How to get a job in development – an FP2P guide

December 4, 2012

How do we work out the returns to campaigning? Nice example from the Philippines

December 4, 2012

Interns; World Aids Day and family planning; local music; environmental melancholia; Faces of Latin America; research into evidence via pictures: links I liked

December 4, 2012
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Yesterday’s post on how to get a job in international development sparked a minor twitterstorm about the use of unpaid interns. Arguments against: It’s slave labour and privileges the middle classes who can subsidise their kids to do internships. Arguments for: how is taking away the first rung of the ladder going to help people start a career? As I agonise on this one, it would be great to hear fromHIV infections interns past and present, and of course, people who would have liked to do internships but couldn’t afford to.

World Aids Day was on Saturday and coverage was notably upbeat. Oxfam’s Mohga Kamal Yanni  reviews progress to date and asks what is needed to get the job done. The Economist noted that 70% of all new HIV infections are in Africa, but the number has fallen from a peak of 2.6m in 1998 to 1.8m in 2011 (see graph). US Congress’ weird fixation with (preventing) family planning doesn’t help though.

Which risks putting Congressional opponents somewhat behind the more progressive Islamic leaders in Pakistan. “An awareness campaign, aiming to reframe the debate on sexual health and contraception so it is less of a taboo in Pakistani society, was launched here on Thursday. Scholars from the three most popular Islamic sects in Pakistan – Barelvi, Shia and Deobandi – were consulted in order to tackle the myth that such discussions are un-Islamic, said Omer Aftab, the chief executive of LifeLine, a campaign of the Women’s Empowerment Group, a non-government organisation.”

On a lighter note, Stuff Ex Pat Aid Workers like tackles the cultural rapids of  ‘local music

Now back to ‘Environmental melancholia and dark optimism’. Lovely writing by Anne Karpf on climate change ignorers (i.e. most of us). But maybe carbon taxes are the way to avert both climate change and the fiscal cliff? Like the Robin Hood Tax, but x 100, or the moves to curb tax avoidance, the argument is that the national self interest of governments in solving their fiscal problem will lead them to introduce new kinds of tax wherever they can, offering a way round the collective action problem on climate change. Neat. If we could just sort out campaign financing to stop the lobbyists derailing the whole thing…….

faces-of-latin-america-300x415Boy I feel old. The 4th edition of my first proper book, ‘Faces of Latin America‘ (first published 1991) is now out

Supply and demand in using evidence to influence policy. With pictures.


  1. Full disclosure: I was an unpaid intern at a non-profit for about 8 months before I earned a penny, but II demonstrated value, so they gave me a full time job. Then I became someone who hired armies of unpaid interns.

    I look at this as a pretty efficient model. Unpaid internships generate a lot of value at very low cost.

    Non-profits typically do not have a lot of money, so they’re not in a position to offer interns very much of anything because even great interns do not “pay their way” in terms of generating revenue for the organization, but the organization is nonetheless able to provide the interns with very substantial non-pecuniary wages in the form of experience, connections, a letter of reference, and a line on the resume. There are crappy internships of course, but caveat emptor! Do your due diligence before interning anywhere.

    This is a sensible and efficient transaction.

  2. I interned – and didn’t have a middle class family to support me. I found very cheap accommodation (cheap = dodgy) and worked part time, living on nothing, to support myself doing a part time internship in an agency. It was exhausting, working 6 days a week and commuting 3 hours a day (cheap accommodation is usually not near workplaces). From there I was eventually able to work my way into the department I wanted to work in. It annoys me when people assume that I was able to intern because I had a rich family to support me. People who are really determined will find a way. Also, doing it like this helps you demonstrate in the interview just how committed you really are!

  3. Good luck to both of you, but you’re both missing big points. The mutual benefits Jacob refers to are entirely consistent with paying a modest wage, such as the Living Wage — indeed, those beneftis have always justified relatively low pay for trainees and apprentices. But they don’t justify no pay at all.

    Ex-intern overlooks the fact that many young people put in those sorts of hours and effort with just as much sacrifice — and also receive pay.

    One of the most iniquitous aspects of this system is that opportunities for genuine volunteers are drying up as the interns system takes over. Yet volunteers are, and should be, the lifeblood of charities.

    Public World held an event about this last year, hearing from volunteers, interns and charities and NGOs employing both. The report is here:

    We are following up that work in the New Year with what we think will be an exciting scheme to get the best of both worlds for all involved while making the intern system fairer and stopping this toxic normalisation of the idea that working for nothing is the price you pay for a job.

