Applying GenderUp to Localize Inclusivity for a Horticulture Marketplace App in Malawi
Innovation is everywhere in international agricultural development. New seed varieties are increasing smallholder crop yields. Mobile marketplace apps promise to connect farmers with buyers to sell more of their harvest. But can these innovations be scaled up to reach everyone? Many may unintentionally exclude certain groups with diverse gender, geographical, financial and social characteristics.
GenderUp is a tool that development and research programs can use to ensure that when innovations are scaled, they include everyone. GenderUp was created by experts from the Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Horticulture, Wageningen University, the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) and Alliance of Bioversity International - CIAT to create a space for project teams to reflect on their scaling activities, while guiding steps to take action.
GenderUp works through a series of interactive workshops and guided discussions where innovation teams can think through their current scaling strategy. Sometimes, scaling up agricultural innovations has unintended consequences for socially marginalized groups. Through GenderUp, participants identify the diverse groups of people they hope to reach with their innovation, thus enabling them to better anticipate what is required to ensure inclusive scaling.
By understanding both the positive and negative consequences an innovation can have on various user groups, project and research teams across the development space can implement mitigating activities to ensure those negative consequences are minimized or reversed.
Last fall, the Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Horticulture at the University of California, Davis hosted a GenderUp facilitator training. I attended with other members of the Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Markets, Risk and Resilience (MRR) team, and we left wanting to see how this framework could be applied to our own research program.
Applying GenderUp to Scale a Local-led Innovation in Malawi
In Malawi, the MRR Innovation Lab has been supporting researchers at Lilongwe University of Agriculture and Natural Resources in testing a digital marketplace app that connects smallholder farmers to buyers for their horticultural crops. The project is funded through the Feed the Future Advancing Local Leadership, Innovation and Networks (ALL-IN) initiative, which puts African researchers in the lead on major development research.
This research in Malawi looked like a perfect setting for applying GenderUp. The team’s innovative digital marketplace app overcomes limitations faced by producers, especially women, when transporting and selling produce in local markets. The app has the potential to be scaled and the research team also had an interest in applying transformative gender approaches to ensure inclusive uptake. When we reached out to offer a series of GenderUp workshops, they enthusiastically agreed to participate.
We hosted two GenderUp workshop sessions in March 2022. The seven-person project team included two women, and everyone represented diverse perspectives and areas of expertise. The participants aligned with GenderUp’s philosophy that understanding diversity among innovation users starts by having diverse perspectives on the project team.
This research team drove discussions throughout the GenderUp workshops. They collectively came up with responses to questions rather than the facilitator teaching or recommending solutions. The facilitators used a Miro board, an interactive online platform, where participants added their scaling strategy and identified social dimensions of their marketplace app’s user groups.
Identifying Solutions for a Local Context
Through this kind of interactive, participatory workshop, the research team came up with their own solutions. Those solutions are more likely to be sustainable because they are grounded in the team’s knowledge of the local context. The participant-driven approach of GenderUp overlaps with the Feed the Future ALL-IN mission of promoting local research leadership.
The Malawi team identified three groups with different characteristics that might be left out of their scaling strategy. These included:
- those with a low level of education;
- those under the age of 12 or over the age of 50; and
- those who face low levels of income.
The team then discussed further disparities and gendered differences that women might experience when possessing the above characteristics.
The team also developed strategies that would help ensure each of these groups can receive the benefits of the marketplace app:
- Re-thinking the timing of trainings to accommodate women’s daily schedules;
- Developing and performing a drama to share information about the app with those who have lower levels of literacy; and
- Developing partnerships with various private sector entities to make the innovation more affordable and with farmers’ organizations to better reach excluded groups.
Achieving Social Transformation and Inclusivity
We received great feedback from the team after the GenderUp workshop. In survey responses, team members wrote that they were more familiar with issues concerning gender and scaling innovations. Before the workshop, the team was still testing whether the app worked and had not thought about scaling it more widely. The app’s success in the field and this workshop together significantly increased the team’s drive to scale their innovation.
One participant came away with a powerful realization. She wrote that GenderUp helped her “realize the possibility that their project can create new or further existing disparities.”
As GenderUp facilitators, we gained two main takeaways. The first is that GenderUp must evolve to create a central space for participants and facilitators to continue to interact, share notes and engage with scaling resources after the conclusion of the workshops.
Second, we learned that GenderUp might be best applied at the implementation or scaling-up stage of an innovation. In the case of the Malawi research team, and likely many other research-focused teams, scaling up may not be in the scope of their project. However, thinking about social transformation and inclusivity earlier, at the innovation design phase, may generate the greatest impact.
Katheryn Gregerson is a graduate student in the International Agriculture Development master’s program at UC Davis and a researcher with the Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Markets, Risk and Resilience. Her research focuses on inclusive agricultural index insurance for rice producers in Cambodia.
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