This is the third entry in our recap of summer internships completed by SIPA students working in the Admissions Office this year. Brittney Elise Bailey is a second-year SIPA student pursuing a Master of International Affairs degree with a concentration on Economic and Political Development (EPD).
From New Delhi to New York: The Perils of Internship Transitions
As of Spring 2010, I was still on a leave of absence from SIPA working in New Delhi and the idea of finding yet another internship for the summer, preferably back in the western hemisphere, was a bit daunting. Where do I want to go? Do I want to pick up a new skill? Where would I get the most face time and knowledge transfer from my supervisor if I end up making little-to-no salary for 3 months?
Although I planned on staying at my job at the Micro Insurance Academy – an Indian NGO that utilizes a community-based approach to risk management for low-income populations in South Asia – I wanted another opportunity to apply some of my new knowledge of livelihoods (and microfinance) to education.
After receiving a few summer internship offers from larger micro finance institutions and relevant NGO’s, I decided to return to New York in July to work at the Women’s Refugee Commission (WRC), an organization within the International Rescue Committee (IRC,) that provides applied research and advocacy on protection programs, specifically for refugee women and children. I became the Displaced Youth Initiative intern with the WRC’s Protection Program.
I had four main reasons for working with the WRC as opposed to some other organizations that may have been larger or more well-known. First, I had heard a lot of great things about the IRC and in turn the WRC, where the smaller NGO-within-an-NGO setting was rumored to provide much more substantive work prospects. Reputation goes a long way in all career fields; however, I find that in the development sector because there are so many options to choose from-Multilateral/intergovernmental organizations, NGOs big and small, foundations, the private sector, the government, regional banks, etc.- much of what we have to go by as potential practitioners is reputation… and a few key contacts at our orgs. of interest (if we’re lucky!) Also, former EPD students bragged about how great the Commission had been as a client for EPD workshops, where there was always a clear final project, good working relationships, and truly demand-driven and participatory results.
Second, I wanted to be aligned with an organization like the WRC that aims to serve the most vulnerable of the poor, even within refugee or internally-displaced communities, such as women, youth, persons with disabilities and children.
Third, substantive work and knowledge transfer between my supervisors and I were a vital component of my decision. This was my first time working for free- a concept many of us in graduate school unfortunately still have to become familiar with- so I wanted to make sure that I could gain the skills and knowledge I desired. Fortunately, my boss, an alumna of SIPA, felt the exact same way and made consistent strides to integrate me into all aspects of her work.
Lastly, my motivation to be at the WRC, in particular, had to do with the Displaced Youth Initiative(DYI) itself.
As a DYI intern, I worked between the Youth and Livelihoods programs, which among other things, aimed to bridge education to income-generating programming for young refugees and IDPs in conflict and post-conflict settings. Much of my work consisted of helping to produce DYI reports on education and skills-building, fine-tuning market-based assessments (for Southern Sudan and New York), M&E for WRC and IRC youth advocacy impact, managing our Youth Advisory Board and attending high-level meetings related to youth, education in emergencies and livelihoods. In addition, I conducted comprehensive research-through mapping, desk research, surveys, interviews, etc.- on the most innovative non-formal education programs for youth worldwide.
In spite of my initial fears to leave India, to be further away from the field and settled into some skyscraper near Grand Central, to prioritize knowledge transfer over money and prestige this time around, I found that this type of applied research really suited me. It was in fact what I was looking for in a summer internship. I will most likely stay on at the WRC and IRC throughout this next year, working on education and livelihoods projects in some capacity. Between the connections made, skills built and summer reports of WRC research turned action in the field, I am positive that my internship transition was worth it.