  4. I did 2 internships, over a period of about 10 months. I got some help from family but, at the time, the JobCentre allowed jobseekers to claim unemployment benefit for a maximum of 6 months if they volunteered for a charity. I could not / would not have done it without the benefits. Still, I got lots of help.

    I then worked in the private sector for 2-3 years. The internships didn’t help me get those jobs (no more than if I had temped in any case). I suspect the internships did help me get onto a Masters’ programme since they were an indicator of commitment.

    When I got a job in an NGO, I assumed the internships probably also helped as an indicator of commitment. But the skills I brought to that job came from my work in the public sector. Subsequently, whenever I have recruited people, I have never consciously given candidates bonus marks for having done voluntary work. But clearly, experience in a relevant field is important and entry-level candidates who have that experience often got it from volunteering.

    Verdict. I was very lucky and privileged. Perhaps some form of government support to charities taking on entry level staff, designed to ensure that people without money but with the motivation can get a chance to get experience, might be worth thinking about.

  5. I was in my mind 20s when I came to an INGO as an intern (3 yrs ago). It may sound naive but I didn’t really know what an internship was, or the controversy that surrounded them. This was a whole new world for me and I was grateful for a way in. I had no contacts, and without it would never had progressed.

    Prior to the internship I had worked in kitchens for years. As a young chef to get into a good kitchen I worked for very little on the understanding you’re learning from the best, so the whole notion of an internship did not strike me as odd or exploitative. I had great managers and I was learning every day. In fact I was so excited I would go home and learn more at night.

    The thing that changed it for me was that at my interview I was told if I was to intern there I could claim housing benefit, and work part time. This was not part of the formal recruitment, one of the interviewers mentioned it in passing. I got a job p/t in a bar to compliment this. This combination left me better off financially than when I was working full time in bars. And above millions of people in the UK. I couldn’t believe it.

    This leads to two things:

    The educated class obsessing about interns without wider discussion of the labour market and proper wages is unhelpful and dangerous. (Private gripe: the intern campaigns messaging often comes across as this).

    In the short term all orgs that use interns should have a responsibility to investigate and advertise all funding/support etc available. This simple measure would go someway to levelling the playing field.

    (Disclaimer: This is a unique experience and I understand every sector is different.)

  6. I work in Oxfam’s UK Poverty team. We argue that we need to ‘make work pay.’ Doesn’t really sit with our interning ethos does it?

    I’ve debated tirelessly with people over this matter and even considered undertaking an internal campaign (and I still might!) I hear the same old drivel….”But our shop volunteers don’t get paid.” To look at the very definition of an internship, you only have to go to a wikipedia to see that an internship is ‘a system of on-the-job training for white-collar and professional careers.’ It’s not hard to work out that working unpaid in a shop is a vastly different experience to an internship where at the end of your placement, you are likely to enter into a reasonably well paid job, or at least one ‘with prospects.’

    It’s also not hard to work out that as an unpaid intern, you will need to have some financial assistance from family or loved ones. For many people living in poverty in the UK, to get subs from the bank of mum and dad is simply not an option. You are also not allowed to get job seekers allowance if you are working over 15 hours. In fact, many people I have spoken to have had their benefits taken away from them because they have been ‘volunteering.’

    By ’employing’ unpaid interns, we are perpetuating the cycle of poverty and neglecting those in our own country who are denied a route out of their impossible situation. We are neglecting young people, lone parents and the long term unemployed.We are becoming an organisation that is made by the rich for the poor. Let’s think, how many of the interns you see ‘driving’ through the gates of John Smith Drive come from Blackbird Leys?

    Volunteers in Oxfam shops are largely made up of pensioners and students with time on their hands. Oxfam does run a ‘retail trainee scheme’ aimed at BME women, to enter into retail management. A great idea. But this is a scheme for women who have no qualifications, who aren’t degree educated, but let’s face it, won’t be earning as much as future NGO worker, even as a manager.

    It’s all well and good asking interns to come on to this forum to talk about their experiences, but they did the internship and it worked for them. If they didn’t get help from mum and dad during their internship, there will undoubtedly have been some sort of ‘informal economy’ helping them along the way somewhere. I”m one of them. My parents let me live at home rent free for a few months after university which enabled me to save some money for a car, which helped me get to my first job every morning.

