WEFE Leadership Course nurtures transformational female leadership in Nepal

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To mark International Women’s Day, the March webinar of the CGIAR Initiative on NEXUS Gains looked back at the Initiative’s WEFE Leadership Course. Running from June to December 2023 in Nepal, the course – conducted in collaboration with GREAT International, Governance Lab, the International Water Management Institute (IWMI), and the Alliance of Bioversity International and CIAT – specifically addressed the need for greater equality and social inclusion in Nepal’s water, energy, food, and ecosystems (WEFE) sectors.

“We know that women in government, research, civil society, media, and NGOs have stressed the need for more confidence-building to work effectively in a male-dominated work environment,” explained Dr Manohara Khadka, IWMI’s Country Representative for Nepal and the webinar’s moderator. “To address this, the WEFE Leadership Course aimed to develop the transformational leadership capacity of women and men across WEFE sectors.”

Uneven commitment to gender equality

The research that inspired the course was discussed in more detail by Dr Marlène Buchy, a Senior Social Scientist at IWMI Nepal. In 2022, she and two colleagues interviewed 31 women and 34 men about the challenges they face working in WEFE sectors in Nepal. They also held a workshop with 20 female WEFE professionals to learn more about gender dynamics in the sectors.

“The study found that there are a range of issues that women in particular face,” explained Dr Buchy. “These can be broken down into behavioral biases – the idea that women and men have gendered roles they must perform – as well as institutional bottlenecks, such as a lack of resources for gender equality and social inclusion (GESI).” Dr Buchy also highlighted an uneven commitment to GESI across the sector, with some employers lacking any GESI policy or not prioritizing the implementation of gender-related laws and policies.

Supporting transformational leadership

An overview of the course itself was given by Dr Sanju Koirala, a National Researcher at IWMI Nepal. “The course had three main objectives,” she explained. “First, to develop the technical knowledge and analytical, advocacy, and negotiation skills of WEFE-sector professionals. Second, to support transformational leadership in the WEFE sectors. And third, to develop a cadre of female professionals who are aware of – and able to address – the structural barriers to GESI in their work.”

A total of 22 participants (17 women and 5 men) and 19 mentors (13 women and 6 men) were selected from government, civil society, and private sector organizations working in the WEFE nexus. From June to December 2023, these people participated in six learning sessions. There are plans for three follow-up and reflection sessions between April and December 2024. “This will allow participants to share what they are doing differently since the course as well as the challenges they have faced in doing so,” added Dr Koirala.

Experiential learning and mentorship

The design of the WEFE Leadership Course was discussed by Dr Bharat Pokharel, Chair of GREAT International, a Nepalese non-profit and one of the course’s organizers. “We focused on providing participants with transformation learning – changing the way people think about things – and experiential learning, which provides participants with memorable experiences.”

As this course was “a first of its kind,” Dr Pokharel admitted that some aspects of the training – particularly the mentoring component – could be improved. Nevertheless, he reported that the course has already led to the mainstreaming of the WEFE nexus approach in some workplaces, with participants now advocating for its inclusion in government policy documents.

The mentoring experience was discussed in more detail by Dr Meeta S. Pradhan, the Technical Lead for the course on behalf of GREAT International and one of the course’s 19 mentors. “Many volunteered to act as mentors, but only a few mentor–mentee pairs worked together over the full six-month training period,” she said. “We feel that a lot of mentees didn’t fully understand the potential of the relationship. We also heard that many mentees didn’t have the time to meet their mentors regularly.” Despite these challenges, several course participants reported positive and long-lasting mentoring experiences.

Participants’ perspectives

Attendees of the webinar then had the opportunity to hear from two of the course participants. Anjali Sai Chalise, Coordinator of Nepalese Youth for Climate Action, noted that it was the first time she had heard of the WEFE nexus, and that the course allowed her to better understand the challenges facing communities across Nepal. Srijana Shrestha, Undersecretary at the Ministry of Forests and Environment, said that she now thinks about water, food, and energy when planning and programming in her work.

Jigyasha Rai Yangkhurung, a Senior Divisional Engineer at the Nepali Department of Water Resources and Irrigation and another course participant, echoed this sentiment. “As a professional in the water sector, I naturally assumed that water should be the center of the universe,” she told webinar attendees. “Participating in this course broadened my understanding – not only of the WEFE nexus, but of how we can incorporate GESI into our WEFE nexus work.” Ms Yangkhurung mentioned the ‘learning diary’ – a personal journaling exercise – and the mentor–mentee relationship were her course highlights.

Deepa Oli, a Forest Officer at Ministry of Forests and Environment, agreed that the course had broadened her understanding of the WEFE nexus. However, she pointed out that siloed working among sectors is still very prevalent in Nepal, which is preventing the implementation of systems thinking. “If we really want to create WEFE outputs, we have to work at a policy and political level,” she said. “Because our institutions don’t yet allow us to work on the WEFE nexus.”

The hope is that the emerging cadre of leaders supported by the WEFE Leadership Course can now begin this much-needed policy work to make WEFE and GESI a reality throughout Nepal.

Didn’t catch the webinar? You can also listen to the podcast:

View the presentation by Marlène Buchy

View the presentation by Bharat Pokharel

View the presenation by Meeta S. Pradhan

Learn more about all the webinars in the series on the NEXUS Gains Talks landing page and subscribe to the NEXUS Gains newsletter to be the first to hear about upcoming Talks.

This work was carried out under the CGIAR Initiative on NEXUS Gains, which is grateful for the support of CGIAR Trust Fund contributors: www.cgiar.org/funders


Header image: Mentoring team and participants. Photo by GREAT International.

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