03 Sep 2020

‘Leaving no one behind’ is a phrase we are becoming more familiar with, as a central commitment of the 2030 Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). But what does it actually mean? Agenda 2063: The Africa We Want calls for development that is people driven, relying on the potential of its people, in particular its women and youth. So how do we ensure participation from these groups?

Diversity and inclusion practices need to be embedded within all projects, activities, services and the geospatial industry more broadly. The effort to be inclusive must be very deliberate to ensure a level playing field. This then gives everyone an equal opportunity, whether that be through participation or impact created by geospatial products. We can all contribute in some way, we just need the opportunity to show what we are capable of doing. Harnessing the potential of all people requires everyone to realise that these contributions can come from anyone, no matter where we are from, our abilities, our gender, our age, social class or geographic region.

‘It is very easy for people to accidentally succumb to their personal or group bias. Intentionally recognizing the need to ensure this does not happen and providing a clear road map for inclusion is essential.’ - Emily Adams, NASA SERVIR

What is a diversity and inclusion strategy and why is it important?

Embedding Gender Equality, Diversity and Social Inclusion (GEDSI) considerations within leadership, teams, activities and organisational culture provides a foundation for inclusive practices. It sets the tone for how an organisation provides access to a broad range of skills, expertise, knowledge and ideas. From hiring someone or looking for collaborators to community engagement, we need to avoid restricting participation and missing out individuals who have something to add. It also sets out the principles underlying the creation of products and services that address the needs of the most marginalised.

‘A diversity and inclusion strategy speaks to nurturing a society that values the contribution of each individual and ensures no one is locked out of opportunities from the start.’ - Yariwo Kitiyo, Women in GIS Kenya

In Africa, women and girls, youth, people with disabilities and marginalised groups face significant barriers to participation in and benefiting from development processes. These groups bring untapped skills and expertise, as well as knowledge and experience, that can expand the reach and impact of development initiatives. If we strengthen the growing commitment to diversity and inclusion across Africa, and within the geospatial sciences sector, we can narrow the gap and reduce inequality for the benefit of all.

‘In a society where women are often told more about the barriers and where they should reach, conversations need to tell them more that they can be whatever they want to be.’ - Phoebe Oduor, Regional Centre for Mapping for Resource Development (RCMRD)

How is DE Africa approaching diversity and inclusion?

Digital Earth Africa (DE Africa) seeks to be an exemplar of diversity and inclusiveness to deliver a program that has outcomes for all Africans. Diversity represents the different needs and motivations of the entire continental community, and it is vital that all people can engage in and benefit from DE Africa. For example, we know in African society it is the women’s role to ensure water availability in the homes. It is therefore critical that their voices are heard throughout the co-design and implementation of water products and applications to ensure DE Africa products and services generate maximum impact for the most vulnerable and marginalised.

The development of the DE Africa Gender Equality, Diversity and Social Inclusion (GEDSI) strategy is just the first step to embedding a culture of diversity and inclusion within the program. Importantly, it was developed with contributions from stakeholders who are committed to ensuring GEDSI principles guide the DE Africa program and its governance. Whether it be co-development of products, ensuring demand and uptake, reaching regional and global audiences or capacity development and mentorship, it is a culture of open collaboration that will see GEDSI become a mainstream consideration across all activities.

‘Diverse and inclusive teams open dialogue and promote creativity, and this is exactly the time in history when we really need a culture of open collaboration.’ - Steven Ramage, Group on Earth Observations

Putting it into practice

We are already seeing societies challenging stereotypes and an acknowledgement that they exist. While the dialogue around diversity and inclusion can sometimes be challenging, we should be reminded that these conversations need to continue for cultural change to happen. The development and implementation of a diversity and inclusion strategy can be a starting point, and can help guide these conversations.

Groups such as Women in GIS Kenya (@WiGISKe), Women in Science (WiSci), Black Girls Mapp, ZINDI, Women in Geospatial +, Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team (HOT), Sisters of SAR and Ladies of Landsat are inclusive groups that advocate a diversity and inclusiveness message. From evangelizing geospatial technology through community-focused projects and providing platforms for exposure, to offering networks of support and inspiration, multiple approaches are offering different solutions to problem-solving and supporting each other.

If everyone adopts an inclusive mindset, we will see an industry where all people are empowered with equal opportunities and access to the tools and resources they need to contribute. We envision an industry where no one feels like the minority, whether in a boardroom, at a conference, in a panel discussion, in a classroom or in any space whatsoever, and we believe that this industry will be stronger and more creative from the fusion of different ideas, cultures and talents.

About the authors

Yariwo Kitiyo

Yariwo Kitiyo Yariwo Kitiyo is Cofounder and Lead Strategist at Women in GIS Kenya (@WiGISKe). Her role is to cultivate and maintain relationships with partners while also developing strategies to build the initiative’s footprint. She is a leading spatial data scientist in Kenya with over five years’ experience in implementing enterprise solutions and capacity development, has been featured in the Under 30 Women Breaking Barriers in STEM by the Mawazo Institute and Einstein Forum for her work in using data to drive gender equity, diversity and social inclusion, and is currently pursuing her MSc. In GIS and Remote Sensing at Jomo Kenyatta University. She’s also a member of the data for a cause community.

Phoebe Oduor

Phoebe Oduor Phoebe Oduor is the Thematic Lead- Land Use Land Cover Change for the SERVIR Eastern and Southern Africa project at RCMRD. Her key roles include technical guidance, data and tool development, co-design, stakeholder engagement and capacity building for activities within this thematic area. She is also a Point of Contact (POC) for gender-related issues in the organization and has been working on strategy development and promotion of gender and social inclusion at an institutional level as well as externally in service level delivery. She is POC for the AfriGEO secretariat based in RCMRD. Her role in this includes regional coordination of GEO and AfriGEO activities within the continent and engagement with the GEO secretariat and AfriGEO community to promote the use of EO data by Governments in decision making processes. She has a background in MSc. Climate Change and Adaptation and BSc. Geospatial Engineering.

Emily Adams

Emily Adams Emily Adams has had a passion for science her entire life. She is currently the NASA SERVIR Eastern and Southern Africa Science Coordination Lead, and Gender POC. Her interests include wetlands ecology, land cover change analysis, and integrating gender and social inclusion into climate data services. She also leads the coordination and implementation of the NASA contributions to the international Women in STEAM camps (WiSci) hosted by the U.S. Department of State and implemented by the UN Foundation’s GirlUp program.

Steven Ramage

Steven Ramage Steven Ramage leads external relations at the Group on Earth Observations (GEO) Secretariat in Geneva, Switzerland. His role involves focusing on the interfaces between science, technology, policy and decisions in support of more than 100 UN Member States. He is on the Governing Board of Digital Earth Africa, a member of the UK Space Agency Earth Observations Advisory Committee and the Advisory Board of EO4GEO. Steven was an owner/director of 1Spatial before taking on a role as Executive Director of the Open Geospatial Consortium (OGC), and then Managing Director of Ordnance Survey International. Steven is a Visiting Professor at the Institute for Future Cities, University of Strathclyde, Glasgow and SASNet Fellow at the Urban Big Data Centre at the University of Glasgow, Scotland. He's also a member of the OGC Global Advisory Council and a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society (RGS). He tweets as @steven_ramage