GRID Alumni Spotlight

August 2017

Varsha Venugopal
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Alumnna
GRID Minor, 2002
Master's in Urban Planning, 2002

Current Position

My current position is Assistant Director of Programmes at Options, Consulting Firm focused on Maternal and Child Health in developing countries located in London, UK

What is the focus of your current work and/or subject of your current research?

I am part of the senior management in my company. In my role, I oversee programmes across Africa and Asia, ensuring their strategic implementation and delivery. I also lead on organizational strategy development and implementation, quality assurance of programmes, and staffing and financial management of the organization.

How has your GRID minor helped you in your career?

It gave me the basic building blocks to approach gender in work and life. It also developed a life-long interest and passion in focusing on gender in my work.

Any additional thoughts or comments you would like to share on receiving funding support through the Barbara A. Yates International Research Award?

It allowed me to conduct my Master’s thesis in Nepal on a UN Habitat funded programme. It helped me hone my research skills and catapulted my career from local urban planning to international development.


Do you have any advice or suggestions for current GRID Students?

Don’t shy from data and economics to help build your case. You’ve chosen well. All the very best!

How can we learn more about your work through social media?

Options Website

Reach Varsha through LinkedIn

 

GRID Alumni Spotlight

March 2017

Beatriz Padilla
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Alumnna
GRID Minor, 2001
PhD in Sociology, 2001

Current Position

My current position is Principal Investigator (which is at the same level that Associate Professor) at the Instituto Universitario de Lisboa (ISCTE-IUL) or in English, University Institute of Lisbon

Please give us an update on your life since graduating from Illinois.

After graduation, I worked for a year for the UIUC Extension Services (mainly in health and migration issues) and in 2002 I moved to Portugal. In Portugal I earned a Fellowship to carried out postdoctoral research on Brazilian Migration to Portugal, focusing on gender issues, actually I was the first researcher to bring to the discussion gender and migration in Portugal. Also, I complemented my research by teaching part-time in the University. In 2007 I took a position as Senior Adviser to the Portuguese Presidency of the Council of the European, for the Health Ministry, to coordinate a report on Good Practices on Health and Migration. After that, I returned to the University as a Senior Research Fellow, after winning a 5 year very competitive contract. In 2013 I became Associate Professor at the University of Minho, and in 2016 I became Principal Investigator at ISCTE-IUL. I also coordinated the Master on International Migrations and taught Sociology of Gender, Family & Mobility and Contemporaty Migrations, among other relevant courese.

What is the focus of your current work and/or subject of your current research?

My current work as Principal Investigator at ISCTE-IUL is to conduct research in the field of migration, health, gender and inequalities. At present, I coordinate 3 main research projects, all funded by the European Union: a) One is about Multilevel Governance of Cultural Diversity in Comparative Perspective: Europe and Latin America (GOVDIV); b) “Understanding the practice and developing the concept of welfare bricolage (UPWEB)”, and c) REFUGIUM: BUILDING SHELTER CITIES AND A NEW WELCOMING CULTURE. LINKS BETWEEN EUROPEAN UNIVERSITIES AND SCHOOLS IN HUMAN RIGHTS.

How has your GRID minor helped you in your career?

I can say that I am faithful to my training in WGGP, as I always apply my gender/feminist view into my research, I teach it and use it in my academic and non-academic writing. I believe that my GRID minor contributed greatly to my training as a Sociologist and as a Feminist. Also, I am proud to say that in 2000 I was one of the first student to discuss with the Director of GRID to include as an interest in the program the issue of migrations in the US, given my experience with Latina women in the Mid-West, thus I am very happy to see how this initual propostal has been incorporated into the topics.

Do you have any advice or suggestions for current GRID Students?

Yes, do not even forget your training and try to use it and apply it always. It is possible even when you think it is not, and specially when you are not necessarily working on women/gender issues. Be faithful to GRID & WGGP.

How can we learn more about your work through social media?

http://beatrizpadilla.wordpress.com

https://ciencia.iscte-iul.pt/authors/beatriz-paddila/cv

https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Beatriz_Padilla2

 

January 2017

Batamaka Some
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Alumnnus
GRID Minor, 2010
PhD in Anthropology, 2010

Current Position

Regional Representative West Africa Collaborative Crop Research Programme (CCRP) of the McKnight Foundation.  Location: Burkina Faso

Please give us an update on your life since graduating from Illinois.

