Nominating your outstanding women in development

On the day that IIED was meant to host its latest Barbara Ward Lecture we have launched a campaign to highlight outstanding women in development. Here, our staff nominate some of the women who inspire them.  

Article, 15 June 2020

The latest in IIED’s biennial Barbara Ward Lecture was scheduled for June 2020, with Rebeca Grynspan as the guest speaker. This latest in our series of lectures given by the current generation of outstanding women in development, in honour of IIED's founder, has now been postponed until 2021 when we can find the right time to reconvene. 

Nevertheless, IIED still intends to use this time and opportunity to celebrate outstanding women in development. This underlying theme and spirit of the IIED lecture series shows our support for all women doing amazing things in our sector, and IIED’s staff and others have come together to nominate some outstanding women.

We want to keep growing this list to include your contributions as well. Tell us who you'd like to see in our list of outstanding women...

Michelle Winthrop

Director Policy Unit, Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT), Government of Ireland – nominated by Tracy Kajumba

"Michelle was my supervisor when I worked as a senior regional advisor for climate change and development with Ireland DFAT, and what stood out for me was her commitment and self-drive," says Tracy. "She understood development dimensions from different perspectives, and her sense of equity and fairness on all perspectives was admirable. She treated others for their strengths and capabilities rather than their weaknesses and backgrounds – and she always voices the uncomfortable truth. 

"At COP23 [in Bonn, Germany] we were approached by Climate Wise Women, through the Mary Robinson Climate Justice Foundation, to support one grassroot woman leader – Constance Okollet, from Uganda – to attend the conference. Michelle proposed that Constance should get a delegate's badge for Ireland so she could witness and speak in spaces she would otherwise not be able to access, to amplify the voices of grassroots women. It was phenomenal for a Ugandan grassroots woman to hold a delegate’s badge for an EU country but Michelle, with the support of the head of delegation, made this happen.

Michelle Winthrop

Michelle Winthrop, left, with Constance Okollet at the 13th community-based adaptation conference in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia in 2019 (Photo: Tracy Kajumba, IIED)

"Michelle was also keen on engaging to bridge the gender gap within the UNFCCC processes. Before I left, we worked on a gender equality and climate justice policy brief that was launched at COP23. Leadership for women in climate spaces requires such support from global to national and local levels, and taking a whole-of-government approach, which Michelle worked hard to promote. Development work needs such outstanding champions in spaces where they can link local to global issues and support grassroot leadership."

Kumvana Mlumbe

Legal officer at the Women’s Legal Resources Centre (WOLREC) – nominated by Maggie Banda, director of WOLREC, Malawi.

“Kumvana works as a legal officer. She’s responsible for the socio-legal empowerment of women, and she does that through litigation, legal rights education, mediation and lecturing,” says Maggie. “Kumvana has been working to assist women that have legal problems, such as domestic violence, disposition of lands, inheritance issues, divorce and many other things.”

Kumvana Mlumbe

Kumvana Mlumbe works towards the socio-legal empowerment of women in Malawi (Photo: copyright WOLREC)

Mlumbe holds a weekly legal aid clinic where she provides legal advice as well as coaching women on how to represent themselves in low-level court cases. This has allowed around half of her clients to represent themselves; most winning favourable courtroom rulings.

“Currently, Kumvana is also responsible for a project that is funded by DFID through IIED,” adds Maggie about Mlumbe, who is demonstrating how socio-legal empowerment can contribute to gender justice – in the courtroom, in the classroom and in the village. “It’s on the socio-legal empowerment of smallholder farmers that are working in the tea industry. She’s been working with an association trying to empower them so they can advocate for better conditions.”

Kristalina Georgieva

Managing director of the International Monetary Fund – nominated by Paul Steele.

"Kristalina Georgieva inspires me as the environmental economist with the most power to drive positive change in the world right now," says Paul.

Kristalina Georgieva

Kristalina Georgieva says the world has an opportunity to build a world that is greener, smarter and fairer (Photo: EU Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid via Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0)

"She did her PhD on environmental economics policy of the United States at the Karl Marx Higher Institute of Economics in Bulgaria. She then went on to be head of the World Bank Environment Department, then a European Union Commissioner, then chief executive officer of the World Bank and now managing director of the International Management Fund.  

"She inspires me as she has now returned to her environmental economics roots and has staked her reputation at the fund on driving forward a post-COVID green recovery for a resilient future".

Bharati Pathak

Chairperson of the Federation of Community Forest Users Nepal (FECOFUN) – nominated by Anna Bolin.

