Advice, Jobs

Seven Tips For Getting That Summer Internship

With summer break looming into view, I am sure that many of you have begun the hunt for a coveted internship in the international development field. Having just applied for a slew of jobs, internships and fellowships myself, I felt that it might be beneficial to pass along some of the tips that I have learned having undergone this exciting (and yet sometimes tedious) application process for the past four years.

In the current economy, applying for a summer position has become even more competitive and stressful. Students and young professionals are no longer afforded the luxury of cutting corners or being generic when applying for a position. The days of being able to send the same cover letter and resume to multiple organizations and merely tweaking the ‘to’ line are long, long gone.

Since I’m fairly certain that most people are not completely clueless when it comes to the interview process, I’ll spare you the lecture on common tips such as what to wear, controlling nerves, speaking clearly and confidently, etc. Below are my top seven tips for setting your job application apart, nailing the interview, and landing your desired summer position.

1. Use your networks.

Many of the internship opportunities that I have applied for I heard about through a friend, former colleague, or classmate. Talking to my classmates about their different internship experiences has provided me with a good indication of who are the top employers, where to look for exciting job opportunities, the culture of different organizations and which organization may be the best fit for me. I have also had many former colleagues forward me job opportunities that they thought I may be interested in. With so few opportunities available these days, utilizing your network is an absolute must. Make sure to talk to as many people in the field as you can, and ask everyone to send you any opportunities that they may stumble upon.

2. Don’t be lazy. Tailor your application.

As I mentioned above, do NOT submit a generic or ambiguous cover letter or CV. I know that it can be tempting, especially if you are applying to dozens of jobs. However, you must resist the urge and put in the extra time! Be sure to read the position description, do your research about the organization, and customize each application to reflect how your previous experience and future ambitions make you a perfect fit for this specific position.

3. Preparation is key.

After weeks of playing the waiting game, you hear back and have been offered an interview. First, take some time to appreciate and celebrate this small success! You deserve it.

You should start preparing for the interview a few days in advance (at the latest). Before the interview, you should know the organization’s website like the back of your hand. It is important to know the company’s mission, values and anything related to the position or team you have applied to work with. If they are available, skim some of the organization’s annual reports and try to incorporate what you have learned about their past and present projects into your interview answers. Also, if you have any kind of connection to someone who works for or has worked at the organization, be sure to ask them for the insider scoop on what the interviewer is looking for.

4. Don’t be afraid to creep.

Okay. I’ll admit it. I used the internet to do some serious research (read: creeping) on my interviewers, and even the intern who had previously held the position. It actually turned out to be extremely helpful. In the process, I found a series of YouTube videos in which my interviewer had spoken at length about some of projects that the team was working on. When I researched the student who had previously held the position, I was extremely surprised to find some of the interview questions! It turns out that someone had written an article about her getting the internship and the article mentioned that “the applicants were asked to outline a proposed innovation to address a complex global health challenge” which turned out to be very similar to one of the questions I was asked during the interview. Don’t be afraid to use the creepiness of the internet to your advantage.

5. Do a mock interview.

Make up a list of questions that you think may be asked by the interviewer and do a couple run throughs with a friend or a family member. Trust me, it will help to ensure that your answers are more clear and confident during the actual interview.

6. Be yourself.

The interviewer is looking for someone who will be an ideal fit with the organization and the team. Do everything in your power to come across as professional and extremely interested in the position, but do not try to be something that you are not. I personally am an extremely outgoing, animated and sometimes overly enthusiastic person, which can be very off-putting to some people. Although I try to tone it down in interviews, I often don’t succeed. At the end of the day, that is the way that I am and the way that I would act as an employee. If the team leader does not feel that I am the type of person that they want to work with – it is probably for the best. Make sure you are portraying an accurate representation of yourself in the interview, it will probably be the reason you get the job. If being yourself works against you, at least you won’t be working in a terrible work environment with people who don’t like you!

7. Don’t beat yourself up! Every interview is a learning experience.

One time I had to do a two hour long case study-based interview for a position I was completely unqualified for. Calling my performance in the interview an utter failure would probably be considered an understatement – I literally almost started crying in the interview! You are not going to have a perfect interview every single time so don’t beat yourself up about it. Treat it as a learning experience: write down the questions you were asked and think about how you could improve your answers. I can almost guarantee you that the interview will go better next time.