    Oxfam is an amazing organisation. It works to alleviate poverty and fight inequality all across the globe. It’s just a shame it’s forgotten about the people right on its doorstep.

  7. I’d also like to point out that there will always be an exception to the rule. Someone who works three jobs, commutes for 3 hours, or works throughout the night.

    But it shouldn’t be that way! Is it right that it is easier for some people to work an unpaid internship that will give you better prospects, than for others?

    It’s not just about having a rich family, it’s about factors within your life that make it easier, or harder, for you. Having a child, a disabled family member, savings, good health, family or friends that let you stay for cheap or free, good schools in your area that gave you a good education …I could go on…

    Again, there will be someone who has beaten all these odds, but really, should it be about ‘beating the odds?’ Or ‘equality’….perhaps….

  8. Jo – the choice is whether Oxfam International cut spending on international programmes in order to fund paid internships for Brits – or just stop all of the unpaid internships. Neither of those sound like good solutions to me.

  9. I’m so glad that Jo has included ‘loved ones’ in the comment above, as it annoys me that the assumption is that it is only parents that support those wishing to work in international development.

    My (now) husband decided to leave a successful career of 10 years and study for a Masters with the aim of working for an international NGO. He has spent months and months volunteering for a large international organization – just volunteering, mind you, not even on a formal internship – just to prove his dedication (this was a significant step down from his previous management job, but he bit the bullet and did it anyway as he understood he would have to prove his worth in this new sector). Throughout all this time it was me supporting him as we tried to live in London and also save for a wedding; as I am in my mid-twenties and also work for a non-profit, you can imagine that this doesn’t quite compare to the support of ‘middle-class parents’ and wasn’t always that easy.

    He has now progressed to a series of temporary contracts, but still it seems as if the only options are a succession of administrative roles or posts requiring 3-5 years of international experience. It seems as though some organizations are filled with priviledged, Oxbridge educated entry level staff – and don’t get me wrong, I have no doubt that these people have much they can offer, it just seems that there should be more flexibility to ensure that the potential of other employees is not overlooked when they do not fit neatly into a box. International experience would also be great and we are very willing to go abroad, but how many international posts would allow a partner to go along as well, even if they have skills they could offer and are willing to support themselves when they arrive? In my mind the problem is not simply whether NGOs should or should not use interns or volunteers, but whether more should be done to assist with that bridge from intern to permanent position, as it seems many organizations have become complacent about the fact that they can always find cheap or free assistance when they need it with no commitment to the individual who is willing to work so hard for them.

    I guess I feel there needs to be more awareness that the difficulties of getting into this sector don’t just affect the individual desperately trying to forge a career t, but it also has repercussions for those around them.

  10. Ben Goldacre has written about unpaid internships in medicine with some vehemence:

    I’m inclined to think development is a similar area, given that individuals most often need post-graduate degrees to get a post, driving down the value of undergraduate degrees.

    I spent time volunteering (not a formal internship position) for an NGO before being told I would have to go back to university to get an MSc before getting paid work. I was very fortunate to have the opportunity to do so, being dependent on my partner at the time. During my volunteering, I was claiming JSA, on the understanding that if the jobcentre found me any paid work, I would have to quit my voluntary position without notice.

    I think it’s impossible to argue that internships/volunteering don’t favour the well-off, as there is simply no way you can survive without some support. If we had a better welfare system in the UK, that supported people to gain experience in their chosen fields, then this might be more acceptable.

  11. Lee – Oxfam reach millions of people across the globe. They do this because they pay their staff. Charities that run on voluntary basis have proven to produce far less returns than those who pay. People can commit a full working week and a degree of consistency to their role, thus improving productivity. We do after all, operate as a business and our ‘profits’ go to helping the world’s poor.

    I’m not for one moment saying that internships should ‘pay well,’ but they should pay for people to live. That is one very basic human dignity no man or woman anywhere in the world should be denied.

  12. Perhaps it’s getting off the point a bit , but I think you could see how a paid retail apprenticeship through Oxfam shops might get lots of people into the UK jobs market in the retail sector. Maybe this could be part of the UK poverty programme ?

  13. All organisations have an interest to invest to secure a future diverse and competent human resource base but also the incentive to free-ride.
    Now, how is it we usually approach collective action problems?