"My nomination is Bharati Pathak, chairperson since 2018 of FECOFUN, a national federation dedicated to promoting and protecting forest users' rights now in its 25th year," says Anna. "It represents around 8.5 million people and is the largest grassroots movement and organisation in Nepal. FECOFUN has been at the forefront globally of gender equality in forestry by deciding from the start that representation at each level would be equal for females and males – this has led to a large number of experienced leaders, including very strong women leaders at multiple levels.

A women stands at the front of a room and addresses an audiences

Bharati Pathak, chairperson of the Federation of Community Forest Users Nepal, has led an important fight against injustice (Photo: copyright IUCN)

"I first met Bharati in 2015, when she was FECOFUN general secretary and gender focal point, as part of my work with the Forest and Farm Facility. Last year, Bharati and other FECOFUN members went to all corners of the country to inform and help local people protest against new taxation laws. As a result of a restructuralising process under Nepal’s new federal system of governance, multiple government institutions at multiple governance levels were imposing taxes on forest products, leading to at least a tripling in taxation on any products transported from community forests to be sold at national level markets. As local people were saying, if imposed across the country, it would mean the ‘death to community forestry’.

"The same year FECOFUN finalised its gender equality and social inclusion policy and led a 16-day national level campaign against gender-based violence in the natural resource sectors – a critical issue that does not get enough attention. Bharati inspires me for her longstanding and tireless commitment to the grassroots movement in rural Nepal, to women's rights issues, and for leading an important fight against injustices."

Priyanthi Fernando

Executive director at International Women's Rights Action Watch-Asia Pacific (IWRAW-AP) – nominated by Nipunika Perera.

"I have known her almost my entire life, and she has been one of the biggest inspirations for me to join the world of international development; she has been a role model for becoming an independent and strong woman breaking traditional barriers women in my culture (or around me) often faced," says Nipunika.

Priyanthi Fernando highlights barriers to empowerment, particularly for women in the  global South, at the IMF/World Bank annual meeting in Bali in 2018

"She used to be my father’s boss (heading the Sri Lanka branch of an INGO called ITDG – now known as Practical Action) and eventually I had the opportunity to intern under her for a while as she led a research think tank in Sri Lanka called Centre for Poverty Analysis. Most interestingly, I have watched her make policy changes to empower women in the organisations she was working for or supporting: walking the talk!"

Maria Teresa Nogales

Founder and executive director of Fundación Alternativas – nominated by Kate Green.

"My outstanding woman in development – who I was lucky to meet at IIED’s Communications Learning Week – is Maria Teresa Nogales", says Kate. "She is founder and executive director of Fundación Alternativas, a Bolivian NGO that works on sustainable approaches for food security. The team there works through food policy, education, and through urban agriculture – supporting citizens to create neighbourhood gardens. MT struck me as energetic, curious, empathetic and strong willed, all qualities which show up in her organisation’s approach and achievements."

Editrudith Lukanga

Organiser for Africa’s small-scale fishers and fish workers – nominated by Annabelle Bladon.

"She is fighting for the rights of women, who play a critical role in the fisheries sector globally but often lack power and influence," says Annabelle. "Through her leadership of the African Women Fish Processors and Traders Network (AWFISHNET) and the Tanzania Women Fish Workers Association, she is pushing for reforms and actions that increase the capacity of women to access and sustainably manage fishery resources."

Editrudith Lukanga explains why women in small-scale fisheries need subsidies 

Tina Katushabe

Change a Life Bwindi – nominated by Dilys Roe.

"Our project women have greatly improved on their livelihoods, taking their kids to better schools, supporting their families at home, buying solar panels and furniture for their mud hut houses," explained Tina.
"Each of our women now earns between 150,000 to 450,000 USh a month. Those that weave laundry baskets earn more than the rest. We have empowered more community groups, like the Batwa who have also started earning from the weaving. We now have 100 weavers and have had to stop taking registrations, although we do not stop to train those women who see basket weaving in their future.

A woman holds up woven baskets

Tina Katushabe, from Change a Life Bwindi, is helping women in Uganda to improve their livelihoods by weaving baskets (Photo: copyright Change a Life Bwindi)
"Because of its design and unique colours they're in great demand. We now have an order of 30 baskets going to the UK from a lady who contacted us online, an order for a German fashion brand and an order for a basket shop based in Nairobi. All these orders are being worked on during lockdown and we can’t wait to see them being shipped."

Make your own nomination

Tell us your own outstanding women in development. Who has inspired you? Who do you think has made a difference and had an impact – no matter how big or small – in sustainable development?

We want to hear your suggestions so we can share their stories. Post your nominations on social media, and nominate others, using the hashtag #OutstandingWomen, or email [email protected].