My experience this summer was both difficult and rewarding. I used the summer global program award to help finance my second year of Hindi language studies in Jaipur, India and to help offset the costs of my short internship experience in Kathmandu, Nepal. The language program was incredibly difficult because it packed the entire second year of Hindi into just eight weeks. We spent half of the summer reviewing what we had (or had not) learned during our first year of Hindi and then the second half learning entirely new material. The experience was so difficult purely because of the speed at which we were learning new material. We would be learning something new one day and then everything would change the next day. Ultimately, I was able to improve my understanding of the grammar rules and my speaking skills rapidly improved much more than they would have if I took the second year of Hindi at Syracuse because I had to use it every single day. We also stayed with host families so it made the experience feel as though we really got to understand the daily life and routine of your average Indian family. Overall, it was an extremely difficult learning experience, but deeply rewarding as well.
The last part of my summer was spent working with a local NGO in Kathmandu. While I was in India, I was doing some research for the organization on the Indian supply chain of kiwi because it is often imported into Nepal, undercutting the local market because the kiwi is better developed. After the language program ended, I was able to join the team on the ground in Kathmandu. I helped develop some surveys with the organization to better understand the Nepalese side of the kiwi supply chain because the organization works with one hundred apple and kiwi farmers. We needed to better understand the supply chain so we could connect the farmers to the appropriate supply chain based on their needs and their output. My greatest memory of the experience was getting to head out into the field and actually speak with the farmers to hear about their experiences and what they needed from the organization in order to be successful. The rural areas of Nepal are absolutely stunning. I also got to continue practicing my Hindi because so many people in Nepal know Hindi as well. My experiences this summer were challenging, but incredibly rewarding because they helped me grow personally, academically, and professionally.
Vahid Khatami is a recent graduate of the joint MPA/MAIR program. He is going on to work in an international financial institution in New York City.
Lack of access to financial services is still an economic barrier for many households and small businesses around the world. Based on the global Findex database in 2014, only 34% of people in Sub-Saharan Africa have access to a financial account and less than 16% use formal savings and borrowings. Similar data for other developing regions has emerged leading to the use of microfinance tools to expand financial inclusion globally. But, promoting the best financial tools for low-income households is very complicated, since one must consider the variety of outflow and inflow categories in their financial diaries. It raises the demand for in-depth research on these micro economies.
Microfinance opportunities (MFO) is a research organization, based in Washington, D.C., committed to understanding the financial realities of low-income households. They work with other organizations in the microfinance industry to conduct research on behavioral economics of beneficiaries.
During my internship in MFO, I worked on three major projects. First, I was doing statistical analysis on household survey responses in four African countries including Zambia, Senegal, Uganda, and Burkina Faso. I did statistical analysis and data visualization on poverty likelihood scores by controlling demographic characteristics and types of packages provided for beneficiaries. For my second project, I designed an Android application for on-line uploading of financial diaries. The idea was raised after talking with the executive manager where I let him know about my skills in computer programming. The final product, which is going to prepare for alpha testing, makes beneficiaries enable to insert their daily financial diaries without interventions of any third party or interviewer. That data is stored in a cloud-based storage for further auto-analysis. For my third internship project, I helped MFO’s team to provide a comprehensive report on all transactions data in previous and current projects, including more than one million transaction records. Reformatting all data to a uniform structure and applying statistical measurements such as clustering methods was the focal point in that project.
Over all those assignments, I was in almost daily communication with the executive manager to present my progress in work and get guidance on the next steps. I had realized that there were no straightforward answers for problems, which motivated me to do research and ask about possible solutions regularly. I also got a valuable insight into the microfinance industry and its technical aspects, which will help me to take the next steps in my career track with more confidence.
Melissa Horste is a joint MPA/MAIR student who will be graduating in June 2017. She took advantage of SU Santiago to intern and take courses at Pontificia Universidad Catolica.
