What We Learned From… Starting the Mentoring Scheme WOMID

A guest post by Alex Dorgan and Beth Harrison.

WOMID is a new global mentoring initiative for women working in international development, facilitating mentorship between early career academics and practitioners. Alex Dorgan and Beth Harrison, the co-founders, tell us how they came up with the idea, the reason for the focus on women, and explain how WOMID is about more than mentoring.

Earlier this year we were discussing how great it had been to connect with some amazing and awe-inspiring women working on the practice side of development while we had been doing our PhDs. The great thing about about talking with these women is not just that they are supportive, inspirational and lovely people offering guidance, advice and reassurance, but also that they are genuinely interested in hearing about our research and often offer a completely different perspective!

We realised how lucky we were to have had the opportunities to meet these women and how much other early career academic women could benefit from the same. We thought it important that everyone realise how much support is out there and how beneficial a structured means for this to happen would be. It was therefore our own experiences of developing valuable relationships with inspiring women working in development – but a lack of a more formal and structured pathways to do so – that prompted us to set up WOMID.

Womid3There are several reasons why WOMID has been established as a women’s initiative:

  • International development is still male dominated especially in leadership and powerful positions, and especially in developing countries[Please contact use for details].
  • Women face higher numbers of considerations when working abroad and in different cultures (Desai and Potter, 2006): safety, familial responsibilities, cultural sensitivities towards dress, role of women in local societies etc.
  • Confidence issues are highly reported amongst women in international development and especially in early career academics.

Given the unique challenges and considerations that women face, we believe learning from other women’s personal and professional experiences is a brilliant strategy for addressing these issues.

In setting it up, WOMID has become more than just mentoring. It consists of four key elements: mentoring, bridging, networking and sharing.

womid

Mentoring

The benefits of mentoring have been widely applauded (Beltman & Schaeben, 2012; Dziczkowski, 2013; Ghosh & Reio Jr, 2013). However, there are limited mentoring opportunities specifically targeted towards female early career academics and in international development. In facilitating a mentoring relationship between early career academics and practitioners, we anticipate numerous benefits for both mentees and mentors.

Bridging

WOMID has been developed with the challenge of bridging the widely acknowledged gap in communication and information sharing between academia and international development practice (see here for more). WOMID hopes to become a hub through which this multidirectional exchange can grow beyond formal mentoring. The international aspect of WOMID also provides south-south and south-north partnerships that are still lacking.

Networking

A online forum, and both online and offline events, will create a supportive and professional network for all involved. We strongly believe that there is real need for women working in international development to have a friendly space to network and develop supportive and useful connections, boost self-confidence in professional contexts, and learn from each other.

Sharing

The WOMID blog will provide a space for sharing research findings, professional experiences, and reflections on international development as well as the WOMID mentoring experience itself.

The initial response we have received to WOMID has demonstrated a real demand for an initiative like this. For more information and to join us please check out our website: www.womid.org, and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. We’ll be taking initial registrations until October 30th.

This blog has been adapted from the original posted on the LSE Social Science Impact Blog on 15th October 2015.

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Womid2

Alex Dorgan is a final-year PhD researcher at the University of Sheffield and the University of York, where she works on climate compatible development in East Africa. Alex’s thesis examines the impacts of private-sector investment in carbon forestry and agriculture in Tanzania on local communities’ livelihoods, ecosystem services, and environmental knowledges. Alex tweets @alexdorgan about all things climate & development, feminism, politics, and things that make her smile.

Beth Harrison is a final year PhD student at the University of Leeds and is researching the multi-level governance complexities of community-based natural resource management in Zimbabwe. Elizabeth’s thesis aims to ultimately shed light on the wider institutional processes affecting natural resource management impacts and in doing so provide recommendations for the design and implementation of new community-based natural resource management type projects in sub-Saharan Africa. Elizabeth tweets @EPHarrison and blogs here.

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