Gertrude Ngabirano is the pioneer and executive secretary of the East African Science and Technology Commission (EASTECO), an East African Community institution that promotes and coordinates the development, management and application of Science and Technology to support regional integration and socio-economic development. She had a chat with Women Today’s Sharon Kantengwa on how she intends to use her position to impact science, technology and innovation for socio economic growth in the region.
Tell us about your journey to a managerial position.
As a chemist, I was always passionate about my job. I did every task I was assigned to do with excellence which attracted attention and with that, I was promoted, even though I wasn’t looking for it. I remember where I was, I was the head of a unit and there wasn’t much further to go but they managed to restructure and turned it into a department because of the good work. In every position you should be able to dream beyond your job description and focus on what the job should be, the potential of that job and see how it can be able to grow. When you do that you get new ideas. I think this is what has propelled me forward.
What was it like starting a regional organisation from scratch?
Personally, it is more rewarding to start something rather than joining, even though you make a difference in the organisation and there is a special excitement about it. We have five year non-renewable terms, which enable us to set up what we can do and make an impact in the five years. I’ve covered two already and I am happy with the progress we have made so far.
What has been the impact of your work so far?
As a regional organisation, we have managed to work with associates in the partner states and put them on board to craft a five-year strategic plan that will affect the whole region and should be able to shape the way science and technology contributes to the socio-economic growth of the region.
Many leaders talk about science and technology being a driver to socio-economic development but the ‘how’ is missing. In my opinion, this should be blamed on us the scientists because we have not been involved with the planning, or showcasing what science can do. We have a good platform at the regional level to be able to engage with policy makers and translate our scientific language into what the ordinary person can use. We hope to bridge that gap so that what is used in science can be used by the ordinary person to improve their lives.
What projects are you working on to solve this problem?
We have a big conference coming up here in Rwanda next year, and will remain in Rwanda because of its implementation policy. It will bring together scientists and technology developers to showcase what can be done in ‘eHealth’ and ‘telemedicine’ where Rwanda has made some strides already. ‘eHealth’ and ‘telemedicine’ will help experts treat patients in remote areas using technology which is a wonderful thing for the health of the community and also growth of the region. We will have a lot of international exhibitors showing technology development in this area and how we can use that technology to improve the livelihood of people. Imagine if you can have world class consultation on your health without needing to go to India or the US. We will partner with University of Rwanda and ministries of health in the respective partner states.
What makes you passionate about regional integration and promoting science for socio-economic growth?
First, I look at the possibilities, opportunities and what this job and commission can do. I dream of what science and technology can do because if you look at great leaders such as the President of this country, they all start with a dream and then people will relate to the dream and be a part of it. I think that that is what has been instrumental in my work.
How can girls be encouraged to participate in the science and technology field, and to be leaders?
I think that we need to be told from an early age that we can do all things. I think that the gender factor plays a big role in our upbringing. There are roles that society expects us to fit into and because of that, we need a society that promotes women and looks at women beyond the gender. There is room for improvement and the opportunity is good, with leaders promoting the gender but we need more from an early age to be told that there is nothing girls cannot do. Women are naturally determined, which is already a good ingredient for leadership and the zeal to excel at what we do and not give up is a characteristic in women.