Q&A with ICRW President Sarah Degnan Kambou

Article Date

07 March 2011

Media Contact

Anne McPherson

Vice President, Global Communications email [email protected]

ICRW President Sarah Degnan KambouIn honor of ICRW’s 35th anniversary celebration that kicks off March 8, International Women’s Day, President Sarah Degnan Kambou shares her thoughts on the organization’s role in global development now and in the future. Kambou responded to questions by e-mail.

Read Kambou’s previous Q&A »

You’ve said that achieving meaningful social change is within our grasp. Why do you believe that we are in the midst of a transformative time?

Never in my 25 years as a social scientist and development practitioner has promoting women’s rights and gender equality been featured so prominently in global development. The role of women and girls in building safer, more just and prosperous societies is now a central pillar of U.S. foreign policy. The United Nations and World Bank have special initiatives focused on women, making gender a primary element of their development programming. And the private sector is exploring how to bolster its business models by addressing women’s unique needs as employees, customers and citizens. It’s now become clear that government, the private sector and civil society must work together to dismantle obstacles hampering women’s social and economic development. We have never had the kind of harmony – in terms of intent, political will and investment – that we have today.

What’s most encouraging is that each of these players is looking at the issues ICRW has long known to be essential to improving the status of women: laws that protect women’s rights, access to economic opportunity and services to maintain the health and well-being of women, their families and communities.

As you said, many organizations now recognize the importance of addressing gender issues in global development. What makes the work of ICRW different?

What makes ICRW different is that we specialize in taking apart complex problems – describing how they impede progress, exposing their underlying roots – and discovering pathways to positive change. ICRW’s core business is anchored in generating evidence to inform policy and programs that seek to alleviate poverty while promoting gender equality. Over the past 35 years, we’ve tackled some of the world’s most intractable development problems: the marginalization of women-headed households, feminization of HIV and AIDS, pervasiveness of violence against women and the under-valuing of small-scale women farmers’ contributions. 

As social engineers, we design and test new approaches to stimulate change and measure the direction and magnitude of that change. Finally, as advocates, we use our findings to influence the global discourse on gender and development.

Few organizations practice such a layered approach to advance gender equality and alleviate poverty. We let evidence, not ideology or intuition, guide our recommendations on how to address gender issues through policies and programs.

How does ICRW’s research and strategic advice influence others working in gender and development?

ICRW’s niche is creating evidence-based approaches to increase the effectiveness of policies and programs. Our impact is less about providing direct services to advance women and girls and promote gender equality. Instead, we measure our impact by how our research is used in the gender and development space. The fact is, many organizations now know the value of understanding the distinct, unique needs of women and men to achieve global development goals – thanks in large measure to the work of ICRW. How to do this remains the challenge.

ICRW works like a software patch: install our gender app and watch how gender-informed strategy boosts your program’s outcomes. We draw from our research and vast field experience to help organizations implement practical, gender-sensitive programs and measure results. Social change takes time, and for the most part, we’re looking at incremental change. We can trace how our research has contributed to moving the field. That’s how I know ICRW is making a difference.

ICRW is celebrating its 35th anniversary this year. Where would you like to see the organization in the next three years, in terms of its role in the field of global development?

Over the next three years, our team of researchers will focus on exploring critical intersections in women’s lives that affect their economic opportunities, health and well-being.

Why ‘intersections’? Because no one experiences life in silos. Women’s experiences and relationships are complex and constantly in motion, reacting and adapting to their environment. These converging factors impact impoverished women’s opportunities for a better life. We believe that answers to the root causes of and solutions to gender inequality are found by understanding what happens in those intersections of women’s lives.

Along with strengthening our analysis in this area, we’ll also focus on deepening our research on women and technology and women’s leadership. We’re particularly eager to gain insight into technology’s impact on women and gender dynamics and its state of play at the intersections.      

ICRW is hosting Passports to Progress to celebrate its 35th anniversary. What do you hope to learn from the series? 

My hope is that the series will serve as a launching pad of new ideas for how to address emerging and long-standing issues that affect women in developing countries. We’ll have some very smart, thoughtful people at the table. I hope that our conversations with them will help set the agenda for how best to move forward.