Thank you for the opportunity. Upon completing my doctorate in anthropology in 2010, I worked with non-profit organizations. I first worked at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, within the Market Access team of the Agricultural Development Program. My role was to help hone gender in given projects, as well as to address sociocultural issues that could hinder project objectives. After a year at the foundation, I joined the United Nations' World Food Programme (WFP) in Rome as Gender Advisor, where I led the implementation of the gender strategy of the Purchase for Progress initiative, mostly known as P4P, a pilot initiative that builds on WFP's purchasing power and partners' technical expertise to strengthen smallholder farmers' capacity and integrate them in markets. The P4P pilot, which covered 20 countries in three continents, included 15 countries of Sub-Saharan Africa.  It had a specific focus on women’s economic empowerment through creating enabling environments for them for enjoying the financial benefits of agricultural production and markets. I later occupied a position of Senior Regional Gender Advisor for the West and Central Africa Bureau in Dakar, where I led a USAID-funded project (the Sahel Gender Surge) to completion. But I was feeling the burn of distance and separation with family, and the numerous business travels were of no help. I decided to reunite, and rather work as an independent research consultant; which I’ve been doing and enjoying since 2014. I am currently based in Burkina Faso, my home country, where I relocated since 2014. In the process I carried out assignments, studies and assessments mainly focusing gender and agriculture for various organizations, including the Gates Foundation, the International Livestock Research Institute, The United Nations Development Programme, the World Food Programme, and the Dutch Gender Resource Fund. One recently completed research is a study on the impacts smallholder’s traditional chicken farming household incomes and the implication on nutrition in Burkina Faso. I found it gratifying when I was invited to a side event during the 2016 Forbes 400 Summit on philanthropy to share a stage with the Philanthropist Bill Gates – Co-Chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation – who took further action further the findings of that research. I was also grateful to have been featured in his personal blog in June 2016.

Besides research, I also led trainings in gender mainstreaming in programmes and projects, gave presentations and talks at high-level meeting, and developed gender strategy documents and action plans for implementation. On the social front, I’ve been providing support to community-based organizations to strengthen their capacities in various ways.

I recently accepted the position of Regional Representative, West Africa of the Collaborative Crop Research Programme (CCRP) of the McKnight Foundation. I am very excited about the opportunity, and hope to learn a lot while giving.

What is the focus of your current work and/or subject of your current research?

Since January 2016, I’ve been working on a project on local governance and adaptation to climate change among pastoralists in Southeast Burkina Faso.

How has your GRID minor helped you in your career?

The GRID minor has helped me huge and beyond my expectations and initial motivation that guided me to enrolling in it. Believe it or not, until recently, I have been mostly seen in the profession as a gender specialist, rather than an anthropologist, although my training in anthropology allows to analyze issues at the micro-scale and in a holistic manner that responds to the audience’s expectations. It’s true that I would have felt half-finished, had I got only one aspect of the training I enjoyed here at U of I. Because the research and assignment outputs I produce are a combination of my training in anthropology and gender. And I feel so fortunate I did that minor in GRID along with the strong theoretical and ethnographic training I had through my anthro classes.

Do you have any advice or suggestions for current GRID Students?

Absolutely! Take it more seriously! It has opened a whole and broad career path to me, while I was simply taking the minor for the sake of better understanding issues about gender equality and equity. Today Gender is no longer viewed as a social objective that is  integrated solely in philanthropic and humanitarian programmes. It is called for in all sectors of activity that aims to thrive, including the private sector. In this vein, it was remarkable to see the World Bank Group clearly note in its 2012 Report that considering gender is “smart economics” rather than a mere moral issue. So equipping oneself with a good background in GRID pays forward, especially as each student has their own disciplinary training with which they will streamline their GRID acquisition. So, yes, GRID students should definitely go for it! I will also highly recommend that they consider taking some basic training in quantitative analysis prior to entering the job market. I think a 200 level social statistics class or mastery of statistical software can do. The U of I offers so many prospects that they should grab prior to walking out of this haven of training opportunities.

