Courtney’s interview (which falls under the “Youth and ARD: The good, the bad and the ugly – a closer look at opportunities, challenges, and issues” chapter) marks the first in a series of interviews that puts a face to the youth in Agricultural Research for Development, hears their voices, and obtains an insight into their roles, perspectives, experiences and aspirations. Click here to find out more about the series.
Sometimes, all it takes to change the course of our lives is a little whisper that stirs something within us, or an image flashing for a moment across a television screen, or, in the case of Courtney Paisley, a few well-placed words uttered during a coffee break. For it was during a short break from her work with one of the ICT-KM Program’s projects that this Canadian national heard the words that would ultimately lead her to cross continents to take up her present position as the Coordinator of the Young Professionals’ Platform for Agricultural Research for Development (YPARD).
When Courtney first began her work with the Program’s Online Learning Resources (OLR) project, she had never even heard of YPARD. But all of that changed when she attended a coffee break presentation four years ago at the World Agroforestry Center (ICRAF) in Nairobi, Kenya.
“The YPARD Coordinator at that time was visiting my Center,” Courtney recalls, “and he really grabbed my attention when he took the floor and said, ‘I want to speak to everyone under forty in the room.’ As a young professional, I was curious to find out more. That’s when I learned that there is an organization that gives a voice to young people involved in ARD by giving them an opportunity to air their views.”
YPARD especially appealed to Courtney because, like many other young people embarking on a career in ARD, she felt she was being passed over by senior staff members during the more important discussions relevant to her work. Of course, she also admits that a lack of confidence had a role to play in her silence too.
“I didn’t have much experience back then, and I wasn’t confident that my opinions and views were all that well-informed or even relevant to certain discussions,” she says. “Still, I was rarely asked for my input. I think it’s important to encourage youth and make them feel that their views are useful and helpful. YPARD can help build up their confidence by allowing them to tentatively present their ideas online for feedback from their peers before sharing their thoughts with their superiors.”
Shortly after joining YPARD, Courtney, who has a Master of Science from the University of Manchester (UK) in Environmental Governance, left the CGIAR to focus on environmental education programs on the ground, working with organizations like Oxfam and SolarAid. Her busy schedule gave her little time to even think about YPARD. Until, that is to say, the position of Coordinator was advertised earlier this year.
“When I saw the advertisement, something just clicked,” says Courtney. “I immediately saw what was needed and felt that the requirements matched my background extremely well. At the time, I really didn’t want to leave Kenya, but I was drawn to the position. I thought I could help connect the voice of youth with larger debates and discussions, something that still appears to be lacking four years after my initial involvement with YPARD. Although there’s a lot of understanding in the ARD community that young people are important and that they should be more involved, it’s just a lot of talk with not much coming from young people themselves.”
In common with the ICT-KM Program, YPARD focuses heavily on knowledge sharing. Indeed, Courtney’s skills in that area will be an asset to her new position – through her earlier work with the Program, she familiarized herself with various knowledge sharing methodologies and tools that can now be used to best effect.
“When I was working on the OLR project, I studied ways of sharing resources,” she says. “As a result, I try to avoid the replication of activities. For example, within YPARD we are looking to increase links with other networks, taking advantage of resources that have already been created by others; and conversely, sharing our resources with others. My work with the project also helped me facilitate online sessions. Sharing knowledge, information, ideas, opinions and funding news online will also help us build a solid network.”
Courtney also acknowledges the importance of ICT and social media in expanding YPARD’s networking.
As she says, “They are both very important because YPARD is global, with members all over the world. It’s definitely the key way to link people together – and not just to create our own network, but to also use existing networks and the ways that people already communicate with each other. We also plan to change our method of dissemination of the funding news from a newsletter to a blog.”
Throughout our interview, this young woman speaks enthusiastically about her new role and the possibility of helping youth to equip themselves for the best possible start as they embark on a career in ARD.
“We want every young professional to know about YPARD; to know there is a place where they can find and share information, and look for opportunities. By bringing youth to the table at different discussions, encouraging members to tell their friends and have them stream relevant discussions back to the community, we will surely become a network of value.”
Here’s wishing Courtney every success in her new role!