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The Intern Files: Winrock International

The following blog post was written by peer advisor Eva, a senior in the Elliott School studying international affairs (and getting ready to graduate in December!).

Since May, I have been interning at an international development organization called Winrock International. It was founded by Winthrop Rockefeller (get it? Win-Rock?) and strives to empower the disadvantaged in the US and abroad. I was brought on to support the closure (aka closeout) of the Room to Learn South Sudan project, a USAID-funded program increasing access to primary education in South Sudan, especially for vulnerable and marginalized children. My very first major task was to create a tracker in Excel to document what paperwork had been received for each of 991 grants. Copying and pasting all the individual 11-digit grant numbers and their pertaining school names was NOT the most thrilling task, nor was color-coding cells to document the state of the paperwork. However, I was surprised to find that I actually really liked when I had all the information together and could really easily determine what was missing, what was incorrect, and what the next steps were to ensure compliance. I did the same review for HR files (staff files) – for over 120 South Sudanese staff.
All the documentation for literally EVERYTHING in the project got sent to our office in Arlington. It’s like Christmas, if you wrote to Santa asking for 31 giant boxes of paperwork. So I spend a lot of time sitting in what I call “The Cave.” Here’s a picture (and yes, the back row is double stacked):
The Cave

The Cave

It’s actually really soothing to tune into some podcasts (I recommend¬†Serial, Lore, or Stuff You Should Know), and just organize papers, and it’s secretly one of my favorite tasks.

I also learned how to deal with a security emergency during July when we had to evacuate our international staff due toviolence in Juba. I can say that I have supported a project which directly reached over 300,000 primary students in South Sudan by providing them materials essential to education, which is a lot of kids – let alone their teachers, parent-teacher associations, and local education officials who also received training and support. I learned how to manage a project budget, calculate burn rates (spending), I tracked the transfer of over 1400 assets valuing over $1 million, and I currently am editing our annual report which describes all aspects of the project that took place over the last fiscal year – October 1, 2015-September 30, 2016.
So. If any of these things sound cool to you, you should definitely look at internships and jobs in international development! Any domestic job is going to be super administrative – you have to be detail oriented, focused, and able to quickly learn new applicable skills that you definitely weren’t taught in class. Lots of entry level development jobs want you to have experience in administrative tasks including donor compliance, budgeting, event planning, and booking travel, and this kind of internship is a great way to get that alongside exposure to any variety of “technical” areas of development – education, civil empowerment, agriculture, environment, WASH (water, sanitation and hygiene).
“But Eva,” you might be saying, “I really want to go abroad and actually do development!” Well, that’s awesome! The best way to do that (or work in development domestically) is to learn your basic administrative project management skills, but then get some experience in the technical area of your interest! You should also look up development organizations that work in your area of interest to get a sense of what’s out there, and look at specific jobs to see the qualifications and experience required or preferred – that will help you shape your plans and decisions for classes, other internships, and work after graduation.
So, if you’re interested in international development, I would absolutely recommend looking into specifics of the field to get a sense of what exactly the jobs are like! Go to career events, join networking organizations, and speak with professionals – these will all help inform your quest to improve the world.