How can we learn more about your work through social media?

http://www.wfp.org/content/p4p%E2%80%99s-women%E2%80%99s-empowerment-pathways-roadblocks-and-successes
https://www.wfp.org/purchase-progress/news/blog/blogwomen%E2%80%99s-ingenuity-determines-p4p%E2%80%99s-success-liberia
https://www.gatesnotes.com/Development/Why-I-Would-Raise-Chickens
http://www.burkina24.com/2016/06/18/batamaka-some-le-poulet-bicyclette-est-une-marque-deposee-du-burkina/
https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Batamaka_Some

 

November 2016

Bala Saho
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Alumna
GRID Minor, 2007
MA in African Studies, 2007

Current Position
Assistant Professor, Department of History
The University of Oklahoma, Norman

What is the focus of your current work and/or subject of your current research?

y forthcoming book Contours of Change: Muslim Courts, Women, and Islamic Society in Colonial Bathurst, the Gambia, 1905–1965,examines the place of women in the formation of colonial Bathurst (Banjul), to the evolution of women’s understanding of the importance of law in securing their rights, as well as the ways in which women utilized the new qadi court system to fight for growing rights within the domestic sphere. Gambian women’s increased awareness is significant because it signals changes that were already underway in the Gambia colony and protectorate during the early colonial period. The research complements uniquely works by scholars of other African societies with similar colonial experience (Stockreiter, 2015; Burrill, 2015; Stiles and Thompson, 2015, Hanretta, 2009; Roberts, 2005; Fair, 2001; Hirsch, 1998). Clearly, records from the qadi court in the Gambia speak in agreement with these works that often qadis were sympathetic to women’s claims and the court opened up ways in which women negotiated conjugal and other forms of relationships and constructed a sense of self in African colonial societies

My current research Negotiating Womanhood and the Peril of Childless (Kañeleng) Women in the Gambia, explores how voluntary associations of childless women, or Kañeleng Kafo, shape perceptions of infertility in modern Gambia and how they counter the burden of childlessness and reflect – or help redefine – the cultural construction of “womanhood” in the Gambia.

Suntukunto bambaroo,
Wuluu M’fanaŋ ye,
Doolu niŋ I la bambaroo,
Nfanaŋ so kilinŋ na.
Garbage pumpkin,
Bear me a child,
Others have children,
Also give me one.

Although both men and women live with the pain of infertility, in the Gambia it is considered the duty of the woman to find solutions to the problem. This song is a mother-in-law's plea addressing her son's wife. The elder woman urges her daughter-in-law to make an effort to bear children rather than focus excessively on her individual beauty. The song shames women, blaming young women for their childless situations, and testifying to the community's investment in each woman's fertility. Above all, the song protests childlessness and illustrates the profound efforts infertile women ought to make to end the burden of infertility.

In the Gambia, the word Kañeleng refers to a woman who cannot bear children, whom society considers infertile, or whose children die at an early age. The association Kañeleng Kafo (Childless Women’s Association)is a voluntary organization that exists only in the Gambia, Senegal, and Guinea Bissau. Any childless woman can be a member of a Kañeleng Kafo. However, her decision largely depends on the encouragement and support from elderly women from her kin group and the husband’s kin group. Men born out of Kañelengyaa (the practice of childlessness) can also become members.

To become a member, the aspirant has to undergo aritual that sanctifies membership and creates an opportunity for the woman to develop a covenant relation or joking relation (sanawu) with the public. The core of the ritual is a bath – to cleanse the body of any “bad” spirit. My research provides the first full historical analysis of these associations, interrogating how the kañeleng reconfigure female-male relationships, reproduction, and the social worth of infertile women. My study introduces the traditional processes and mechanisms (efforts and practices that lay outside modern day hospitals and clinics) by which the kañeleng struggle to cope with and challenge the issues of childlessness in the Gambia by participating in rituals, prayers, performances, songs, thieving, and transvestite role inversions. (Weil, 1971; Vansina, 1990; Spear, 2003; Saho, 2014). I examine how these infertile women assert themselves in a social order that rejects them, highlighting the creation and meaning of ritual space. I also explore how these infertile women’s societies function, generating a sense of worth and solidarity among their members. My study analyzes the specific mechanisms by which such women are marginalized, and evaluates the efficacy of women’s societies in countering that marginalization. 

How has your GRID minor helped you in your career?

The GRID served as a foundation and as an instrument to study society through a multi-dimensional perspective. While it provided with me with knowledge about gender studies, it helped me to work with women and men in different capacities.

Do you have any advice or suggestions for current GRID Students?

GRID can be a surprisingly useful tool in life. I would take it more seriously even if I am not sure of what to do with it at the moment.

