Written by Aliza Appelbaum, former In-The-Field Representative for GlobalGiving.
For anyone working in international development, one of the most rewarding experiences is the opportunity to work in the field and see firsthand the fruits of your labor. Having the success of a project pared down to the basics on a funding report or output chart is a necessary part of the job, but cannot compare to standing in an orchard with a proud farmer, eating a juicy plum plucked right from the tree, and knowing that your hard work helped that project succeed.
Last summer, as a graduate student studying international relations, I wanted an internship that would put me in the field, not behind a desk in an office. I already know my way around an Excel spreadsheet, and I figured three months of freedom between semesters afforded me a chance I could not pass up to experience development work in person. I spent the summer working in Morocco as a field representative for GlobalGiving, where I (along with The Branch Foundation’s Fundraising and Advocacy Coordinator Shonali Banerjee) visited projects around the country for monitoring and evaluation, hosted workshops about online fundraising, and worked one-on-one with partner organizations to improve their operational capabilities. That’s the official version, anyway. More specifically: we drank tea and ate cookies with the residents of a children’s village in Casablanca, met some cows (and their human caretakers) at a farm school for troubled youth in Rabat, and learned about irrigation and soil erosion in the High Atlas Mountains outside Marrakech. Along the way, we met new people, were fed by every host organization, and got to explore and love an amazing country.
One of the first things I noticed was how important it is to show up in person. Speaking to a staff member in DC is helpful for when organizations have specific questions, but by sitting with NGO workers for a few hours, in their offices, we could provide a lot more assistance. When you are eventually back in DC or London or Auckland, it helps to have put faces and names with the email addresses; you’re not just working for an unknown entity, but rather making those calls and sending those emails and putting in that extra effort because it’s people you met and projects you saw, and you will find yourself more invested in the outcomes.
Making a more long-term commitment can seem daunting, especially when the internship is unpaid, as is often the case with development work. But the good news is that for small development organizations and NGOs, hours are as precious a commodity as dollars and euros. Parachuting in for a few weeks is a great way to get a taste of development work, but as with any pre-professional internship, the more time and effort you spend in the field, the more you will get out of the experience. At least for this former unpaid intern, the value I got out of the experience was more than worth the sacrifice of a summer’s wages.
Aliza Appelbaum graduated from Georgetown University in 2013 with a Master’s in Foreign Service. She lives in Washington, DC and sometimes tweets here.
*All photos are copyright of The Branch Foundation*