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Investing in solutions: IDRC’s eighth annual public meeting

IDRC Annual Public Meeting 2016

IDRC creates knowledge and innovative solutions to address some of the most pressing challenges facing the developing world, IDRC Chairperson Margaret Biggs told an audience at the Centre’s 2016 Annual Public Meeting on November 22 in Ottawa. 

The event profiled IDRC’s impact through its support of new research that is contributing to large-scale solutions while also building leaders in developing countries.

This was the first Annual Public Meeting since Biggs’ appointment as chairperson and the addition of six new members to the Centre’s Board of Governors in June.

“We have a reinvigorated Board,” Biggs said. “These appointments came through the Government of Canada’s new open, transparent, and merit-based appointment process.”

Witnessing IDRC’s impact

A delegation of IDRC’s governors visited Colombia and Peru in August to learn about IDRC’s programs and partnerships, to facilitate knowledge-sharing with the Centre’s partners, and to build bridges between the work on the ground and the Board’s governance role in Ottawa.

Biggs told the audience about one project they visited in Itagui, Colombia. There, IDRC is supporting an education research project called “Unlocking the future of education in Colombia”. The project is scaling-up education innovations to improve student learning and to better equip teachers to succeed.

“We saw with our own eyes how successful this project has been and how it will be taken to the state level and possibly the national level,” Biggs said. “This is aligned with our strategic plan to go to scale as much as possible.”

The visit to the two countries allowed the Governors to witness IDRC’s strategic plan in action, with its focus on achieving large-scale positive change, building leaders, and being a partner of choice.

 “It was a terrific learning exercise and a great validation of the work that IDRC is doing on behalf of Canada and the developing world,” Biggs said.

Shifting from an era of change to an era of action

IDRC President Jean Lebel told the audience that at the time of the previous annual meeting in November 2015 the recurring theme was change, as at that time a new federal government had just been sworn-in and the Centre was only a few months into its new five-year strategic plan.

“This year, the principal theme is action,” Lebel said, pointing to the strengthening relationship between IDRC and the new government, as well as the shift in focus to delivering on and measuring progress against the strategic plan.  

Lebel told the audience about IDRC’s work in three priority thematic areas – women and girls, refugees, and climate change – and highlighted several projects, including one in Mexico that is helping the Mexican government deliver social support payments via mobile phones since more people in the country have cell phones than bank accounts.

He then spoke of IDRC’s efforts to improve the accessibility and quality of education for Syrian refugee and host community children.

Talking about a project IDRC is supporting in Ghana, Lebel explained how drones are being used to monitor coastal erosion, overcoming previous hurdles such as cost and accessibility. This project was the subject of a recent article in Canadian Geographic.

Amid much change in Canada around the world – including the launch of the Sustainable Development Goals – Lebel stressed that IDRC is working with its partners and contributing to a renewed commitment to achieve meaningful change for people in developing countries.

“We have demonstrated time and again that the one theme that is common to the best knowledge, the best solutions, and the best leaders is that they are local,” Lebel said. “That is the message we bring to the table everywhere we go.”

Unlocking the potential of women and youth

IDRC program staff Arjan de Haan and Martha Melesse, who are program leader and senior program specialist, respectively, in IDRC’s Employment and Growth program, spoke about IDRC’s work in the area of employment growth for women and youth and the broader landscape.

Many economies have experienced strong economic growth, but the number of quality jobs, especially for women and youth, has not kept pace, especially within the formal sector.

The pair spoke about four ways in which IDRC is contributing to the challenge of employment growth for women and youth – by boosting economic prospects for young people, by addressing the barriers that hold women back, by fostering financial inclusion among marginalized women, and by empowering women-owned businesses.

While celebrating progress to date, de Haan and Melesse stressed that more work is needed.

“We need to bring together evidence to show we can address inequalities while promoting growth,” de Haan said.

In the last fiscal year, IDRC supported 675 new and ongoing projects and leveraged the $183.5 million in Canadian government funding it received to attract an additional $77.3 million from donor partners. Learn more from IDRC’s 2015-2016 Annual Report.

Watch the video of IDRC's 2016 Annual Public Meeting


  • Margaret Biggs, Chairperson, IDRC Board
  • Jean Lebel, IDRC President (9:20)
  • Arjan de Haan and Martha Melesse, Inclusive Economies (24:20)
  • Questions from the audience (36:30)

Photos: IDRC