During the fall of 2016, I interned for a small nonprofit in Santiago, Chile, called Fundacion Multitudes, which seeks to strengthen civil society and improve government transparency in Chile and the region. Admittedly, I felt like the oddball in the organization at first. As a former legislative aid, the nonprofit world is a little foreign to me and in Chile, I found myself having to navigate a different culture in terms of both the sector and the country itself. However, over the course of 4-months and more than 300 hours, my role in the organization shifted from a researcher to project manager as I gained a deeper understanding of the problems facing civil society in the region and put into use the tools we have gained at Maxwell.
Small nonprofits like Fundacion Multitudes rely heavily on a team of energetic, but unpaid, volunteers. As a relatively new nonprofit, Fundacion Multitudes doesn’t have a lot of financial resources, but it makes up for it in networking with other organizations both within Chile and abroad. Fundacion Multitudes has a lot of potential, and I aimed to help them improve their internal processes to build their own capacity. After helping them apply successfully for a grant, my boss made me project manager, and I quickly went to work on developing a Plan de Trabajo. What I thought was a simple Gantt Chart was a revolutionary tool for the organization. (A special ‘Thank you’ to Professor Schnell for introducing us to Tools4Dev, which I used as a constant reference during my internship.) I hope to leave the organization with a packet of tools like this so they are better equipped to develop proposals and implement projects in the future.
Tim Stoutzenberger is a recent graduate of the ATLANTIS Transatlantic Degree Program, where he earned a MAIR from the Maxwell School in Syracuse, New York and a MPP from the Hertie School of Governance in Berlin.
Last Summer, I was fortunate to receive a field research grant from the Moynihan Institute. I spent thirty-five days working in the Balkan region, conducting site visits, interviews, and performing general research for the Global Black Spots Project. That experience helped me further formulate my thesis, which focuses on security and development trends in the Balkans during European Union accession.
With that in mind, in June I began a three month consulting contract with Caritas Switzerland at their Western Balkans Regional Coordination Office in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina (B&H). A bit of background…I got in touch with Caritas Switzerland by reaching out to Raymond Bach, director of the SU Strasbourg Center in Strasbourg, France. I knew Professor Bach had friends in the Balkan region, and sure enough the wonderful Maxwell network came through.
For the month of June I teleworked from The Hague, Netherlands while finishing classes at the International Institute of Social Studies. During the first few weeks of my contract, I collaborated via Skype wtih the Balkan Regional Delegate, gained a better understanding of current programs, and began developing the frameworks for upcoming projects.
I arrived in Sarajevo on July 1st during an interesting time for the B&H office and for Caritas Switerland’s regional activities in general (the organization is present in Kosovo, B&H, and Romania). 2011-16 projects were ending, the corporate strategy in Luzern was shifting away from unfettered humanitarian aid, and the local offices were beginning to draft their country programs for 2017-20 with the new strategy in mind.
At the B&H office I work with projects focused on regional food security, youth education and vocational training, income generation, market expansion, migration/refugees/human trafficking, and socio-economic rights for marginalized communities. Larger programs dealing with everything from resource sustainability to public health to conflict resolution are in play as well. I get to travel a good bit, meeting with partners in Tirana, Gorazde, and at our Kosovo office in Przren.
The Global Programs Award I received proved essential during these last few months, especially while I was getting set up in Sarajevo and working locally on my thesis. Additionally, Caritas Switzerland recently agreed to extend my contract which came as welcome news.
Sarah Baumunk is a joint MPA/MAIR student who also interned at the U.S. Department of State’s Western Hemisphere Affairs Bureau, Office of Policy Planning in Washington, DC. She also took evening courses as part of the Maxwell-in-Washington program.
