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Growing Talents: Youth in Agriculture #2 – Nadia Manning-Thomas

Our Growing Talents: Youth in Agriculture series of interviews, which puts a face to the youth in agricultural research for development (ARD), hears their voices and obtains an insight into their roles, perspectives, experiences and aspirations, continues by turning the spotlight on the ICT-KM Program’s Nadia Manning-Thomas. This is the first of our interviews under the “Youth making agricultural knowledge travel” chapter. Click here to find out more about the series.

Nadia first worked with the ICT-KM Program between 2007 and 2009 as the Project Leader of the Knowledge Sharing in Research project, and recently came onboard again as a Knowledge Sharing in Research Specialist. Hosted at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) in Addis Ababa, she is working on the global initiative for Coherence in Information for Agricultural Research for Development (CIARD), and she is also on the Steering Committee of the Young Professionals’ Platform for Agricultural Research for Development (YPARD).

Nadia’s interest and involvement in youth in ARD stems from her own experiences.

“The voices of young scientists in the CGIAR, my own included, are not always being heard,” she explains. “I’ve sometimes felt hesitant about putting up my hand or saying something or being chosen to have a more direct role in meetings. I’ve worked hard to give myself more confidence to overcome that. In that regard, YPARD is trying to partner with other groups to give training in leadership and presentation skills, while exploring other training avenues that can benefit young people.”

Even now, as a young professional trying to promote innovation and doing things differently in the realm of research, Nadia often encounters firmly entrenched work and reward systems in the CGIAR. Being a young woman trying to drive such change just adds another dimension to her challenge.

Making agricultural knowledge travel

Nadia likens her present work to that of a travel agent, as she is focused on learning about, promoting and supporting the implementation of appropriate pathways for making CGIAR agricultural knowledge travel. In particular, she works on improving knowledge sharing in research by trying to find out how to motivate researchers to share knowledge more, while also exploring and promoting ways in which researchers and research projects can effectively share their knowledge.

“The knowledge that exists within various institutions, people and places often stays within the small spheres in which it is generated and is not widely shared, limiting wider learning and the enhancement of practices,” she says. “Some say we need better knowledge sharing, others talk about coherence in information systems, but all we want is for valuable knowledge about agriculture to travel: to move from one person to another, from one place to another, from one institution to another … This is where not only traditional media but also the growing range of ICTs and social media tools have a role to play.”

Although Nadia has a lot of face-to-face knowledge sharing facilitation experience and has worked directly with community groups and multi-stakeholder platforms and networks, she previously had little experience working with websites, social media and other ICTs. However, all of that changed when she joined the ICT-KM Program, and she is now a big fan of blogging (check out some of her blogs) and microblogging.

“I believe that social media tools offer us new ways of having conversations and collaborating with others across geographical spreads,” she says. “They also help keep travelling costs and our carbon foot prints to a minimum. My heart is always in face-to-face interactions, but if we can get similar benefits from virtual methods, then we will be able to increase our interactions with a wider and more diverse set of people.

“Young people are also adopting social media and new information and communication technologies at a faster pace than any other age group; this offers an opportunity for the wider spread of information and easy access for its application. There are many young professionals out there pushing the boundaries and trying out new things, and they need support for what they are doing.”

YPARD involvement

The YPARD Steering Committee draws mainly on Nadia’s knowledge sharing in research experience and her exposure to and involvement with ICTs. When she first joined the organization, she advocated the development of a more innovative communications strategy, which resulted in a new website. More recently, when they were looking for a new YPARD Coordinator, she felt strongly that the terms of reference should mention the need for strong communication and knowledge sharing skills, as most of the Coordinator’s work involves getting the word out there through multiple avenues, using tools like social media, and finding innovative ways to reach young people and inform organizations about the role of young people.

“YPARD is trying to use a number of different channels for sharing and brokering relevant and useful information for young professionals,” she says. “Although our website offers information on job opportunities, funding opportunities, student opportunities, etc, we have found that young people want more than just information pushed from our side. They also want to discuss things with each other – like what it’s like to be a young person in agriculture, university curricula, what they are learning (and not learning) and their views on key topics in agriculture. We need to see YPARD knowledge as a combination of the ideas, perspectives and experiences of all of our members, and we need to ensure convenient access to this collective resource if it is to be of benefit.

“We’ve been looking at ways of facilitating these kinds of discussions: pulling together ideas from our young professionals, packaging them and sharing them in proposals, projects and big agricultural development meetings and conferences, so we can represent the views of the youth on things like climate change, sustainable agriculture and conservation agriculture. We’ve also fought hard to secure a certain number of places and funding for young professionals at some of the big conferences. For example, in 2009, we advocated for one young professional from each CGIAR Center to be funded to attend the CGIAR Science Forum in the Netherlands.  Each of the young professionals was required to actively participate during these sessions. This gave them a greater perspective of how their work contributes to the larger picture.”

Linkages between YPARD and the ICT-KM Program

“YPARD needs to make use of all the Program’s lessons and experiences,” says Nadia, “especially with regard to reaching out, creating engagement and interactions, and keeping abreast of those new social media tools that are being taken up to help knowledge travel. The Program can work with young professionals and establish a mindset about the value of knowledge sharing and being innovative with communications, learning, and monitoring and evaluation. All of which can prime today’s youth to take their growth and embed it into future management policies.”

Personal benefits

Nadia feels she has benefited greatly from her work both with the Program and with YPARD.

“Through the Program I’ve had many opportunities to learn new skills, share my ideas, and grow. As for YPARD, this is the first time I’ve been on a steering committee, so it has been a real learning curve. I never thought I would have had such an opportunity at my age, so this experience has been invaluable. I’ve increased my own skills while expanding my professional network.  Also, with all my knowledge sharing work, being part of YPARD gives me another hat and increased credibility as a result of my work with young professionals and my attempts to get them involved.

“Overall, whatever I do, whether it be for the Program or for YPARD or for my own personal benefit, it is about making knowledge travel.”

Kudos to Nadia for taking on a voluntary position that she has successfully integrated into her myriad responsibilities with the ICT-KM Program.

If you have an interest in joining YPARD, please either respond to this post or write directly to Nadia at N.Manning@cgiar.org

Watch this space for another interview in our Young Voices in Agriculture Series!