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Expert insight: Innovation and technology for forests and gender equality

Blog | Mon, 06 Mar, 2023 · 15 min read

Rocio D. Condor-Golec, Forestry Officer, Enhanced Transparency Framework, National Forest Monitoring, Forestry Division (FAO)

1. How do you use technology in your work?

I believe that my work is only possible thanks to technology, some examples are:

  • Fast access to information, through a reliable internet connection.
  • the use of cloud service or platforms to store files securely, and collaborate with several people simultaneously.
  • the use of software that allows online meetings, chatting, screen sharing, as well as webinars or web conferencing
  • and the use of the e-learning platform to launch massive open online courses, known as MOOCs.
  • and the use of web applications that allow the creation of self-paced e-learning courses, where the learner decides his or her own pace of learning.

Thanks to all these technologies, I was able to implement the CBIT-Forest project 'Building global capacity to increase transparency in the forest sector', funded by the Global Environment Facility. This project aimed to increase the capacity of countries to make forest data more transparent and accessible for climate action.

2. What challenges did you face in your work in relation to access to or use of technology and what steps did you take to overcome them?

Fortunately, in my work, technology is there for everyone to use and access. In the past, the only personal challenge was to know and learn how to use these platforms or programmes. Nowadays, the offer of e.g. learning platforms is wide, so a challenge could be the selection of the most appropriate one based on the learning objectives and the target audience. However, collaboration with other units or institutions may be a way to overcome this obstacle.

It is said that the best way to innovate is to collaborate. In my case, I work with the FAO E-Learning Academy to implement the online courses.

But I would like to take this opportunity to share some of the challenges my colleagues face in implementing forest monitoring projects in countries that are related to technology.

The first is access to reliable electricity services, so it directly affects whether or not you have a reliable internet connection. In many countries, a centralised electricity provider is simply not available and government staff and institutions, even FAO offices in the countries where we work, rely on generators. This allows us to somewhat overcome the issue of electricity service, however, often the generators are only on for a few hours of the day. To overcome the barrier of fast internet connection, in some countries we are able to boost access by contracting with a local internet service provider.

3. What aspects of your work do you like the most and are they related to innovation?

I am a very observant person and I always like to do things differently. My job allows me to innovate and right now I think I am more prepared to deal with innovation, I recently followed a course on 'innovation for impact' and I have been participating in the United Nations innovation network for a year.

In my 10 years of working at FAO, I have had the possibility as well as the opportunity to innovate at the level of the products and services we offer to the countries we work for. Years ago, the problems we had in reaching more countries were addressed with e-learning courses, but this is not enough.

More recently, we had to innovate in the modality of service we offered to countries to implement our capacity building projects.  For the first time in the FAO Forestry Division, a massive facilitated online course on forests and transparency was launched in English, Spanish and French at the same time. The course allowed participants to accompany and benefit from the content of the different modules and to interact with experts on a daily basis through forums and webinars.

We have started to work in a different way, because not only are courses prepared online, but we are also committed to an integrated management strategy for dissemination and knowledge management, which includes the use of social networks, both internal and external to FAO. This has allowed us more equitable access to knowledge related to forests and transparency. We had almost 40% participation of women in our online courses.

4. How do you think women's equal and active participation in innovation and technology can be further promoted?

Open science is promoting more equal and active participation of women - this is a movement to make science more accessible, inclusive, transparent and beneficial to all.

This movement makes information, data and scientific and knowledge products more accessible and more easily shared. In addition, open science can contribute to narrowing the science, technology and innovation gaps that exist within countries, as well as between countries.

We now have at our disposal the UNESCO recommendations on open science which provide us with an international framework for policy and implementation. It is an important reference point.

A UNESCO report released on 11 February indicates that women are approaching parity in science, at least in numerical terms. Globally, in higher education, we have reached parity (45-55%) at the bachelor's and master's levels of study, and we are on the cusp at the doctoral level (44%). In many countries, we have achieved parity in life sciences, or are even dominating the field. However, there is a risk that the gender imbalance could be perpetuated, as women remain a minority in digital information technologies, computer science, physics, mathematics and engineering.

There is still some way to go, however, I believe that promoting and working towards an open science will allow for an equal and active participation of women.

5. What is your message for International Women's Day (on innovation, technology and digital education for gender equality) and who needs to hear it?

First let me tell you an anecdote, I remember that when I was a student at university, I was passionate about reading and learning more about biotechnology. In the first years of my career, I did not yet have access to the internet, however, when I had to do my thesis, I was able to access the internet for the first time and consult many scientific journals. This opportunity changed my life forever.

This is my message today: For women and girls, study, train, build a network of friends and professionals that will allow you to grow and support each other. Believe in yourself; actively participate and seek change always, in all the goals you set for yourself.  

For national and international institutions, continue to develop policies and initiatives that enable equal access and participation of women and young people in science, innovation and technology, leaving no one behind. We need more women leaders, and we need to invest in developing their skills.

Each of us, men and women, has a role to play in breaking down gender barriers, and supporting women's empowerment.

6. What do you hope for the future to achieve gender equality and empowerment of all women and girls in the field of innovation and technology and what is the next step to achieve this?

I hope to be able to contribute to FAO's gender policy, which has two approaches:

The first - gender mainstreaming - ensuring that policy and technical work integrates a gender perspective and responds to the different needs, interests and capacities of women and men.

The second - making targeted interventions - where the gender gap is particularly wide, implement programmes and projects that specifically target women and/or focus on the promotion of gender equality as a main objective.

In my scope of work, I will continue to take an open science approach - key to improving transparency and accessibility to forest data for climate action, expanding the provision of virtual training, knowledge sharing, and awareness raising, through e-learning products, events and courses open to all.

In recent years, the use of virtual training modalities has been found to encourage more people to participate, in part due to the creation of incentives such as digital badge certification. In addition, online and hybrid formats have facilitated women's participation in these events.

In March we will launch a facilitated online course on 'Forest and Land Monitoring for Climate Action - SEPAL'. To date, we have over 2300 registrants from 153 countries (34% women).

We need to continue to offer countries innovative products and services, incorporating a gender perspective.

Watch video interview here

For more information click here

Interview was conducted by Sofia Arocha, UN-REDD, LAC KM and Communications Specialist