I sit on the phone on hold while trying to help an Eritrean asylee file a claim with his insurance company after a recent car wreck, when a Haitian immigrant—who only speaks French—comes to ask for help with applying for jobs. In the living room outside the office I can hear a crew of Cubans and Mexicans cheering on a soccer match together. I walk out of the office to see that a generous community member has left two giant bags of donations that need to be sifted through, but before I can get a start I’m intercepted by a group of West Africans who remind me we’re still out of vegetable oil to cook with. Once I get the extra oil and bring it into the kitchen, I’m waved down by about a dozen Ethiopians and Eritreans insisting that I come eat with them. They treat me to one of their specialties—lentils in a tomato sauces on top of injera (a typical East African spongy bread)—and we practice their English. With a full stomach, I shoo everyone off to their respective rooms just in time to make the 11 o’clock lights-out, and retreat to the office where I pull out the futon that I will sleep on that night. All in a typical day’s work while interning with Casa Marianella this summer.
Casa Marianella is a homeless shelter that provides hospitality and support for immigrants and refugees in Austin, Texas. While the nonprofit organization was originally founded 30 years ago to assist primarily Central American and Mexican immigrants, it has since evolved to encompass a much wider variety of noncitizens, with the majority coming from Eritrea, Ethiopia, and French-speaking West African countries. Casa has 38 beds to offer (although it frequently is home to many more) to residents who are either immigrants who can no longer work due to medical problems or asylees who arrive in the US and have no friends or family in our country. Residents stay for three to six months on average, while they receive legal help from pro bono lawyers and case management from staff members like myself.
Working at Casa Marianella this summer was a life-changing experience that brought practical experience to my studies, allowed me to sharpen my soft skills, and showed me what a compassion-driven organization looks like.
Over the past year, I have studied immigration policy and law through a number of Maxwell and law school courses. Given this background, I entered my position in Casa Marianella with a broad understanding of immigration in the US, but was surprised by how much I had to learn about the ground-level experience of immigrants today. From the job search for non-English speakers, to the tedious paperwork, to the hour-long drives every six months to check in with the government, working at Casa gave me valuable insight into the way our immigration laws and policies play out day-to-day.
My time at Casa was additionally an excellent practice in honing those soft skills that are so difficult to learn while sitting in a classroom. In a lot of ways, working at Casa was very similar to being a summer camp counselor. The job involved almost constant multitasking, and I quickly had to develop the ability to gently let people know they would have to wait while a more pressing issue was solved. I learned how to use a combination of enthusiasm and tough love to push our residents to do challenging things like find work, apply for an apartment, or meet with a lawyer. I saw how establishing a relationship of mutual respect and caring was essential to maintaining fruitful relationships with each resident.
Finally, Casa opened my eyes to the value of prioritizing compassion and hospitality as an organization and personally. One of the most surprising things about Casa was how willing every staff member was to go the extra mile for each person that walked through Casa’s door or called on the phone. The Executive Director Jennifer Long always described the goal of Casa as doing the most good for the most people—regardless if they are our residents or not. This attitude toward life and public service is particularly poignant in our global political climate today. As we see so much negativity being hurled at people that are different than us, Casa stands as a reminder that our world is seriously lacking in compassion—and for some groups more than others. This summer I was shown that the practice of unfettered compassion can be the most effective tool to encouraging others to become their best selves.
Oleksiy Anokhin is a student in Maxwell’s Executive MPA and MAIR programs. These programs are aimed at mid-career professionals with significant management experience.
I spent summer 2016 in Atlanta, GA, as an intern at The Carter Center (TCC). I chose this organization as my internship opportunity intentionally for several reasons. First of all, my previous work experience in Ukraine was primarily related to public service, elections, and law. I regularly communicated with representatives of US NGOs, which observed several electoral campaigns in Ukraine. As a result, I became interested in their activities and wanted to learn more about their internal management process.
The Carter Center, which is still actively managed by the former US President Jimmy Carter and his wife Rosalynn, has an excellent reputation in international development. The Center observed more than 100 elections during last 25 years across the world, is actively engaged in conflict resolution and human rights advocacy projects, and manages various health programs. For instance, TCC fights several diseases in developing countries. Due to efforts of TCC and their partners, one such disease, the Guinea worm disease, which infected approximately 3.5 million people in 1986 in 21 countries in Africa and Asia, has almost been eradicated. In 2015, only 22 cases were observed. One more example of their impactful activity is TCC’s Syria Conflict Mapping Project, which analyzes information about a complicated military conflict in this country.
