Sara Ahmed

Adjunct Professor
PhD (University of Cambridge)
Areas of interest
Water ethics and policy; gender, poverty and social inclusion; climate adaptation and resilience

Sara is a team player with excellent analytical and communication skills built over 25 years of applied research on water, livelihoods and social equity. She has been actively engaged in teaching and mentoring young development professionals, managing large and complex research portfolios on water, food security and climate change and advising a range of development organisations and networks, both national and global, as a board member and in other leadership capacities.   

May 2009-March 2015: Senior Program Specialist, International Development Research Centre, Delhi

  • Managed a $15 million applied research portfolio on agriculture, food and nutrition security in South Asia, under the Canadian International Food Security Research Fund (CIFSRF). This included six complex, collaborative partnerships involving researchers from Canadian universities and from agricultural universities, civil society, farming communities and the private sector in India, Nepal and Sri Lanka.  Topics ranging from improving productivity of small millets in rainfed agriculture to sustainable aquaculture and the application of nanotechnology to reduce post-harvest loss in fruits (     
  • Developed and co-led strategy for mainstreaming gender equity in the design, implementation and communication of research outcomes at the program and project level in the Agriculture and Food Security team. This included the organization of a gender analysis and planning workshop for 50+ researchers from Canada and the global south (Johannesburg 2013) and a workshop on communicating research with WREN media (Mysore 2014).
  • Managed another $5 million research portfolio on climate change and water security in South Asia and China which included projects on water governance in the Asian Highlands, peri-urban water security and climate resilient livelihoods in coastal areas.
  • Developed a $1.5 million interdisciplinary research portfolio involving some of Pakistan’s leading academic institutions in response to the devastating Indus Floods of 2010. The research call built of a scoping study in partnership with DFID’s South Asia Research Hub, immediately after floods.
  • Organized several stakeholder round-tables on food and water security in South Asia in response to critical political debates (e.g. the right to food) or disasters (e.g. floods) and led the organization of a significant cross-regional shared learning and research dissemination workshop on climate adaptation in Asia (Kathmandu 2013).
  • Developed skills to monitor and manage complex, interdisciplinary and cross-regional projects, assess risks, engage with partners on research methodologies and facilitate south-south and north-south collaborative opportunities.

April 2002-April 2009: Independent researcher on gender and water governance, Ahmedabad, Gujarat

  • Worked with a series of national and international organizations in India including UNICEF and the UNDP-GEF Small Grants Program to evaluate gender, poverty and social inclusion in rural development, particularly around water, climate adaptation and livelihoods. Relevant projects include:
  • Gender specialist on Appraisal Mission for Kudumbashree, the Kerala State Poverty Eradication Program (for Royal Netherlands Embassy, Delhi, 2002).
  • Evaluation of UNNATI’s Livelihood Restoration and Rehabilitation Project post-2001 Earthquake in Kutch, Gujarat (for Cord-aid, 2003).
  • Gender Specialist on UNICEF-DFID Child Environment Appraisal and Design Project (water, sanitation and hygiene education, 2003).
  • Documentation support for Workshop on Gujarat Earthquake Recovery Initiatives (for USAID and Development Alternatives, New Delhi, 2004).
  • Co-Project director on two action research projects:
    • Negotiating Conflicts: Gender, Resource Rights and Institutional Practice, supported by the Indo-Dutch Partnership for Alternative Development (2003-2006)
    • Water Rights as Women’s Rights, supported under IDRC’s global research program on decentralization and gender rights (2006-08).

Senior Associate, Institute for Social and Environmental Transition (Boulder, Colorado) (2003-2009)

Thematic lead on vulnerability on the following projects (

  • Adaptive Strategies for Responding to Floods and Droughts in South Asia, funded by the U.S. Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA) through USAID (2003-04).
  • Understanding Adaptation and Livelihood Resilience in Regions Vulnerable to Climate Variability and Change, funded by IDRC (2006-09).
  • From Risk to Resilience: Assessing the cost and benefits of pro-active disaster risk management to meet the needs of vulnerable communities in South Asia, funded by DFID (2006-08).  
  • Adapting to Climate Change in Asia: Identifying Critical Knowledge Gaps, funded by IDRC and DFID (2007-2008).

