Learning outside the classroom: Closer perspectives on gender and development research

Involving early-career professionals in social research
A participant in the scoping workshop led by Javeriana university students. Photo by WRR Colombia

Related stories

Editor’s note: Sara Soto, Luisa Almanza and Juan David Hernández are undergraduate ecology students in the environmental and rural studies faculty of the Pontificia Universidad Javeriana in Bogotá, Colombia, and research assistants for the Global Gender Transformative Approaches Initiative for Women’s Land Rights.

As part of the research team at the Observatory of Indigenous Territories and Smallholder Farmers at Colombia’s Pontificia Universidad Javeriana, we have embarked on our initial foray into the field of social research. In this article, we aim to underscore the significance of these experiences for aspiring professionals.

The study Securing Women’s Resource Rights through Gender Transformative Approaches (WRR), forms part of a global initiative led by the Center for International Forestry Research and World Agroforestry (CIFOR-ICRAF) and funded by the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), with implementation in Colombia overseen by Universidad Javeriana. It aims to analyze development interventions supported by IFAD, identifying potential lessons to inform gender-transformative approaches in rural settings. 

In Colombia, the study has so far focused on specific beneficiary groups of the El Campo Emprende programme in the Bolivar and Cauca regions, which is implemented by the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development. This programme offers technical support, training, access to financing, and mentoring to rural entrepreneurs to help them successfully develop their projects.

The study began with a socioeconomic characterization of select associations benefiting from El Campo Emprende in Cauca and Bolivar. To gather data, we employed various methods, including interviews, surveys, and focus groups. One of the study’s cornerstone activities was a ‘learning route’, which convened representatives from participating associations to reflect together and learn from each other.

As students and research assistants, our role centred on supporting the collection, systematization and analysis of the information gathered. In the first phase we supported the development of the tools to be used, such as workshops, surveys and interviews, as well as the design of the learning route. 

The activities carried out within the study and the learning route facilitated the exchange of knowledge and opinions. The diversity of individual realities continually enriched the space for dialogue and learning. The participation of rural communities from diverse regions highlighted the cultural nuances of each area and offered valuable insights into the construction of ideas and reflections on gender. It shed light on how gender is experienced within their production, organizational, and personal contexts.

Throughout the project, we’ve been able to apply both the knowledge and skills acquired in our undergraduate ecology classrooms and those honed through active research. Offering undergraduate students the chance to engage in scientific research early in their careers provides them with invaluable opportunities to cultivate practical experiences rooted in newly acquired knowledge. In our case, this endeavour has not only afforded us a more nuanced understanding of career pathways and the societal angles of ecological science, but it has also enabled us to collaborate and engage with professionals from diverse backgrounds and expertise. This interaction has facilitated the establishment of connections and networks, fostering a rich exchange of learning and knowledge.

Some of the skills we have strengthened through this experience are:

  • Working with communities and intercultural observation
  • Communication and interpersonal skills at multiple levels and in multiple contexts
  • Observation of production and organisational systems
  • Gender roles and dynamics
  • Critical view of social issues and dynamics
  • Understanding the different realities in the areas
  • Personal testimonies of overcoming barriers such as gender barriers, which have inspired us 

At the end of the study, we will be co-authors of a report that will propose, based on the experience in Colombia, improvements for interventions seeking to transform gender relations towards equity, a first milestone in our career journey. As we reflect on this trajectory, we recognize the wealth of knowledge and capacity development acquired through our involvement in a multidisciplinary professional team.


This work is part of the project Securing Women’s Resource Rights through Gender Transformative Approaches (WLR). In 2020, the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) invited a consortium of the Center for International Forestry Research and World Agroforestry (CIFOR-ICRAF), the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) and the Alliance of Bioversity International and the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) to work with selected IFAD projects to promote and strengthen women’s land rights through the integration of gender transformative approaches (GTAs) in rural development interventions by improving policies, tools and practices. 

This is the fifth of a blog series covering the activities of the study Securing Women’s Resource Rights through gender transformative approaches (WRR) in Colombia.

Copyright policy:
We want you to share Forests News content, which is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0). This means you are free to redistribute our material for non-commercial purposes. All we ask is that you give Forests News appropriate credit and link to the original Forests News content, indicate if changes were made, and distribute your contributions under the same Creative Commons license. You must notify Forests News if you repost, reprint or reuse our materials by contacting