced by SciDev.Net’s Sub-Saharan Africa English desk.