HR, painting and female empowerment

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What draws a Finance specialist towards farming? Where do women stand in rural Bangladesh? How can our Foundation strengthen its position? Continuing our series of portraits, we put these and other questions to Diversity & Inclusion Champion Nourin Akhter in Dhaka.

Syngenta Foundation: What do you mainly focus on at work?
Nourin Akhter:
I concentrate on financial, human resources (HR), and administrative management.

What’s your favorite part of the job?
HR management. It lets me interact with everybody in the Foundation team, and learn about their work, experience, and expectations.

What brought you into the agricultural sector?
Farming was definitely a change of topic! Before joining the Syngenta Foundation (SFSA) in 2018, I worked for Accenture in Finance & Accounts. But I was keen to work for an organization that supports underprivileged communities. To my mind, agriculture leads the way here. It’s a crucial sector both in developing and developed countries, and it deserves everyone’s wholehearted support.

What is a special Foundation memory for you so far?
Our team workshop in northern Bangladesh. That’s the region in which most of our activities have bloomed over the last few years. I knew the area a bit from conducting financial audits there. But this visit was memorable because we had the opportunity to tour Foundation work there, including a Farmers’ Hub, and discuss with experts. 

Turning to Diversity and Inclusion (D&I): How do you see the situation in Bangladesh’s agriculture?
It’s a mixed picture, but overall better than many people in other countries assume!

Could you explain?
Like most industries here, farming is mainly driven by men. But farming is different from many other sectors because it’s a household matter. Both men and women play important roles. For instance: men tend to tackle the harvesting, whereas women deal with postharvest handling. They also help men make better farming decisions! Many women fully manage small farming initiatives in their homesteads. They also play the primary role as ‘principal’ for credit facilities extended to farming households by microfinance institutions (MFIs).

Where does the Syngenta Foundation make a «D&I difference»?
Recent shifts away from traditional heavy-labor agriculture enable women to participate more. One example is SFSA’s introduction of high-quality soil-less seedlings. We also work closely with the Santals, a women-dominant ethnic community that is often disadvantaged nationally. We are studying female empowerment in our program areas, looking to boost both women and youth in farming and related entrepreneurship. We are also involved in initiatives to address nutrition, which is often very much a «mothers’ topic». SFSA and several partners will be announcing a big new piece of work in this area in the near future.

Nourin in person

(Photo, right) 

What’s the best place you’ve traveled to? The place I loved the most is Langkawi in Malaysia. The islands offer a perfect blend of everything needed for a vacation.

What hidden talents or hobbies do you have?  Very few people know that I’m fond of painting, as I don’t preserve any of my work. I am good at abstract painting.

What are you particularly proud of? Being proud of something I am gifted with or have achieved is very unlike me. 

Agriculture always leads us to food. What’s your favorite dish? I love all kinds of Bengali food. But my favorite is fried sea fish.