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“Training versus capacity building” Early Career Researcher, Diana Mataya, shares her learning and experiences as part of Future Climate for Africa’s Innovation Fund

Diana Mataya, an Early Careers Researcher (ECR) with Future Climate for Africa (FCFA), shares her reflections on approaches to capacity building for climate change adaptation in Africa. As a recipient of the FCFA capacity development initiative, the Innovation Fund, Diana shares her own direct experiences of what it means to receive training that builds practical skills, and how this has impacted her own activities as a young researcher and practitioner active in the field of climate change in Africa.

As a young environmental sciences graduate, Diana Mataya observed the effects of climate change directly on her fellow countrymen. Climate change related risk takes on a very direct meaning when unseasonal temperature variations and the intense nature of rainfall events can lead to total loss of crops, at times erasing all possibility of earnings or food production for households. In Malawi, where the vast majority of livelihoods are linked directly to the land, the consequences of climate change are very tangible to the majority of the population.

Much to her frustration, Diana noticed how development inroads or gains that were made in Malawi were then easily lost due to the impacts of climate – for example, new schools or clinic or road improvements could be literally washed away shortly after delivery. In Diana’s mind, the question of climate change preparedness was thus central to Malawi’s advancement, and for this reason she was drawn to study further within the science of climate change at the University of Leeds, framing a Master’s thesis on the role of climate adaptation training within governmental institutions. Diana reflects on how she herself had once taken for granted the assumption that training on climate change adaptation would be helpful for government officials, equipping them with knowledge to make better decisions. However, the officials responding to her research interrogation gave insight into how training can easily miss the mark. It was either too generic, or too scientific, and content did not relate well to the realities of their areas of control. As for the trainers, they were frustrated at having been given topics to train on a short-term basis, without time or budget for contextual research and content adaptation. Finally, she found that, without adequate follow up on impact, donor agencies remain oblivious and continue on this trajectory using the number of officials trained or attending international learning opportunities as measures of impact. Her discovery was that training does not necessary translate to capacity. “What use is a study tour of Japan, when one returns to Malawi and draws a blank, as the context for intervention is so vastly different.”

This observation is in stark contrast to the experience that Diana had of the training and support delivered to the Early Career Researchers part of FCFA. In interview Diana recalls a particular training session that she attended at the beginning of her ECR experience in Cape Town in September 2017. “I often apply the lessons that I learned in that session in my own work. The games that we embarked on really helped me understand the value of experiential learning. I use the learning and sometimes apply the techniques when the situations require it”. She describes as particularly helpful, a practical session, where the young researchers were asked to put themselves in the shoes of government officials and city planners who would be using the information. “That session changed fundamentally, the way that I work with ministry officials where I am assigned.” In going through an exercise of imagining myself developing an action plan in response to climate change, the very practical nature of the information requirement became a lot clearer.

It’s not just the learned techniques and insights in communication that Diana reflects on, but also the confidence that she gained through the programme. Confidence counts for a lot in her day to day work with Kulima, where Diana liaises with several ministries, and where clear and considered communication with a range of officials is required in order to ensure that climate change priorities are integrated. The working experience with Kulima has also been empowering, with space for her to bring her own insight and to direct practice changes in training programmes.

Diana’s experience within the ECR programme highlights a much broader human development issue at stake – and that is the question of women in science. Women tend to shy away from sciences and are certainly not encouraged culturally to pursue this discipline. Diana talks about how tough it has  been as a young woman to find confidence in the field of science and to work amongst scientists. The experience through FCFA fundamentally changed that for Diana. High profile climate scientists were accessible, not only that they reached out and gave practical guidance and support, useful for structuring research. The programme also shone a light on the outcomes of her Masters research, giving both opportunity for participation on international academic platforms and online visibility.

In asking Diana if she would add to or change any of the aspects of the FCFA capacity development initiatives, the answer is an emphatic  “No – not at all”. In fact, she recommends that such a programme should be integrated into academic institutions. The mentorship, guidance and personal growth has been considerable as well as the very practical skills learned in translating climate data in to a knowledge building process for the decision makers on the ground.

Future Climate for Africa’s capacity development initiatives are delivered through the Mobility Fund (travel grants) and the Innovation Fund (research grants). Future Climate for Africa’s Innovation Fund provided funding for Diana’s Master’s thesis at the University of Leeds under title ‘Understanding the role of training for development and implementation of climate change adaptation. Diana Mataya is now an Independent Research Assistant with Kulima Integrated Development Solutions.

This article was written by Amanda Dinan and is part of a series that highlights the capacity development initiatives of FCFA and introduces the Early Career Researchers involved in them.