I was an intern in the Democracy Program, which is primarily focused on elections and improving TCC legal knowledge about European electoral standards. This work gave me a chance to learn more about the real-life work of an exceptional US NGO, build connections with excellent experts, and gave me several ideas about crucial skills necessary for working in international development such as data analysis and budgeting. As a result, I picked my fall 2016 courses based on my experience in TCC and have been very pleased so far.
The second reason for me was a chance to be involved in amazing humanitarian work, which is conducted by Jimmy Carter. He still remains extremely proactive, participating in various TCC events and making decisions in the Center. Jimmy Carter became a moral leader for millions of people across the world, and especially effective in the humanitarian field. TCC makes for a great job, organizing different social events for their interns with the former President and the First Lady and inspiring the younger generation to follow their life path.
Finally, TCC and Atlanta became an interesting cultural experience for me as a foreigner. After one year in Upstate New York, I was interested to see the South and compare it with the North.
In general, internships in TCC are unpaid, but partial funding is possible (and I got it). However, right now I understand the benefits of internships in the US professional culture more. In my case, having almost 10 years of legal and government experience, I was more interested in TCC activity as a professional, not as an intern. I tried to note their effective and ineffective managerial processes, and understand how to cooperate with such organizations and their experts in future as a Ukrainian public servant.
I strongly encourage those Maxwell students who are interested in conflict resolution, human rights, elections, and health management to consider TCC as a possible internship and future job opportunity. I was impressed that people in this organization are so focused on values promoted by TCC and work hard to make the world a better place. Jimmy Carter still remains their fierce chief and a moral leader for many others. TCC is an excellent place for those who are driven by Maxwell’s Athenian Oath ‘to transmit this city not only not less, but greater, better and more beautiful than it was transmitted to us’.
Vahid Khatami is a joint MPA/MAIR student who spent his Summer Semester taking part in the Maxwell-in-Washington program where he interned at IRD during the day while taking Maxwell courses at night. Vahid is currently still in Washington, DC interning at IRD and at Microfinance Opportunities.
Based on the Global Humanitarian Assistance report, at least 42% of people with extreme poverty – around 677 million people – are estimated to live in countries that are politically fragile. Many international organizations have been established to address such conflict and post-conflict environments, including International Relief and Development (IRD). With their headquarters in Arlington, Virginia and 18 years of experience, IRD currently operates in more than 15 counties across Africa, Asia, Eastern Europe, the Americas, and the Middle East. The international programs address relief, stabilization, and development needs in the areas of health, agriculture, infrastructure, emergency response, and governance.
As an intern in the applied learning unit of IRD, I reviewed mostly current performance reports of the projects to pull out the critical lessons learned and build a database to improve the quality of data-driven policies in the organization. To improve the accuracy of the contents, I did several interviews with program managers to reflect their viewpoints on the most important lessons learned from the programs. Such interviews helped me to improve my work relations with other staff.
I have also performed more technical jobs such as building a database of all the consultants’ historical records who have worked with IRD. For this purpose, I wrote several text-mining codes to extract the relevant information from a mass of documents which resulted in more than a thousand records. Writing the codes to automatically extract data, made a huge difference in my work rather than doing the same job manually. In the end, I suggested developing a managerial dashboard for databases including the lessons learned and consultants and indicators. This was all implemented by the M&E interns’ team and accepted by the office director.
As my career track is focused on international economics and development, I found my internship a good step to leverage my knowledge in the field. I better understand some of the development challenges in the real world and the culture of a non-profit organizations working in international development. I expanded my communication skills through the tasks and applied my technical skills in a professional environment. I hope to find my next professional position in the same career track based on this experience to improve my portfolio.