How can we learn more about your work through social media? (include website or social media if applicable)

 https://sites.google.com/site/sahobala/

October 2016

Aida Orgocka
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Alumna
GRID Minor, 2002
PhD in Human and Community Development, 2003

Current Position
Project Manager, Borderless Higher Education for Refugees (BHER)
Centre for Refugee Studies, York University, Toronto, Canada

What is the focus of your current work and/or subject of your current research?

I am the Manager of the Borderless Higher Education for Refugees (BHER) project, an initiative of Canadian and Kenyan universities and one Kenyan non-governmental organization to bring university education to refugees and local communities in Dadaab, Kenya. The primary focus of the project is to build/strengthen teaching capacities in the camps through onsite and online university certificate, diploma and degree programs. This is a five year project that started its implementation in 2013 and is funded by Global Affairs Canada. More than 100 students of whom 25% women have graduated with a certificate or diploma in teacher education and many of them start their degree studies this year. All programs are free to refugee and local students who enroll in programs offered by universities in the BHER Consortium: Kenyatta University, Moi University, University of British Columbia and York University.     
In addition, I engage in the evaluation of various development projects and initiatives that focus on gender equality and women’s empowerment with a particular emphasis on gender budgeting, violence against women and women in politics. I have reviewed countries’ compliance to CEDAW and implementation of commitments resulting from the 1995 Beijing Platform of Action. Other recent research has focused on aid, partnerships and civil society.

How has your GRID minor helped you in your career?

I am an alumna of the GRID certificate. The courses I took gave me the theoretical grounding that allowed me to approach critically the gender work I had engaged in in Albania prior to studying at UIUC in 1995. The learnings provided the necessary lens to understand the achievement and challenges associated with applying gender equality both in policy making and implementation. The program brought together peers with a wealth of international experience from whom I learnt a great deal. My interest to work internationally developed partly through the experience of learning and camaraderie that the program offered.

Do you have any advice or suggestions for current GRID Students?

What you learn in the GRID courses should be a stepping stone to work in promoting gender equality and women’s empowerment. Strive to link to practice what you learn even as you study. Cherish your classmates and the experience they bring – it will make you proud to recollect in the future that you knew each other when you were making sense of it all.  

How can we learn more about your work through social media? (include website or social media if applicable)

BHER project website: www.bher.org
This video describes how the BHER project came into being https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3q4blUAmTC0
This video gives an update on the BHER project https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pQfeaNieIdQ

This recent posting on World University News describes our current work and challenges http://www.universityworldnews.com/article.php?story=20160613211925708

September 2016

Laura Ripani
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Alumna
GRID Minor, 2003
PhD in Economics, 2004

What is the focus of your current work and/or subject of your current research?
I am currently a Lead Economist at the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), in Washington DC.  With a history dating back to 1959, today the IDB is the leading source of development financing for Latin America and the Caribbean. We provide loans, grants, and technical assistance; and we conduct extensive research. I specialize in the area of labor markets, with special interest in improving labor markets opportunities for youth and studying the link between social protection programs and labor market outcomes.

How has your GRID minor helped you in your career?
My GRID minor was fundamental to have an expertise on gender issues that I found valuable in several ways. The first one was that my first job, after finishing my PhD in Economics at the University of Illinois, was at the World Bank in the Poverty and Gender Group of Latin America and the Caribbean Region. This particular group was very interested in someone that could combine knowledge about poverty and labor markets with expertise on  gender. Later on in my career, the minor was an excellent base to mainstream gender issues in all the projects that I have worked on, in countries as different as Argentina, Nicaragua, Honduras, Brazil, the Bahamas and the Dominican Republic, among others.

Do you have any advice or suggestions for current GRID Students?
I would say that they should take advantage of the GRID minor to work with sensitivity to gender issues, during their whole career. They should also use the minor as an excellent selling point to potential employers interested in personnel who understand gender issues.

How can we learn more about your work through social media?
IDB website:
http://www.iadb.org/en/topics/labor-and-pensions/laura-ripani,2967.html
Video about one of the projects I worked with for ten years:
http://www.iadb.org/en/videos/watch,2173.html?videoID=9427&videoTitle=Youth-and-Employment#.V8CLsPkrLGg
One of the projects that I worked on in the last two years:
http://habilidadesyproductividad.org/en/