Do you have a particularly interesting or cringe-worthy job interview story? Maybe some tips for other aspiring international development professionals? Be sure to leave them in the comments section, I would love to read them!


Jeffrey Sachs Answered Questions On Reddit, Here Are The Highlights

Recently, the online community of Reddit provided us with yet another great opportunity to question one of today’s top minds in a social-convention-free zone. On January 15th, Jeffrey Sachs took part in an AMA (Ask Me Anything) session where hundreds of Reddit users were able to ask him educated and insightful questions about his work, beliefs, and opinions.

If you’re wondering what Sachs could possibly be doing on Reddit, or what Reddit even is, be sure to check out this great article by Rowan Emslie which should help to clear that up.

Part of Sachs’ motivation for doing the AMA was likely to promote his upcoming free online university course ‘The Age of Sustainable Development’. This 14-week course begins on January 21, and if your interested you can learn more or register for it here. Sachs encouraged many of those participating in the AMA to take the course and “join the generation-long quest to achieve sustainable development”.

For those of you who may not have the time to read this entire (rather long) article, here are some of the main takeaways from the AMA:

  • The importance of public health and environmental sustainability dominated the discussion
  • Sachs stood adamantly behind his views about foreign aid (as expected)
  • He often used the AMA as a vehicle to help plug his main causes and give them more exposure

Over the course of the AMA, Sachs also expressed his opinion on some topics you may have not expected, including the recently leaked draft of the TPP´s (Trans-Pacific Partnership) Environment Chapter, how automation and robotics will affect development, and even Sachs’ favourite novels. While these were definitely interesting insights, below I will focus mainly on recapping the main themes and top comments for anyone who missed the AMA.

What is Sustainable Development?

“We’ll discuss that at length in class. I am using the term “Sustainable Development,” meaning a holistic approach that combines economic, social, and environmental goals.”

Enough said. 

Global Health as the Key to Development

Public health and economic development have always been key components of Sachs’ policy and academic work. He makes it no secret that he views global health as the first stepping stone towards development.

Prioritizing development goals:

“I’d start with the health goals, since those are life and death. And then (or simultaneously) the hunger goal (obvious reason) and then education. Of course once people are alive and properly nourished, education becomes the KEY!”

On strategies to end poverty while increasing sustainable development:

“I think that the key to ending poverty and increasing sustainable development is “investment-led growth,” with investments in people (health, nutrition, education, training), plus investments in infrastructure (such as low-carbon energy), plus investments in “smart” systems using information technologies.”

The Great Aid Debate

As a champion of foreign aid and constant presence in the great aid debate, it was inevitable that the effectiveness of aid would be questioned and that some of Sachs’ top critics would come up in the discussion.

On Dambisa Moyo:

“Unlike Dambisa Moyo, I believe that aid is needed and can be organized effectively and respectfully. I am very happy with the successful scale up of aid for public health in the past decade. It has saved millions of lives and helped to promote economic development.”

Describing his relationship with William Easterly (with a passive aggressive smiley):

“There are days when I’m happier and days when I’m less happy. We’re colleagues and friends, but sometimes I’m simply amazed (and not happy) when he declares that “aid has failed.” This is simply NOT RIGHT!!! :-)”

On ‘The Great Escape’ by Angus Deaton:

“I did not agree with his very blanket statements against aid. In my view, such statements are contrary to the evidence. When somebody declares so categorically that all aid fails, raise your doubts. Such generalizations are not accurate. Much aid is very important. We need to understand why some aid succeeds and other aid fails, so that we can improve the design of aid programs.”

The Millennium Villages Project

The Millennium Villages Project has become one of Sachs’ most controversial endeavours, and has been the source of heavy criticism. This contentious debate arose following the first independent evaluation of one of the villages, and erupted in a series of online articles and duelling editorials. This past September, the commentary resurfaced with the release of Nina Munk’s book The Idealist: Jeffrey Sachs and the Quest to End Poverty. Despite this, Sachs is quick to challenge any criticism and stands firmly behind his project.