Suhyeon Lee (MAIR candidate) interviewed Director of the Transnational NGO Initiative in the Moynihan Institute, Tosca Bruno-van Vijfeijken. Tosca continually brings a wealth of international resources to the PAIA Department and has assisted innumerable students.
Nice to meet you, Ms. Tosca Bruno-van Vijfeijken. Could you introduce yourself?
I am the director of the Transnational NGO (TNGO) Initiative. I engage both in academic work and do a lot of works with NGO practitioners. I have worked on international development and civil society issues for over 25 years. Some people call people like me a ‘pracademic’ and I call myself sometimes jokingly an ‘accidental pracademic’, which means a practitioner who accidently ended up in academia. I didn’t plan to end up in academia, but it happened by chance, and I started enjoying playing a bridge building role between the theory and research around transnational NGOs and the practice of the NGO practitioners who lead and manage these organizations.
Could you explain what you teach at Maxwell School?
I teach Global Governance and Civil Society and in addition to that, I advise a couple of MPA Workshop projects each year. Sometimes, I am an advisor for independent study projects. We also offer opportunities for students to volunteer in our research and practitioner work through the TNGO Initiative.
Can you tell me more about the Global Governance and Civil Society course?
Global Governance and Civil Society is a survey course on the role of civil society in how the world is governed. It is neither a theoretical course nor a management course; it is somewhere in between. We focus on what civil society organizations do and what civil society as a concept stands for. And then we unpack a couple of different sectors: human rights, environment, and conflict resolution, and look at the functions NGOs play. We also look at a number of challenges facing organizations (governance, effectiveness, leadership, coordination, accountability, evaluation and assessment, capacity building issues, etc.).
How did you start your career?
These things, as I sometimes say to students here, are often a mixture of planning, pure coincidence, luck, and unplanned events. I started out working for a year in a small management consulting company in the Netherlands. It was internationally-oriented and focused on small business promotion in developing countries. I was not happy with it, so I moved to a think-tank called the European Center for Development Policies Management (ECDPM). I worked there for four years as a program officer. We focused on governance issues in Sub-Saharan Africa and the Caribbean. And then I wanted to get more field experience which is typically what most young international development practitioners need. I found an opportunity as a UN Volunteer for the UN peacekeeping operations under United Nations Transitional Authority in Cambodia (UNTAC). I was in charge of the preparation for and holding of free and fair elections in one remote district. I also worked for the headquarters of the World Bank for two and a half years, and for four years I was at the World Bank in Hanoi, Vietnam. Those were my sixteen years of international development experience.
As you said, field experience is what most international development young practitioners really need. I also want to have field experience before graduating from Maxwell. Did you have memorable experiences while working in the field in Cambodia?
I think the most memorable experience was that during the year of preparing for the elections, both the Khmer Rouge and bandits engaged in attacks on some foreigners who were in Cambodia as part of the peace keeping operation. Within our large contingent of district electoral supervisors, one person was murdered and four were kidnapped in the last couple of months before elections when political tensions were high. A significant number of Cambodians also died during this tense period. During the elections, when I changed my role from preparation for elections in my district to independent monitoring of polling stations, I found myself for the first time needing a bodyguard because of these political tensions and violence. This was a very new experience for me and it will stay with me since I came from a country (The Netherlands) where governance is not a matter of the power of the gun.
What is the role of NGOs in the development sector in the 21st century?
There will likely always remain a role for TNGOs in humanitarian relief, although government, the private sector and national NGOs are stepping up their roles. And there will continue to be a contingent of small TNGOs that have a classical charity model. Generally speaking, most mid to large size TNGOs still play some roles in direct delivery of services, though this is generally declining, and nowadays often complemented by advocacy and capacity building. Some are evolving their role to that of being a broker and convener between government, the private sector and national NGOs; sometimes, their role evolves to that of knowledge provider. Western TNGOs increasingly work on strengthening their domestic legitimacy as well as playing a stronger role in domestic policy advocacy as well as service delivery work in the countries where they were founded. Because many NGOs by now have been set up by citizens in the countries where formerly primarily western NGOs used to work, these NGOs in the ‘Global South are now able to play the roles that Western or ‘Northern NGOs’ used to, with considerably lower cost models. There is thus more and more pressure on the northern NGOs to get out of the business of delivering services except for humanitarian relief which as I said will always be needed. Therefore, most analysts are foreseeing a big role change in the 21st century.
