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Young ARD professionals link up

Young professionals are often considered too inexperienced to be valuable (© FAO/Jon Spaull)
Young professionals are often considered too inexperienced to be valuable
© FAO/Jon Spaull

In the challenging world of agricultural research for development (ARD), young professionals can bring a fresh perspective, enthusiasm, a grasp of new technologies and a willingness to embrace change. Unfortunately, being younger and less experienced can make it hard to be heard. Now, an open online network of professionals have connected to support, inform and share a voice with others under the age of 40 in The Young Professional's Platform for Agricultural Research for Development (YPARD).

Forty may not seem very young, but in some countries as many as 80 per cent of professionals employed in agricultural research institutes are over this age. Younger professionals are often considered too inexperienced to be valuable, and they may find themselves stuck for many years following the instructions of older colleagues, seldom participating in conferences or policy discussions. This imbalance is unfortunate for any young person starting a research career, and it also holds back much of what they have to offer.

It was at a typical international conference, the European Forum on Agricultural Research for Development in Zurich, in 2005, that a handful of young participants noticed how many important discussions were without any young voices. These young scientists formed the idea of an organised network for young ARD professionals, and the following year in New Delhi, at a side event of the triennial conference of the Global Forum on Agricultural Research (GFAR), YPARD was officially launched.

A coordinated effort

Young professionals can bring a fresh perspective to agricultural research (© Balasubramanian Ramani)
Young professionals can bring a fresh perspective to agricultural research
© Balasubramanian Ramani

YPARD Coordinator, Courtney Paisley, organises the platform's activities from FAO headquarters in Rome, where she is hosted by GFAR. "We operate within the structures of our host organizations," she explains. Working inside other organisations allows YPARD to share their hosts' resources, partnerships and authority. It also, she says, "gives us a stronger pull inside these organisations to promote young people within their own organisational structure." As a movement by young professionals for young professionals, YPARD has an open membership system requiring nothing but an email address to register on the website. "The current YPARD count is 2,530 registered in our system," Paisley reports, a growth rate of almost 50 members per month since the platform's launch, with an average age of 28.

Through its online young professionals' database, news updates, and regional events, YPARD allows members to share connections and information. It provides a forum for information about funding, scholarships, conferences, jobs, and new research, while also allowing young researchers to offer their own ideas for feedback from a safe and supportive group of peers. There are opportunities to attend meetings and workshops, to post reports of these meetings from the perspective of a young attendee, and the chance to organise side activities or independent events under YPARD.

Doing it yourself, together

In keeping with the platform's open framework, YPARD's regional and local branches operate autonomously, local representatives working within their own host organisations in the same way that Paisley operates in Rome. There are regional branches for Africa (hosted by FARA), Latin America (at CIAT), and Asia (at VIT University in Tamil Nadu, India). YPARD Asia representative Dr. R. Seenivasan is typical: he started as an advisor with YPARD India in 2007, at the age of 33. "It is really a wonderful opportunity to make my contribution," he says, "and I too have learned many things from this unique, worldwide platform."

YPARD promotes agriculture among young people (© FAO/Giulio Napolitano)
YPARD promotes agriculture among young people
© FAO/Giulio Napolitano

Dr. Seenivasan also organises for India, the country with the single largest YPARD membership. "We have a strong membership base in India due to our continuous and effective advocacy efforts and other Young Person programmes conducted in India on behalf of YPARD," he says. "We have been arranging tailor made training programmes in the last few years for young farmers and young professionals involved in ARD. This year we are planning to organise a short course on international grant proposal writing."

"YPARD members have overwhelmingly stated the need for guidance and increased networking opportunities in their field," Paisley concludes. "Currently we have a young professional in Kenya, Grace Mwaura, working on a mentoring strategy." Grace is also, incidentally, the first young person elected to the council of the International Union for Conservation of Nature. With her help a new online system, which will connect members with senior and peer-to-peer mentors, will launch by the end of the year. And, as always, it's the members doing it for themselves.

Written by: T. Paul Cox

Date published: March 2011

 

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