“I’m today the dream of my 17-year-old self.”

CEO Éliane Ubalijoro opens CIFOR-ICRAF’s first public Science Week

This year, for the first time ever, CIFOR-ICRAF has opened the doors of its annual Science Week event to the public, with sessions from prominent scientists and organization leaders streamed online for free.

This five-day event was opened by new CEO Éliane Ubalijoro, who shared her journey as an African woman in science along with powerful remarks on the path ahead, declaring that we can no longer be “witnesses of the victimization of people or the planet.”

Usually an internal event for CIFOR-ICRAF’s global team, Science Week engages with some of the most critical challenges facing the world today. This year’s theme is “Equity in Action,” focusing on the importance of equity, diversity and justice in the institute’s work.

Watch Ubalijoro’s opening remarks from the event, or read the full transcript below.

This transcript has been edited for clarity.

We all have at some point witnessed inequity in the form of unfair, avoidable differences arising from poor governance, corruption or cultural exclusion. We have also witnessed inequality in the form of the uneven distribution of wealth.

We cannot be passive bystanders on this journey. We cannot be witnesses of the victimization of people or the planet.

On my own journey, I have gone from being a 17-year-old undergraduate student studying agriculture, where none of my professors who taught me looked like me, and where I was mostly unaware of many of the pioneering women who paved the way for me.

I sometimes felt apologetic for being me, in my body, and going on to pursue a Master’s and PhD in molecular genetics. Later on, becoming a research scientist and professor leading teams in the biotechnology sector, in academia, in the non-profit sector, and advising governments.

As the first African woman to head a CGIAR center, I’m today the dream of my 17-year-old self.

I have had the opportunity between now and then to learn about and work with many pioneering scientists who came from marginalized backgrounds. The power of knowing that leadership can look like any one of us, without bias, as we navigate the digital age is not to be underestimated.

It is with great humility that I joined CIFOR-ICRAF staff and friends around the world to welcome you to our first Science Week open to the public on the wonderful theme of equity in action.

Science Week 2023, Equity in Action, in Nairobi. CIFOR-ICRAF

This matters to me as an African woman scientist, it matters to the countless smallholder farmers around the world that we at CIFOR-ICRAF strive to support. It matters to the wisdom keepers around the world, from local communities and Indigenous populations we work with and to all levels of intersectionality we interact with.

The work we are doing is important for the world today, but also for future generations and for the planet. How we help harness the power of trees, forests and agroforestry landscapes to address the most pressing global challenges of our – times biodiversity loss, climate change, food security, livelihoods, and inequality – is critical for us to embody equity in action.

And the just transition we are engaged in is important to bring forward hope through our work, our partnerships, our interdependence, and how we elevate nature.

It will depend on how we translate science into solutions that impact achieving the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030. As an organization, it’s key we recognize that achieving equity and inclusion is not just the right thing to do. But it is also essential for the success of our work, and it’s critical that we ensure that we are operating in a fully equitable and inclusive way.

To create a more equitable and just world, we first must recognize that inequality exists. We must acknowledge that certain groups of people are disproportionately affected by poverty, climate change, deforestation and land degradation. We must listen and engage with these communities, understand their challenges and needs, and work together to develop solutions that are tailored to their unique circumstances.

Science Week 2023, Equity in Action, in Bogor. CIFOR-ICRAF

I’m so inspired by the work this organization has done. Together, our work and the work of our partners has been transforming how land is used and how food is produced. It has helped governments, Indigenous Peoples and local communities develop the tools they need to better conserve and restore ecosystems, and respond to climate, malnutrition, biodiversity, and desertification crises and equity has been at the heart of this work.

CIFOR-ICRAF’s work is guided by a mission to solve five global challenges. One of these challenges is framed as extreme inequality, but it’s clear we need to go beyond inequality to address inequity and injustice. We are now deepening our articulation of this global challenge and our response to addressing it. The goal is to facilitate just transitions to more sustainable and equitable food and food or systems.

At CIFOR-ICRAF, we are committed to promoting gender equality and empowering women and girls. We recognize that gender equality is not just a women’s issue, but it is a human rights issue, and we are working to ensure that women have access to resources, education and decision-making positions to enable them to participate fully in the development of their communities.

We also understand that achieving equity, diversity and justice requires that we examine our own practices and policies, and we are committed to creating an inclusive work environment where everyone feels valued and supported.

Finally, I want to emphasize that achieving equity, diversity and justice is not a one-time event; it is an ongoing process that requires constant attention and effort.

As an organization, we will continue to learn and grow, to challenge ourselves, and to hold ourselves accountable.

I’m excited about the journey ahead and to have the opportunity to work with all of you to create a more equitable and just world.



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