Projects, Unpaid Internships

The Internship Grind: An unpaid act one year later

In this episode Clement speaks to the infamous tent-living intern of Geneva, David Leo Hyde, and his partner Nathalie Berger.

A couple of our writers took on this topic at the time:

  1. Sleeping rough in Geneva – a good overview and hot-take on the story by Alex Odlum.
  2. 4 ways unpaid internships undermine the UN – an anonymous break down of how an (unpaid) UN intern sees the wider problems of unpaid internships in the UN.

So what came from this big tent stunt? The UN hasn’t changed its way just yet. But David’s time in the tent became a rallying call to help organise interns and pro-pay activists get attention from the media.

Looking forward to checking out their documentary on the unpaid internship issue!

As always, help support the Internship Grind by contributing to Clement’s Generosity crowdfunding campaign. You can also check out his blog here.

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Advocate, Unpaid Internships

Rights for all (except our interns)

“If it is to deserve its reputation as a beacon of justice, defending the rights of every person with a clear conscience and impeccable record, Human Rights Watch must cease the exploitation of its interns.”

A group of Human Rights Watch (HRW) unpaid interns have reportedly filed a report calling for the organisation to start paying their lowliest workers. Outrageous right?

Human rights organisations are held to a higher standard, naturally, and this sort of easy hypocrisy doesn’t do anything to help their image as imperialist outsiders trying to get governments of developing countries to uphold values and standards that are routinely ignored by Western governments.

This isn’t a criticism I agree with, I should add, but these organisations make it stick all the more readily by continuing to offer interns ‘experience’ instead of money.

Of course, tons of organisations use unpaid interns. We’ve covered this subject pretty thoroughly, covering the last intern scandal in Geneva (which focused on underpayment), asking why development seems to expect a period of (maligned) unpaid work and offering some alternative paths into the field. We also polled our readers and stopped sharing unpaid internship opportunities back in 2013. Hell,  the first two posts I ever posted on here dealt with the ethical concerns of unpaid internships – one of the reasons I started this website was to give a platform to interns in the development industry to raise these issues.

Let’s hope HRW does the right thing. But I’m not holding my breath. So let’s help them along by adding some more weight to the debate.

I’d love to hear from more unpaid interns in the sector.

What jobs are you doing? How many hours do you work/volunteer? Are you learning much? Does your supervisor trust you or give you any attention? How long is your internship?

Tell me your story and I will help you publicise it right here on Development Intern. You can submit to me via our Facebook writers group or via email.

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Commentary

Sleeping Rough in Geneva: What is behind Unpaid Internships at the UN?

by Alex Odlum

The international press have been quick to jump on the story of David Hyde — the 22 year old New Zealand intern found squatting in a tent on the shores of Lake Geneva due the impossibility of meeting the city’s exorbitant rents on a UN salary of zero Swiss Francs (CHF).

As a law graduate with recent Master in Public Policy eager to start out on a career in international affairs, David’s struggle to afford the strangling prices of a city consistently ranked among the world’s top 10 most expensive is one to which I can closely relate.

Fortunately – for me at least – I am able to call a small apartment home and so far have not had to resort to a tent. Nonetheless, many a time I have found myself munching on nothing more than plain baguette after weighing up the horrendous prices of a more traditional bakery lunch – a humble ham sandwich (forget about the cheese!) will set you back nearly 10 CHF in many places.

Of course it is not fair to him but, in some respects, David has had it easy. At just 22 with only four years of study – and presumably four years of cumulative student debt – under his belt, David’s finances are potentially a lot healthier than those of many graduate job seekers today.

Many of the UN’s other unpaid interns have spent five, six, seven or more years scratching out master’s degrees and doctorates at the world’s best (and most expensive) universities, only to find themselves working for free.

I have known qualified medical doctors with public health master’s degrees to be on the World Health Organization’s books as unpaid interns. Sadly, such stories of over-qualification and under-valuation are more common than they are unique.

The point I am making here is that the discourse on David Hyde’s dilemma, whether justifying or scandalising unpaid internships looks only at snapshot in time and fails to grapple with the further issue that ambitious and talented young people often undergo years of financial sacrifice just to be eligible for a coveted internship at their dream institution.

Of course, students will always be poor.

That is a truism that one cannot challenge. Being a student is as much about learning about life outside the classroom as it is about books and grades.