  14. I agree that neither cutting spending nor stopping internships are great options, but surely investing in training and retaining good interns who then become loyal, motivated staff would also make large organizations more effective. Staff who feel the organization actually gives a damn about them are much more likely to give more to it, both in terms of effort on a daily basis and commitment in the long run. As Jo says, consistency and efficiently go a long way to helping charities achieve their aims.

  15. Wow. What a great discussion…

    Equality of opportunity should be about a choice for everyone at a level playing field – it’s not about the super stars that break the mould. That’s a very iconic way of looking at individual progress, we might do better by building the enabling conditions for people to progress – that is what we do in development and that is what we should build into our own organisation – for people on our own doorstep.

    In this day and age I don’t want to keep hearing about the one person that beats the odds – and Jo, as you say, the odds will always be relative. I don’t want to hear the comment about the Oxbridge fast streamer, or young professional whose parents ran Oxfam. I don’t want to hear about the people at the UN who all got their first break through family/intern networks… The list goes on – it would just serve us well to build a fair entry system where everyone gets a go so that we’re all comfortable in our skins whichever walk of life we came from.

    We should reward the superstars, yes, but the greater prize for me would be to help the larger numbers of young people, less well off, though equally motivated, get through the door who don’t have to display that level of sacrifice to get – hold on, what is – just a job.

  16. I was a PAID intern at Oxfam- back in 2003 Oxfam took on about 8 of us as Graduate Trainees. We had a year of experience in 4 different teams and were paid- not brilliantly, but enough to live. I think the scheme only ran for a couple of years, but at least one of these people is still there, and a number stayed a while, so I am assuming there was some value to it. The scheme was incredibly valuable to me. I was the first generation in my family to go to university, home was a long way away from anywhere where you might get a job, let alone London. There was no way I could have done this (I now have a senior programming role in Education) without being paid, and I would like to think that Oxfam got a more diverse group of us than they might have otherwise. It’s nonsense to say agencies ‘can’t afford’ interns. If their sustainability relies on an army of unpaid labour they’re managing the organisation badly. I’ve worked in smaller agencies who had a ‘no unpaid interns’ policy, and entry level jobs remained that as a result. Those of us who recruit have to be sure to look at different ‘sorts’ of people when we recruit; there can be a tendency for managers to think ‘well, I had to do it, they should too’, without recognising the position of privilege they occupy. While recognising that commitment to the sector needs to be shown that can be in lots of ways- student campaigning, volunteering, blogging etc. In a way, it’s a moot point. Minimum wage legislation actually makes this illegal if the intern adds value (and they will be, or why have them?) and I am sure it won’t be long before we start to see some claims.

  17. Here’s a thought: whatever is being done in the HQ of an INGO in a rich country by interns, that requires no real experience but some university skills and critically does provide that first step onto the ladder into a professional aid career: stop having the organisation structured so that that work is happening in rich countries (and indeed, rich counties: hello Oxfordshire).

    Offshore the rentire Oxfam policy and practice department to Malawi, or Bangladesh. If you must have interns, let the next generation of university leavers with their foot on the rung be from the countries where aid and development actually happen.

    Lather, rinse, repeat for 20 years, until the CEO of every INGO is non-OECD.

  18. An unpaid internship was what jump started my career in International Development. I consider it a crucial step for anyone to make and something that is now the status quo. Along with many on here, I also now hire unpaid interns and they are invaluable to us, and in return the skills they develop are invaluable to them. I also did not have a family to support me while interning. I worked long and hard at a restaurant when not at the office to be able to live. I would not have changed a thing – I am now doing exactly what I wanted to doing.

  19. Oh and I also should add that I obtained my internship in 2008 not by family connections or whatever else people complain about – but by researching NGOs, taking time to create a good resume, sending out countless emails, following up by phone and being well prepared for interviews.

  20. (I persuaded this shy emailer to let me put up their comment as ‘anon’):

    Hi Duncan, apologies for sending an email directly rather than posting a comment, but I’m afraid I’m one of the dinosaurs who abhors internet commenting. Also I did want to take issue with your use of ‘slave labour’ but don’t ever think it’s helpful to call people out publically on the occasional word – obviously I don’t think you are denigrating the experience of slavery or anything. And I completely accept that people use to the term ‘slave labour’ to describe interns a lot. I do think though that we can use more appropriate words in this debate (‘unpaid labour’ being the most obvious example, though it has little of the impact of the prior term I admit), rather than using terminology that describes heinous conditions like forced marriage, lack of sufficient food/water, etc.