I’ve seen that you are on the board of InterAction. What is this organization?
InterAction is a membership organization of US international development and relief NGOs and thus plays the role of national platform here in the US. We, as the TNGO initiative, are an associate member, and I am on the board of InterAction as an independent ‘person of stature’. The board position gives me a bird’s eye view of the sector, which is interesting from a research as well as a networking perspective.
What advice you want to give Maxwell students?
I think it is increasingly difficult to find a job in the international NGO sector. In terms of ‘Northern’ NGOs, it’s increasingly hard for American and other western students to find a job because there are more people with a high level of education in the international development sector than there are NGO jobs. In addition, donor levels in certain countries in the ‘North’ are decreasing while there is an increasing supply of students from ‘Global South and East’ countries who also come from good universities. To some extent it is therefore an increasingly crowded and very competitive market for finding a job. You should therefore definitely not put all your eggs in one or two baskets in terms of finding a job. Also, some students tend to come to Maxwell thinking that they want a job at the World Bank, where I used to work, or the UN, and I actually try to make them less single minded about that. Big organizations are not only extremely competitive to get into but also very bureaucratic. If you enter as a junior person, you may find the organization to be very internally oriented – a lot of navel gazing. You also may experience a lot of ‘paper pushing’. It’s not necessarily that interesting to work in such a large, bureaucratic organization at a junior level. If you can work in a small or medium sized organization like an NGO, think rank, social enterprise or impact investor company, I would argue that this will offer you a better job experience with more hands-on work. Later on, you can then be considered for a mid-level job at one of these large organizations. Also, having field experience at the country level continues to be indispensable –without it you will not compete very well in the job market — but at the same time it is increasingly hard to come by.
Overall, something that I want to encourage you to do is to intern in development organizations or complete field work or volunteer experience. And then, do research about a sector you want to work in, look at what organizations and why you want to work for them, and then reach out to them for informational interviews. This will show that you really understand that organization well.
One more thing, keep your eyes on job opportunities in other cities other than Washington, DC and New York because the competition is harsh in these cities and not as many people would apply to jobs in other cities. Power is so distributed in the world that NYC and DC should not be the only choice. Also, don’t just look at NGOs, government, and think tanks. Look at social enterprises, which are corporations that are set up to make profits but invest that profit into social goods, impact investments, and digitally operating campaigns. There are various types of agencies in international development. Look at them in terms of looking for internships and looking for a job.
A previous version of this article stated that Tosca was a “Professor of Practice”, which is inaccurate. This was an oversight on the part of the Editor.
In case you missed it, Syracuse University News ran an article in early November featuring one of our PAIA students, Rachel Penner, who worked in disaster relief over the summer in Nepal. Rachel is a dual degree MAIR/Atlantis* student.
Kam and Rachel Penner, a graduate student in the international relations program in the Maxwell School, both connected with the U.S.-based organization Aythos. The NGO was co-founded by Maxwell School alumnus Beau Miller G’10, who is Aythos’ president and executive director, and has worked in Nepal for six years.
Penner, who is interested in disaster response and development, was also drawn to the work Aythos was doing.
“Since Aythos was focused on development through their agricultural work before the earthquake, I knew that they would have a unique perspective on how to respond to a crisis with an eye toward long-term efforts,” Penner says.
*The Atlantis Transatlantic Degree Program allows students to study at U.S. and European institutions while earning a MAIR or MPA from the Maxwell School at Syracuse University and a MPP from the Hertie School of Governance in Berlin, Germany.