Visiting Fellow, Gender Resource Centre, MS Swaminathan Research Foundation Chennai (2003-2005)

  • Developed a resource manual on gender issues in agriculture and rural livelihoods as part of an effort to engender agricultural curricula in India.

Key Publications

Zwarteveen, M., Ahmed, S. and S.R. Gautam (eds.) 2012 Diverting the Flow: Gender Equity and Water in South Asia, New Delhi: Zubaan

Ahmed, S. (ed.) 2005. Flowing Upstream: Empowering Women through Water Management Initiatives in India, Ahmedabad: Centre for Environment Education and New Delhi: Foundation India Books.

Mustafa, D., Ahmed, S., Saroch, E. and H. Bell (2010) “Pinning down Vulnerability: From Narratives to Numbers,” Journal of Disasters, (online, Overseas Development Institute, London).

Ahmed, S., and E. Fajber (2009) “Engendering Adaptation to Climate Variability in Gujarat, India,” in G. Terry (ed.) Climate Change and Gender Justice, Oxfam and Practical Action.

Ahmed, S. (2008) “A Dialogue along the Jholapuri River: Addressing Water and Gender Conflicts through Multi-Stakeholder Partnerships,” in K.J. Joy et al. (eds.) Water Conflicts in India – A Million Revolts in the Making, New Delhi and London: Routledge.

Ahmed, S. (2008) “Gender and Integrated Water Resources Management in South Asia: the Challenge of Community-Managed Alternatives,” in K. Lahiri-Dutt (eds.) Water First, New Delhi: Sage.

Ahmed, S. (2007) “The Gendered Context of Vulnerability: Coping / Adapting to Floods in Eastern India,” in M. Krishnaraj (ed.) Gender, Food Security and Rural Livelihoods, Kolkata: STREE.

Ahmed, S. (2007) “Getting Gender Mainstreaming in Water Right: Perceptions, Practices and Policies: Review Essay”, International Feminist Journal of Politics, 2007, 9(4), pp. 583-593.

Ahmed, S. (2006) “Flowing Upstream: Negotiating Gender and Equity in Water Policy and Institutional Practice in India,” in M. Leybourne and A. Gaynor (eds.) Water: Histories, Cultures, Ecologies (eds.) Perth: University of Western Australia Press.

Ahmed, S. (2006) “Mainstreaming Gender Equity in Water Management: Policy and Practice,” in V. Ratna Reddy and S. Mahendra Dev (eds.) Managing Water Resources: Policies, Institutions and Technologies, New Delhi: Oxford University Press.

Ahmed, S. (2006) “Gender, Vulnerability and Disasters: Key Concerns for Policy and Practice,” Disaster and Development, 1(1), pp. 165-178. 

June 1992-March 2002: Faculty, Institute of Rural Management, Anand (IRMA)

  • Visiting Fellow (1992-1993), Assistant Professor (1993-1998) and Associate Professor (1998)
  • Developed courses on rural development, environmental management and gender issues in development policy and practice.
  • Undertook research on the political economy of water management in Gujarat with several leading national and international partners including the International Water Management Institute, UNICEF, the Water and Sanitation Management Organization and civil society.
  • Coordinated several of IRMA’s short development management programs for the voluntary sector in India and overseas.  

January 2016-2017: Visiting Professor, IRMA, teaching core course on Gender and Development 

Current affiliations

  • Board member, WaterAid, India (, since 2013  
  • Member, International Water Security Network (IWSN), University of the West of England, Bristol (
  • Member, Coalition for Food and Nutrition Security, India
  • Member, Gender and Water Alliance ( and Chairperson, 2006-2009
  • Development Partner, Acumen (
  • Board member, Utthan, Gujarat (
  • Review Editor, Himalayan Assessment and Monitoring Project (HI-MAP) at ICIMOD (International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development, Kathmandu)


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