5 Questions with Cristina Manfre, Global Gender Director

July 31, 2019

Cristina Manfre, TechnoServe's new global gender director, answers questions about her background, what drew her to TechnoServe, and what aspect of her work she is most passionate about.

A woman covers her maize crop in Kenya

Cristina Manfre is a gender and development specialist with 15 years of experience improving development organizations’ attention to gender issues in economic growth, agriculture, and trade programming. She brings demonstrated in-depth knowledge of gender issues and the best methods for helping organizations integrate gender throughout design, monitoring, and evaluation of their programs. 

Can you tell us about your background in gender and development?

There is a thread, small but ever-present, that begins sometime in college when a friend brought me to a meeting about labor rights abuses in sweatshops and how these conditions disproportionately and negatively affect young women. This stuck with me. There are a lot of things to be horrified about in terms of women’s working conditions in manufacturing and large-scale agriculture. However, one of the things that stuck with me was the research that showed, despite the awful conditions, the employment and income opportunities had expanded women’s decision-making power and ability to make strategic life choices. I couldn’t accept the good with the bad, so I was left wondering what it would take for women to have safe working conditions and economic opportunities.

Cristina Manfre
Global Gender Director Cristina Manfre

I would come back to these issues in my first job with a gender focus several years later. In 2005, I worked on a USAID-funded project that supported economic growth teams in five USAID missions to address gender issues in their portfolio. We worked with a few missions in countries where the garment sector was significant (Bangladesh and the Dominican Republic), and in others where similar patterns were being reproduced in large-scale agriculture (Kenya). For the past eight years, I worked at a small women-owned business called Cultural Practice, LLC, known for its experience in gender and social analysis. While there, I worked with donors, non-governmental organizations, and research institutes to improve their understanding of, and ability to address, gender issues in their work.

"When we begin to talk about gender issues, it brings into focus that we are ultimately talking about changing people’s lives – and doing so in collaboration with them."

Throughout my career, I have been incredibly lucky to work alongside and learn from amazing women – economists, anthropologists, and labor rights advocates, whom I thank for the time, energy, and patience they took to shape my thinking on gender equality and women’s empowerment.

What drew you to TechnoServe’s mission?

I strongly believe that greater attention to addressing gender inequalities has the potential to have a significant and positive impact on enterprising women, men, and their families. I’ve spent much of my career working with development organizations to ensure their efforts make that happen. With TechnoServe, I saw not only an organization whose mission aligned well with my own professional interests, but an organization with a strong commitment to gender equality, as outlined in its Gender Policy. The thoughtful conversations about gender integration I had with staff and their desire to constantly improve also left a strong impression on me. I felt that my expertise could contribute to fulfilling TechnoServe’s mission and its gender equality commitments.

What aspect of gender-focused work are you most passionate about?

One of the things I find most rewarding is that this area of work is both analytical and incredibly personal. There is a rich and expanding body of research that demonstrates that we can find ways of understanding, analyzing, and measuring different aspects related to gender equality and women’s empowerment. Yet the work isn’t just technical. It’s about people, culture, tradition, and our aspirations for a better tomorrow.

"Integrating gender issues into development work is not just about women. It’s far more complex, and this is increasingly being recognized."

Our conversations can often focus on the best ways to produce passion fruit, or the right technologies for upgrading processing – all of which are important conversations to have – but when we begin to talk about gender issues, it brings into focus that we are ultimately talking about changing people’s lives, and doing so in collaboration with them. This isn’t an easy conversation to have. People have very strong opinions and feelings about whether or how to promote change for themselves and for others. However, these conversations bring greater understanding of the context and lives of the women and men we work with, and that is incredibly valuable.

What lessons have you learned from your previous work that you are excited to bring to TechnoServe?

I’m really looking forward to harnessing what is already here, working across all the regions where we work, and partnering with the champions across the organization. Two lessons I have learned from my previous roles are:

  1. In order to know where we’re going, we need to clarify what we’re talking about. Integrating gender issues into development work is not just about women. It’s far more complex, and this is increasingly being recognized. Today, development organizations are trying to understand and be responsive to a multitude of issues that impact how and in what ways people benefit from our programs. Terms like social inclusion, intersectionality, and empowerment are frequently being used. With this greater complexity comes an urgent need to understand these concepts and how these ideas relate to our programs, as a way of coming to a shared understanding of our role in supporting gender equality.
     
  2. The work of “gender” is often mystifying and misunderstood. Gender teams can remain isolated and have difficulty plugging into organizations. In part, this is because people are worried about saying the wrong thing, making a mistake, or offending others. It also comes from a lack of familiarity with how to analytically approach the topic. A few (simple) tools on gender analysis can help provide a concrete way of thinking about how to improve program design and implementation. This doesn’t mean everyone becomes a gender expert – unless you want to be – but instead provides a common language that helps us understand each other better.

What’s a fun fact you’d want people to know about you?

There is an embarrassingly large part of my brain that is occupied by pop culture nonsense. Specifically, I am the person my family will call when they see a familiar actor or actress and want to know in what other shows or movies the person has appeared. This is largely limited to pop culture from the English-speaking world, but not entirely. 

Read more about TechnoServe's gender-focused work. 

 

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