Contributing to a just world without poverty; a true possibility or does the thought itself imply one needs a reality check?

What once began as a bit of a joke (how much
coffee would interns at Oxfam drink on average; how much time would they spend
on social media on a daily basis) evolved into a serious study on the
“added value” of an internship at Oxfam Novib. Emily and I, two
interns in the Impact Measurement and Knowledge Team, set up a study to find
out how an internship at Oxfam Novib enables students to:

a)      Gain meaningful knowledge, skills
and experience of what it is like to work for an INGO;

b)      Enhance their capacity to work in
the development sector;

c)       Contribute to a just world without
poverty.

Both ex-interns and current interns were asked to
share their experiences. The findings are portrayed in the info-graphic below. With
regard to the first two objectives, the majority of the interns argue that they
have gotten to know the development sector, gained relevant knowledge, skills
and experience, expanded their network and improved their capacity to work in
the sector as a result of their internships. However, with regards to the third
objective, the majority of the interns feel that they have contributed a
little, but not enough. One even responded “I think any student that thinks
s/he will make a difference by an internship should be kindly given a reality
check”. Although this was posted as a joke, one could wonder; is it actually
possible to make a contribution to this overarching goal while being an intern?
My answer would be: yes, it is, since all small bits eventually help.

Whether and the extent to which you can, depends
on various things. First of all, what you do obviously matters. The idea
that interns often end up getting coffee for colleagues and making copies is
not the reality that I experienced. As the results portray, the majority of us
interns have focused on creating knowledge products or doing research. Others
have been involved in more day-to-day tasks or came up with ideas, such as a
communication strategy. All in all, I particularly enjoyed the combination of
different tasks. On the one hand, it can be greatly rewarding to create your
own knowledge product, for which you are responsible and you are offered the
time to really create something new/creative/in-depth. On the other hand, I
equally enjoyed helping out with day-to-day tasks, mostly because the immediate
use is directly visible. Both types of tasks are important in contributing to
Oxfam’s goal, whereas the former may be more direct, but slower, and the latter
may be more indirect, but immediate.

Second and related, the opportunities that
are offered to you can make a great difference in your fight against
injustice and poverty. As one of three core values Oxfam lists “Empowerment:
Everybody from our staff and supporters to people living in poverty, should
feel they can make change happen”. This is not just something that Oxfam states
on paper; this corresponds to what I experienced being an intern at Oxfam Novib.
I was lucky to work together not only with my own team, but also with two
thematic teams of Oxfam. This gave me the opportunity to learn about their
work, but also to contribute to different projects.

Third and last, the people you meet are
crucial. Various interns responded to be greatly inspired by the lovely colleagues
they met at Oxfam, who were passionate about their work. How will this help you
in contributing to a just world without poverty? Well, it could be that you
come across ideas that may lead to a change in your lifestyle or work
environment; one colleague posed the idea of a green floor where all waste
would be recycled. For me, it meant I finally stopped using plastic sandwich
bags. When no one around uses them, you begin to feel like an outsider (let’s
take a lesson here: if we can’t convince people to care about the environment,
social pressure might be the answer).

There are of course aspects of an internship
that are challenging; days that are not at all inspiring but simply boring; and
things that go wrong. Also, it of course necessary to realise that a just world
without poverty doesn’t happen overnight and how and the extent to which an
individual has contributed always remains difficult to say. However, as an
intern, just like any other person taking part in this fight, “you may knock
down the first domino”, and thereby either direct or indirect contribute to
justice and poverty reduction.

* This reflection is made by Marjolein
Camphuijsen and may not correspond to the experiences of other interns at Oxfam
Novib.

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