There is nothing like a couple of weeks of a lavish indulgence followed by a couple of weeks of acute poverty to teach us the finer points of monthly budgeting and personal finance.

But whereas obtaining a good bachelor’s degree peppered with a bit of work experience over the summer breaks used to be a pretty fail-safe launching point to a junior position, the hard truth is that today over 5 years of study, a master’s degree or two, and a host of paid or unpaid internships is no ticket to employment.

At the UN, for example, entry-level professional positions – “P1” – simply do not exist. You’ll need to miraculously summon two years work experience from the day of your graduation just to qualify for a P2 position.

Ultimately, the problem here is not that the UN requires highly trained and experienced entry-level candidates – after all, this is a highly sought after employer operating in a competitive, global market. Rather, the problem is that such reasoning ignores the fact that just getting to graduation day costs vast quantities of students’, parents’, or even the government’s precious savings, leaving highly qualified graduates in a precarious position.

Although US tuition fees are at the high extreme of the global spectrum, the fact that average graduate loan debt in the US hit $35,000 in 2015 is indicative of the predicament young job seekers face around the world.

Investing three, six or even 24 months of your time to make contacts, demonstrate your skills and learn the ropes is not simply a matter of roughing it for a few nights, akin to pitching a tent on your new plot of land before you are able to afford the bricks and mortar.

Instead, it is more like sleeping rough deep in an excavated building site. Sure, you might have some pretty solid foundations lying around that in theory could support a skyscraper. But without the money to buy construction materials, you’re not going to be able to build the home you dreamed of. What is worse, with just a bit of rain, you will soon be up to your neck in mud.

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Commentary, Experiences, Learning

Advocacy, The EU & NGOs

The Brussels we are often presented with is a rather depressing image; a dystopian bureaucracy riddled with over-paid civil servants and wasteful spending. It is a Daily Mail-esqe atrocity within the miserable “non-country” of Belgium. Just the other day, the far-right French politician Marianne LePen predicted that, like its Eastern counterpart, the EU would unravel very quickly akin to the Soviet Union’s collapse twenty years ago.

One of my jobs in the EU-lobby office of Oxfam only strengthens this impending sense of failure. As I browse the inbox of the office’s ‘general’ account, I am constantly reminded of the great evil we are committing by working with “the €U”. Anonymous emails flood in complaining that “they are appalled their money is supporting Brussels fat-cats” and that they don’t want to “support those rotten institutions”; that they are “misled” as to where the money is going.

In August I co-wrote a blogpost highlighting a very similar idea about the salaries of charity bosses. I said that the 21st Century NGO is far different from how the public perceives it and that it would be more helpful to look at charities such as Oxfam and ActionAid as ‘non-for-profit businesses’. Like any business, you have to work with governments to get the policies which will most suit your goals and ambitions.

For anyone who is concerned with real development, the European Union epitomizes what a regional organisation can achieve. The EU-28 is, by far, the largest donor of international aid, a leader in climate change action and a peace broker in war-torn areas such as the OPT and Somalia. If you take away the public face of in-fighting and often confusing decision-making processes, you find a Europe Union which is increasingly happy with this ‘soft power’ touch.

As a media and communications intern with little knowledge of the EU before joining a month ago, my education has been swift and eye opening. The on-going biofuels battle bears witness to this. The EU has the incredible power to limit how much of the environmentally damaging, land-rights violating fuel comes into the market. If biofuels are diverting so much food from the poorest in the world, it is the NGO’s responsibility to work hard to ensure that policy-makers place the lowest possible cap on them, ergo putting a halt to entirely preventable poverty.

To claim that NGO’s are misleading the public is misguided and to make the accusation that they are propping up the EU is ignorant at best.

Policy causes poverty, but if done well it can also alleviate it.

NGOs budgets are limited and by circumventing the causes of poverty, they are able to save both money – and lives – now and in the future. If NGOs didn’t have a presence in such an important arena, as well as others including Geneva, New York and Washington D.C, we would, in fact, be letting down those we endeavour to empower.

As an intern, you are able to experience the invisible face of development. NGOs work hard to highlight the work they do on the ground as well as the campaigns they support. In Brussels, you will see very little of that; we do not directly hold demonstrations neither do we send activists to the developing world. Rather we strive to give the EU the ‘positive’ face that is often ignored by the European press.

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