    On your request for inputs to the intern argument though, I would just add in that often it’s the title (and corresponding structure) of internships that can be the troubling part of the dynamic. I switched from lecturing to humanitarian policy/advocacy work about 7 years ago and learned to be really clear with employers that non-salaried work that I was doing to gain experience was as a volunteer, rather than an intern. I have countless examples of where I saw I was treated with greater respect by staff within the organisation, and by management, than other non-salaried employees (interns). This may have been related to my behavior and my clarity with employers about the conditions I was willing to work under, but I do think the experience of interning is hugely determined by the organizational culture’s approach to interns in general, and that often the problems cannot be solved at the personality/individual-level. I think another good example of this would be the UNV system versus the interns recruited directly by UN agencies. UN agency interns are used up and can’t even apply for a job within 6 months of the end of their internships; UNVs (in theory) are immediately added to the agency’s roster, and receive professional development training during their UNV year.

    Related to the above, and I think one of the key issues in this discussion, is the reality of the work that interns are recruited for. Interns often do not receive sufficient information about the position at the point that they are asked to accept a position for a period of 6 months (or more); nor does their work all fall in the area that they applied for the internship in. Interns are used as cover (or even full-time) receptionists, photocopying for short-staffed departments, unrelated admin that is not in their job description, not to mention being switched from one department to another entirely in some cases.

    I realize that you posited the debate in terms of opportunities for the few vs. more opportunities total than otherwise available, but I think the above is also an important part of the discussion – because if we accept that internships are a useful tool in response to the first discussion, we don’t have to live with the current state of the intern system, and should immediately do more to share best practice and stamp out abuse on internships.

  21. Just to add a couple thoughts from my experience as someone who has hired interns and non-interns at Plant With Purpose:

    1) Agree with above comments about potential for abusing the intern system. That said, internships have been a really effective way for us to get to know potential employees and their capabilities and interests, and vice-versa.

    2) Our internships have tended to be short (3-4 months) and less than full time. This makes other paid employment possible for the intern, and seems to be a good length of time for them to both learn on the job and add value to our org. Yes it is “free labor” for us, but so are the many volunteers that we and most orgs need to cover all our bases with limited resources.

    3) Interns generally always have an inside track when it comes to filling new postions, for obvious reasons.

    4) As of now we don’t do international internships, as we don’t feel the mix of learning and contributing that interns do is a good fit for our international development work. (But then we also don’t have resident expats, only local staff, making international interns extra tricky…)

    5) Thanks to all of you for this thoughtful discussion. If you ever find yourself in San Diego, where our HQ is, I hope you’ll stop by- or maybe intern, :) Doug

  22. The worst case of of unpaid internships I have seen was at the UN. In any given division they may even have 2 or 3 unpaid interns for every paid employee. There also is an immense scarcity of potential positions for interns to move into if they do well at their post. Not to mention that connections and the right passport often get interns further than diligence and quality of work produced.

    Internship experience is now a requirement on your resume and, particularly NGOs and international organizations, substitute entry level positions for unpaid ones. Personally, after working 2 jobs in order to support myself while holding intrrnships I was passionate about and never getting job offers – I realized that the private sector actually respects and values hard working, dynamic, and creative thinkers more than the public/NGO sector.

    It has made me believe that all people need to really consider if the work that interns do – if it actually did create value for your institution then dont interns deserve to reap at least enough of that to live? If you dont have enough resources to pay your interns then they arent really creating significant value – maybe they are just doing the work your paid employees should be able to do if they werent spending their time trying to train and retrain and manage all of you interns?

  23. Hi Duncan,

    I noticed your remark “But maybe carbon taxes are the way to avert both climate change and the fiscal cliff?” and thought you might want to join the conversation about climate change and low emission development hosted by Pablo Benitez of the World Bank at their new site Striking Poverty.

    Pablo’s panelists are discussing innovations for poverty alleviation that also address climate change, and ways of financing carbon markets. The panelists include Timothy Hassett, formerly of Kiva, now at World Wildlife Fund, Bill Farmer of the Uganda Carbon Bureau, and Estomih Sawe of TaTEDO.

    We would love your take on the points being shared so we encourage you and your blog readers to comment. The discussion will run for two weeks. Thanks!


  24. This is a really difficult issue. But I do agree with those commenters who have separated out a few issues from the straightforward pay/non-pay distinction – namely, quality and access.

