Dr. Rose M. Mutiso
Co-Founder and CEO of The Mawazo Institute, which supports the next generation of female scholars and thought leaders in East Africa, and promotes public engagement with research. She is also the Research Director of the Energy for Growth Hub, working with global experts to find solutions for energy deficits in developing countries. Rose is a Materials Scientist by training with research experience in the fields of nanotechnology and polymer physics.
What is the challenge you/your organisation is working on?
Africa lags behind the rest of the world in scientific output –producing only 1% of the world’s scientific publications, according to recent estimates (World Bank 2014), and faces a severe shortage of researchers, particularly at the PhD level and above. The participation of women in the African research space also remains low, with women accounting for 30%, or fewer, of researchers in most African countries (UNESCO 2018).
The Mawazo Institute is working to build the pipeline of next-generation female scholars and experts who can find homegrown solutions to Africa’s development needs. We believe that research and academia can be a tool for empowering African women, and conversely, that African women are key to unlocking the underutilized potential of our local knowledge ecosystems by infusing new talent, energy, and perspectives into research, policymaking, and public discourse. Through research funding, training and other support, we invest in young African women pursuing PhDs or engaged in promising early career research in STEM fields and the social sciences.
How does this issue affect women?
The African continent faces complex challenges that disproportionately affect women, such as climate change and rising inequality. Finding solutions to these challenges will require tools and perspectives from many disciplines and sectors — and the full participation of women. However, women in the region, much like in other parts of the world, continue to face structural barriers to their participation within spheres of influence, including the sciences and academia. This includes pervasive sexism and an unequal share of domestic and familial burdens.
Why is women’s leadership important on this issue?
If we look closer at issues such as energy access, an area that I have been working on for the past several years, we find that African women are significantly impacted by energy poverty yet remain largely excluded in finding needed solutions. Trying to find developmental solutions without the involvement of the people most impacted by the issues is a fragmented and disconnected approach. Increased participation of African women in academia can help ensure that African women are poised to shape and also reap the benefits of national and global development agendas.
At the same time, there also is a widespread belief across Africa that women are able to come up with policy ideas that are better for promoting development and ending conflict at the local level. For example, Liberia elected Ellen Johnson Sirleaf as its first female president after its 1989 – 2003 civil wars, partly on the strength of the belief that a woman would do more to promote peace and development.
How can women amplify their impact on this issue, and what’s necessary to help them combine their efforts?
To transform how the academic sector (and the whole of society) views women, and their role within it, we have to consistently push an agenda that says women and their contributions are valuable – we need to keep the volume turned up. At the one-to-one level, mentorship has proven to be very valuable both in my personal career, and within Mawazo. It is important that women working in spaces where they are underrepresented, find ways to mentor other women, providing much needed validation and guidance in maneuvering areas where women are still breaking barriers. We also need to find ways to work with senior men, who are often crucial gatekeepers in knowledge sectors, converting them to effective allies in our cause.
How important is collaboration to having an impact on this issue? What role does an initiative like the Daring Circle play in that shared work?
Collaboration with other like-minded individuals and initiatives goes a long way in increasing impact, particularly for small organizations such as ours which are serving beneficiaries with similarly limited resources. Mazawo’s work focuses on the academic sector, but business has an important role to play in expanding support for women so they see themselves in STEM careers and STEM-related roles. Initiatives such as the Daring Circle, help drive discourse on the importance of science and research in Africa’s development agenda, while centring the contributions of women – particularly young women – in these discussions.
This series of stories highlights women leaders and entrepreneurs who are driving positive impact on our most pressing global issues and demonstrating women’s unique contribution to inclusive solutions. It draws on the community of the Daring Circles – workgroups committed to positive impact in areas where women are most affected and where women are demonstrating outsize leadership. Share your stories with the hashtag #Women4STEM, and submit your own stories to the Women’s Forum editorial team by emailing Sophie Lambin (email@example.com).