As a Summer Internship Grant Program (SIGP) recipient, I had the opportunity to explore a career path that interested me. I had no previous experience in the international development field and was curious about the unique experiences that the field has to offer. I became an intern with the Eleos Foundation in Santa Barbara, California. The Eleos is a nonprofit organization that invests in early stage social businesses in Africa and India. Essentially we invest in Tom’s-shoes-like companies. And at the end of the day, I learned about the environments in which I do, and don’t flourish.
I arrived at my internship nervous and eager to learn. It was a small office with three full time employees and two other interns in a large office building. I was expecting menial tasks, grunt work, as I had heard horror stories from my peers’ interning experiences. I was happily mistaken. I only had to make coffee once, and used the copy machine when I needed it myself, rarely for my supervisors. Instead, I was given research projects that would help steer the future of the organization. I always felt appreciated and felt like an asset rather than a burden.
My projects, although at times repetitive, gave me a broad understanding of the impact investing field, as well as a deeper understanding of the foundation itself. For my first project, I researched hundreds of investors, networks, and incubators/accelerators in the impact investing community and mapped out their risk levels and how well they match up to the Eleos criteria to investing. Not only are these organizations good contacts, but they are potential partners for the Eleos as they continue to look for appropriate entrepreneurs. One of the biggest challenges in the impact investing community is the lack of a single network to connect entrepreneurs to potential investors or incubators/accelerators. This project was helpful for the foundation to find appropriate contacts in the future. I also researched various successful social entrepreneurs in Africa. These companies are good contacts for Eleos investments. I researched everything from SoleRebels, an Ethiopian fair trade zero emission shoe company, to the One Acre Fund teaching agricultural techniques to increase yield for subsistence farmers, to Nuru Energy Group increasing access to affordable and sustainable energy solutions. I am proud to say that I have completed something tangible and helpful and learned about the incredible work of others in the field.
I gained invaluable advice from the Eleos Foundation’s CEO, Andy Lower, about the international development field. I would not have had the opportunity had I not taken this position. My eyes were opened to a new kind of thinking, in which it is our sole job to empower others rather than do it for someone else. We discussed his detest for Tom’s Shoes as it disenfranchises those living in poverty, and alternatives for companies with one for one models such as Tom’s. His advice about keeping my mind open to all future employment opportunities after college was very helpful.
Through this job, I began to form my own opinions about the best approach to international development, a hotly debated topic that I had previously felt too ignorant to debate. My experiences have given me the knowledge and confidence about the field I need to help to shape my future in the direction that I feel most passionately. I am proud that I put myself out there and experimented with something that was interesting to me. Even if my experience had not been as positive, it would have been helpful later on when I begin to job search. In addition, this experience has motivated me to be successful in my education to go on and make a difference in the international development field.
The most inspiring part of my experience was knowing that I was helping people help themselves. Rather than giving a person a fish, we were teaching them how to fish—helping people to life themselves out of poverty. Not only was this exciting, but motivating. I do not want to be apart of something that makes a difference throughout developing countries, but I want to do this by helping others to make a difference within their community. This kind of empowerment is what will make a positive impact in our world.
About the NU Intern Blogger Program
This summer, over 50 Northwestern University students will be sharing stories about what they are experiencing at their internships from across the country and internationally. Each week new students will share an inside look at what it means to be an intern. Please contact Betsy Gill, Assistant Director, Internship Services if you have any questions.