    Briefly on quality, no organisation should get away with offering coffee-making ‘opportunities’ to young volunteers these days. Variety, challenge, support and professional development should be at the heart of any internship offered by any organisation, but all the more so when the person is working on a voluntary basis.

    But it is also brute reality that not all charities of all sizes would be able to take as many young people on work experience as they do presently and pay them a living wage, particularly in London (about £20k pro rata). They would decide to make do without that extra research, post fewer blogs, not organise that fundraising auction, or whatever. NMW doesn’t come close to being a London living wage. So if that were made the requirement, it would only serve to give more pocket money to the same current crop of (perfectly earnest and well-intentioned, but also) fortunately-supported would-be interns, and would do nothing about access.

    And access is surely the key. And access is not helped by prohibitively expensive (even if well-meant) measures that shut down even more opportunities. So what are the affordable options that could be tried to break down access barriers? Matt mentioned government financing. That’s an option, and you could see something like the International Citizen Service perhaps being extended to young people in the UK too. Perhaps cheaper, and more politically feasible, than waiting for the creation of an ‘Access to Internships’ fund like that, though, might be to attack the cost-barrier at its source: accommodation. With most internships paying transport costs, rent and utilities are far and away the chief cost. Could government request universities (public institutions) to offer their unused halls rooms to prospective interns from out-of-town, especially over the long summer breaks? Or government aside, and more simply, could charities not directly seek out university partners for this?

    I’d be interested to hear any other suggestions for where free (or very cheap for charities to cover) accommodation might be able to be found for volunteer interns, especially in London. (And if I had a spare room, I’d offer it to any prospective interns out there!)

  25. This interns discussion is hand-wringing and hanky-clenching on the deck of the Titanic. NGOs like Oxfam could pay all of their interns, starting tomorrow. And it still wouldn’t change the fact that most interning/volunteering opportunities that lead to highly professional roles are biased towards young people starting their careers from rich countries. Leave the fundraising department behind, move the rest of your headquarters to Botswana, to India, to Bangladesh. Be of the world, not in it.

  26. Hi Thanks for this discussion. I think it’s not fair that people who have just come out of uni with debt and need to have living expenses can’t access the opportunities of volunteering in the same way as those kids whose parents can afford to sponsor them for a volunteering commitment. And yes agree with Dee also graduates and skilled people in developing countries can’t access these opportunities as easily. Theres something deeply hypocritical about this situation of priviledged young people acting as agents for the poor and disadvantaged. I’ve volunteered myself for charitable organisations, who did not provide training or useful experience just because they could do that. I couldn’t keep up this expensive way of starting a career for very long.

  27. This discussion has some parallels to university admissions. Universities argue that it is their responsibility to accept the best candidates, and not to try and fix the failings of schools and broader socioeconomic inequality – to which I have some sympathy.

    To use some economic jargon there is also an important distinction to be made in this debate between efficiency and equity. Some commentators are arguing that it would be good for Oxfam to pay interns because they would be more productive / offer different perspectives. If that is true then I have more sympathy for that argument, though I’d like to see some evidence that it is true.

    I have less sympathy for the argument that it is just unfair for interns who struggle or are unable to work for free. There are greater injustices out there were Oxfam resources should be concentrated.

    Now – again with an economist hat on – if Oxfam were operating in a competitive marketplace (it is) and saw an opportunity to create value by hiring an additional paid intern, wouldn’t it have done this already?

  28. I am an American, currently working as a volunteer-intern at the UN FAO headquarters in Rome. I recognize that I am blessed to have this opportunity, as I have been supported by generous family members. I am coming to the end of my six-month term and I am very grateful for the experience I’ve had here. I have learned a lot, made many friends and connections (with professionals, as well as with loads and loads of interns), and have certainly broadened my horizons. However, my problem is that I am facing a mountain of student loan payments once I get back to the US, and I can’t really handle that. Flaws of the American university system. I will have to declare unemployment and try to defer payments, but who knows. I owe a lot to the fact that I was born in the right place, at the right time, and I am lucky to be here. I’m lucky that this is even a complaint. But, I just thought this might be another factor to consider when talking about volunteer interns.