Sachs’ response to those who criticize the Millennium Villages Project:

“The project has had enormous positive impacts, way beyond the villages themselves. Governments have taken the successes of the villages as a basis for national policy, e.g. the control of malaria and the scale up of community health workers. There were originally 10 countries in the program, but its so useful for governments that the program is now operating directly or indirectly (through policy advice for example or as a template) in 23 countries. Please see By the way, there will be a comprehensive evaluation of the project, and a comparison with other places nearby, in 2015, to be reported in 2016. It will be interesting for all, including of course the project participants, to learn from these results!”

On the Millennium Villages Post-2015:

“The MVs will be evaluated at the end of 2015, and we will make course corrections and improvements as needed in several national programs underway to scale up the MV model. So the basic notion of using community-based rural development will continue past 2015, for sure. It’s working in many powerful ways, but will have even clearer evidence in 2015 on many important detailed issues.”

The Global Fund

In 2000, Sachs worked with then UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan to design and launch the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB, and Malaria and has worked to support the organization ever since. Last month, Sachs called to task many developed countries for failing to come up with the necessary $5 billion to maintain the momentum of the Fund. He continued his campaign to gain support for the Fund through his AMA.

On using empirical studies to evaluate aid programs:

“We need to be smart in our aid policies, using knowledge, experience, and EXPERTISE outside of economics (such as in public health). The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB, and Malaria, and GAVI are examples of aid success. We should measure and evaluate programs, but use methods that are appropriate to the circumstances. There is too much of a one-size-fits-all strategy to evaluation these days (too much on randomized trials, excluding other means of evaluation).”

On the continuation of the Global Fund agenda:

“The Global Fund is still trying to close the $5 billion. I’ll be speaking with several governments over the next few weeks as well to help close the deal. The name of the game is PERSISTENCE. It takes time to convince governments!!!”

On getting governments to work in the interest of their people:

“I believe that aid can be designed in ways that promote accountability and transparency. This is how the Global Fund has worked most of the time. It’s been a good and successful model. Yes, we should promote a high degree of transparency. Remember that much of the corruption starts from the side of the rich countries and their companies.”

Throughout the AMA, Sachs maintained his idealistic persona and most of his responses had an upbeat tone to them. While he frequently spoke about the success of his projects, he often rebuffed any commenter who brought up critiques of his work. One thing that I found particularly interesting was that Sachs often lumped those who disagreed with his work into the same category as those who simply didn’t ‘understand’ or ‘get’ his work and ideas. A little condescending don’t you think? That being said, what really shined through for me was Sachs’ talent as a campaigner, as it’s undeniable that he is quite effective at garnering support and drawing attention to his principle causes.

So what did you think of Sachs’ AMA? I’d be interested in hearing your thoughts in the comments section below!

Editor’s Note: Two of our new writers – Michelle Gonzalez Amador and Holly Narey – are taking Jeffrey Sachs’ new online course and will be blogging about their experience. We’ll be using the tag ‘Age of Sustainable Development’ for all these posts so check back on that in the coming weeks for more.


Written by Sarah Simpson

This past January, I made my first trip to India, together with 20 other students from around the world. For three weeks, we worked with the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) in Mumbai researching urban public health issues in the slum communities of Mumbai.

My project group sped around town in rickshaws and trudged through sludge and dust to study urban health in Shivaji Nagar, located in the M-Ward which is home to some of the largest slums in India. These 600,000 residents live near the Deonar dumping ground – a man-made mountain of debris and trash.

During our first day, we toured Shivaji Nagar, attracting lots of attention from the community, especially the kids who followed us everywhere. While walking through the slums areas, we were introduced to the “Mahila Mandals,” or traditional local women’s groups, that act to address public health issues caused by the breakdown of government services. They are community-based women’s organizations that seek to improve sanitation and health in the slums. Through broken English, translators and gestures, we learned firsthand how the health of these communities is complicated by many issues ranging from waterborne illnesses to infectious and communicable diseases, and is compounded by inadequate nutrition and overcrowded and poorly constructed living conditions. Historically, Mahila Mandals came together during times of celebration, sorrow or crisis; however their roles in their communities have evolved with the times. Our group decided to focus our research on finding out more about this evolution.

