By Samurdhi Ranasinghe, Senior Communications Officer, IWMI

February 11th marks the 7th International Day for Women and Girls in Science, which aims to recognize women and girls in science not only as beneficiaries, but also as agents of change. The theme for 2022 — ‘Equity, diversity, and inclusion: Water unites us’ — recognizes female scientists’ contributions towards the achievement of Sustainable Development Goal 6 on clean water and sanitation.

We are thrilled that the International Water Management Institute (IWMI) and One CGIAR is home to many female scientists working towards a more inclusive and water-secure world — a world where no one is left behind.

Nafn AmdarThis year, we are shining our spotlight on one of our young scientists, Nafn Amdar. Nafn is a research officer at IWMI’s Middle East and North Africa (MENA) regional office who specializes in water accounting, hydrological modeling, and irrigation water management. Originally from Syria, Nafn now resides in Jordan with her family. She has a bachelor’s and master’s degree in Water Resources Engineering and Management, and is currently pursuing a PhD in the same field with a focus on water security.

Vibrant and unfailingly courteous, Nafn recently described how surprised she was once she stumbled upon the IWMI website as an enthusiastic undergraduate. The idea of a research organization dedicated solely to water appealed to her. “As an undergraduate, I thought it would be amazing to work for such an organization. Twenty years later, I’m an employee of that very institute,” she says with a smile.

Now her fifth year at IWMI, Nafn says she has enjoyed the freedom to learn and grow. “I have always been supported by my supervisors and I have learned a lot from my mentors,” she says. “I strongly believe that this kind of enabling environment is part of a woman’s success.”

The past 12 months have been quite busy for Nafn. In May 2021, she received a Faculty for the Future grant from the Schlumberger Foundation, which is awarded to talented women from countries where they are underrepresented in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). Later that year, Nafn and IWMI’s Arif Anwar were awarded the Transformative Research – Innovation Lab Award at the World Food Forum 2021, which recognizes current and aspiring researchers who are committed to transforming agri-food systems.

Celebrate International Day for Women and Girls in Science with IWMI, and read more of our recent interview with Nafn Amdar below.

  • What inspired you to become a scientist in the water sector?
    I’ve always wanted to become a scientist as far as I can remember. I had my mind set on pursuing mathematic and chemistry. But why I decided to study water was following an incident in Syria. In 2002, the time I was finishing high school, a dam in Syria collapsed, killing a few people and displacing thousands more. This really touched my heart and put me on the path to study water. I have always believed that being a water scientist will make me credible and will be my passport to actively engage in solving water problems in our region.
  • In moving the water conversation forward, why do you think water security is important to achieving the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals?
    “We need to change the way we deal with water at every level”
    The importance of water in achieving the SDGs comes from the fact that water is the essence of life. There will be no sustainable development, peace, security, and human and ecosystem well-being without water. Therefore, the process is very complex. This implies changing the way we deal with water at every level. From the way we manage water to how it is financed. Water is linked to social, economic, cultural, and political situations within each country. Hence it requires collaboration across sectors. As scientists, we should work with diverse people and different backgrounds while embracing and resolving context-specific challenges, as we work towards water security.
  • What are your long-term research goals?
    My aim is to reach a level where I have a research portfolio that will be recognized at the top. Jordan is one of most water-scarce countries in the world. I want to build a professional portfolio that would be strong enough to influence policymakers and facilitate the implementation of water solutions. In the long run, I hope use my knowledge to solve water problems across the whole MENA region.
Nafn visiting Azraq mudflat in Jordan, after winter rains, as part of a field visit.
Nafn visiting Azraq mudflat in Jordan, after winter rains, as part of a field visit.
  • What would you say is your biggest achievement in your career so far?
    “I was so excited when I was granted the Faculty for the Future grant by the Schlumberger Foundation. It really empowered me.”
    Well, I always set myself short-term goals. And to me, those short-term goals are small achievements pushing me to my next set of goals.
    But a professional milestone in my career is being awarded the Innovation Lab Award at the World Food Forum. I was excited to highlight the results of IWMI’s five-year project in Jordan. It focused on researching the water use behaviors of farmers in the country after the adoption of water-saving technologies
    Personally, I was so excited when I was granted the Faculty for the Future grant by the Schlumberger Foundation. It really empowered me. I would not be able to pursue my PhD if not for the scholarship. I hope that one day I can be a role model to young women aspiring to be scientists.
  • In your opinion, what are the current opportunities and challenges for women in science?
    “A woman should not be expected to perform more than their male counterparts to be recognized in her career”
    There are surely more challenges than opportunities. Let’s take Jordan. Women here are encouraged to study STEM in universities. But they are not expected to actively work in these fields after graduation. For example, female engineers make up less than 25% of registered engineers in Jordan. We are still living in a male-dominated community. We need to shift from this stereotypical mindset. A woman should not be expected to perform more than their male counterparts to be recognized in her career. More girls and young women should be encouraged to pursue careers in STEM after studies.
    A positive thing is that the international community has grown to be more conscious about gender equality, encouraging diversity, and empowering female scientists. At the local level, we need to absorb these standards. When I first joined IWMI, both my supervisors were male, and I am grateful for their guidance and the learning opportunities they provided me to be where I am now.
  • What advice would you give to youngsters who are considering a career in science?
    “Failure is a stepping-stone to success”
    Believe in yourself! Push yourself to where you want to be and don’t let outsiders convince you otherwise. Because the limits are in your head rather than in the surrounding. And keep in mind, failure is a steppingstone to success. A successful person is the one who overcomes failures and use them as experiences to grow.
    I want young women to know that nobody comes to a position knowing everything. People learn and grow on the job. I strongly believe women should be given the opportunity to learn and grow. Women and girls should be mentored by patient people. They should be given the chance to grow and realize their full potential.