  29. I’m surprised this is even a debate – internships are intended to be an opportunity for someone who is new to a field – and therefore lacking the experience to take on a job professionally. They are a way to get your foot in the door in any sector – NGO, private sector, wherever. And there is a “give and take” in an internship – I do the work you want (benefit for the NGO), and I in turn get some skills I can take with me to the next (paid) job, and/or at least get to put your organization’s name on my resume (either way, benefit for me). I’m a grad student and have swallowed my pride (and accumulated some debt) to take on a handful of unpaid internships – and while of course I’d like to have been paid (and not now have a financial hole to climb out of as a result), the fact is I was/am new to the development field….so why should I expect to be handed a job when I lack experience to take it on? I do understand the argument that unpaid internships “privilege the middle class who can subsidise their kids to do internships” (though this is an unfair, wide sweeping generalization that certainly doesnt apply to all unpaid interns) – but I would argue that assuming you have a right to get paid for a job that you haven’t yet gained the skills to do is a fairly privileged demand too….whatever happened to paying your dues?

  30. Our campaign for paid internships believes we need to look at this issue in its wider context.

    Internships are a relatively new phenomenon – there were definitely not as many ten years ago.

    They have blossomed just as employment rights are being eroded more generally. Low paid work is becoming increasingly precarious and free labour is exploited elsewhere through workfare.

    While it might be true that there are more graduates persuing fewer jobs, unpaid internships not only narrow the range of potential candidates but also dangle the carrot of full employment when there often is none available.

    In the course of our campaign, we have met people who have undertaken up to 7 internships unpaid and still can’t get s job.

    We agree that professional experience is necessary for new graduates. Richer charities like Oxfam should set an example to the rest of the sector, by being honest about job opportunities. It should provide less but paid, mutually beneficial roles for interns and more entry-level roles for those seeking to start their career.

  31. Dear Lee’s economist hat.

    I don’t think it’ll be a huge challenge to gather the evidence proving that you’re over-estimating economic reason’s ability to account for long-term effects; and under-estimating perverted incentives to stay with jargon.

    That said, I think you’re absolutely right (if I understand you correctly) about the naivety in assuming that a living wage would correct for societal inequalities. The well-off will continue to be the well-qualified, regardlessly. However, it would potentially: mend some of it, contribute to diversity, and be the right thing to do for an organisation like Oxfam in light of the former two potential effects.

    Ps. I believe diversity would be a moral- as well as an economic good in this context.

  32. There are as many types of internship as there are companies offering them and its not possible to make sweeping statements about the quality or usefulness of all of them. The worst promote a class driven cronyism while the best offer opportunities for the inexperienced to gain skills that will undoubtedly increase their employability. I run an intern training programme in East Sussex that provides opportunities for ex-homeless people to complete employability training and a six month work placement aimed at giving them the skills and experience necessary to break into the jobs market. Our clients are in no doubt about the benefits of taking part in such a programme. The key thing in making such programmes worthwhile is striking the right balance between the company benefiting from the additional staffing resource and the intern benefiting from the experience, the balance should always tipped in the interns favour.

  33. Hello dear readers!

    Although I am more than a week late, I do not want to miss my opportunity to express my view – because this issue is mine too.

    I am a current Oxfam intern and I love it. People I work with are professional and passionate, friendly and supportive, great team full of excellent brains. The stuff I do is interesting, challenging, exciting and leaves me full of positive energy about what can be achieved if people are committed and have can-do approach.

    Yet there is a cloud of questions which accompanies all these great things.

    I have been lucky to get a part time job while interning – are all the employers generous/open-minded enough to allow their staff to do this?

    I have a great partner who works hard too so that we can manage – wonder what single people have to do to sustain themselves?

    I have ruined my family´s fortune (and idea of my future) to go studying (my Granma wanted me to have a nice sofa and curtains and doesn´t care that much about degrees:) – can everybody do that to qualify themselves for the great jobs they would like to do?

    I think it´s not just about commitment. It´s about the structures, about acceptable practices, about accessibility and fairness. Phew – pretty tough!

    I think it is not fair that not everybody can do this. It is not right that we accept a structure which doesn´t allow fair advancement to all of us.

    Lacking the answers (sorry:) I still have a few last questions left. What keeps us from redesigning the system? Do we really want the change? What made the humankind move from former (now completely unacceptable) practices?

    I admire what Oxfam have achieved – I have campaigned with them before and will after I finish – but I would also like to see change in the unpaid internship policy. Simply because I love what I am doing now and I think that if I get anywhere it will because of this. And I think that this should be accessible to as wide pool of people as possible.

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