Instead of using a needs-based or problems-focused approach we decided to highlight the community’s assets by writing a case study. We did this by using a SWOT Analysis (Strengths, Weakness, Opportunities and Threats) to help investigate how to best utilize these important community assets. Over the course of two weeks, we traveled to different slum areas and interviewed six Mahila Mandal groups, including both registered and unregistered groups of varying size and membership. We found that not only do Mahila Mandals work to solve issues with sanitation, but that they also promote immunization of children, maternal and child health education, small business funding schemes and resolve domestic violence issues.

To help solve their community sanitation problems, the women frequently collect money for the cleaning of sewers and public toilets. Keeping these facilities clean decreases the exposure to the disease causing vectors and organisms that cause malaria, diarrhea and other maladies. Other community roles include the set-up of Anganwadis or child development centers, which provide childcare services. Children are fed and educated here, ensuring proper childhood nutrition, while alleviating some of the burden of care from their parents. Many of the women involved in these groups are also community health workers with ties them to the local urban health center. As part of their duties, they ensure the vaccination of children, which is especially instrumental in keeping infections, such as polio from re-emerging. Tuberculosis also continues to be a huge public health issue in India, and these women ensure through directly observed treatment programs the prevention of non-adherence to treatment and development of resistant tuberculosis strains. In addition, they also provide training to women on the importance of pre- and post-natal nutrition, family planning options and support for domestic violence incidents.

Their impact is limited mostly due to funding and support from the local community and government. Unregistered groups in particular, are only able to generate funds through community fundraising, which only enables them to solve immediate problems. During our case study interviews we were constantly asked for donations, and we regretfully had to explain over and over, we were students just there to study these groups. And many times, they would say,

“Then what is point of all this? What can you do for us?”

This presented some important ethical questions to consider, as TISS invited us to research these problems and recommend solutions, however, how will these recommendations be implemented after we leave? As this internship program continues, bringing more and more foreign students to trudge through these communities, will they finally have had enough of this “intrusion” and no longer welcome them? However, they still welcomed us into their homes, fed us despite our protests what little food they had to share, and truly made our experience in India unforgettable. Despite not having funds to give, as a thank you for taking the time to speak with us, I created a photo-journal, which we presented to each group we interviewed as a token of our time with them. Since leaving India, I felt compelled to share my experiences, however due to our research not being “approved” by a research board and consent limitations, it’s been frustrating to find ways to properly do this.

At the end of our study, we contended that if more government funding could be mobilized for community-based participatory research programs, communities would more able to identify, support, and mobilize existing resources to create shared visions of change and encourage greater creativity in solving community issues. Along with funding, there is a need for an infrastructure for delivery of care. Apart from services provided by the Mahila Mandals, NGOs, and private clinics and pharmacies, health services are practically nonexistent. Services such as provision of specialized information, physical exams, diagnostic services, hospitalization, medications, follow-up care, prevention, and surveillance need a proper infrastructure that includes specialized and trained personnel. None of these social services can be provided or created by the slum residents themselves. Other services such as access to water and electricity are also desperately needed in these communities.

Support from the local community is also important for the conducting of Mahila Mandal activities. We found that many of these groups consisted of mostly “grandmothers”. This seemed to be due to established gender roles, with younger women discouraged from participation, staying in their roles as “house-wives”. We learned that this is just the tip of the economic, religious as well as cultural hindrances that prevent women from actively participating in these groups.

Most importantly, these groups present a great opportunity to organize women around common issues, challenging and overcoming caste and class hierarchies. They not only provide opportunities for dialogue and discussion, but they also contribute to the capacity of members to understand and find solutions to their community issues and challenges. These groups are prime vehicles for enhancing the position of women in Indian society, as their participation in these groups provides an opportunity for women to take an active part in public affairs.

Overall, community organizations, like the Mahila Mandals, are important for sustainable improvement not only to public health, but for social change as well. While poverty reduction, self-empowerment, and elimination of disparity are important and worthy goals for improving health care in these communities, the speed of development and size of urban slums render achievement of these goals enormously challenging.

Our internship presentation can be found at:

Experiences, Learning, Platform, Projects

Mahila Mandals: A community health study