Capital adventures: Bojana goes to DC

Follow me during my 12 week summer internship at NDI!

Hardest Part of the Job

Interning at NDI is 50% a learning experience and 50% practical application. I have had briefings with program officers from my assigned programs, I was required to do extensive background reading for each of our projects, and I am encouraged to explore outside events to learn more about democracy and post-war stabilization in Central and Eastern Europe —all for the sake of learning more about NDI’s programming and goals in their work. The practical application aspect of my internship includes learning how to formally draft reports and understanding how a international non-profit headquarters functions. Working in this atmosphere has shed light to things that I don’t particularly like–these are things that I have witnessed specifically at NDI but I feel apply to many other international non-profits as well. 

During previous internships, I was given a lot of flexibility when it came to my assignments and responsibilities. NDI, along with almost every other major, international non-profit organization is very “top-down” focused. As in, I cannot start a project without a supervisors permissions, and this project cannot be implemented without their supervisors approval–and finally, a grant for such project cannot be submitted without the organization’s president’s signature. I feel this structure is limiting towards lower-level staff, and doesn’t allow for and professional development over time. When you are hired by NDI, your job description is set, and there is very little wiggle room, or opportunities to rising within the ranks. 

I work in one of the smaller departments at NDI. However, my department also has the largest number of interns (3)–therefore the hardest part of my internship this summer has been when I finish my work and have nothing else to do. Some program officers are better at delegating work down to interns–however when working an environment where everything needs to be approved, sometimes it’s easier for them to just do the work themselves. Now, I am not complaining about my free time — I find ways to occupy myself. However, it is more the fact that I cannot do anything significant for NDI during this free time that had made me reevaluate my priorities and career ambitions. 

It is not just interns who are disabled by organization bureaucracy–it is program assistants and senior program assistants as well. These are entry level positions that are usually filled up by recent graduates. It is obvious that in order to become a senior staff member, one must first 1. get a masters and 2. have a minimum of 10 years of experience (20 for country/department directors).  If a person stays at NDI for 5 years working as a senior program assistant–chances of getting promoted to a program officer are still very slim. 

In any case, I do feel that I am positively contributing to NDI’s work and programming abroad. Although, I could do a lot more, I know that I am learning a lot from this internship and am gaining valuable and unique skills in the process. 

Exploring DC!

Over the summer, DC is filled with tourists from around the world. Everyone wants to see the capitol, explore the Smithsonian, and pay their respects at the war memorials. Over the weekends, I take advantage of free (most of the time) exhibits and events taking place around the city. So far I’ve been to the Museum of Natural History, American History, Air and Space and the Newseum!

Maddie Hall and I at the Air and Space Museum.

Maddie Hall and I at the Air and Space Museum.

The Newseum was especially moving. This museum was built in 2008 and it is very high tech. The Newseum shows the evolution of news reporting and its effect on war, terrorism, security, awareness and more. My favorite exhibit, and by far the most moving exhibit was the Pulitzer Prize Photographs Gallery. All the winning photos are showcased with descriptions. This was the type of exhibit where you had to take break periodically because most of the pictures captured people’s sadness and suffering so well, that you feel you are right next to them. The Newseum has 6 floors. Other exhibits include the Berlin Wall, and FBI exhibit (showcasing how news in some cases helped agents solve a case, and in other events where it did not), a temporary John F. Kennedy Camelot photography exhibit and a showcase of the evolution of news since before America’s independence among others!

Maddie Hall and I on the Newseum's 6th floor balcony overlooking the capital!

Maddie Hall and I on the Newseum’s 6th floor balcony overlooking the capital!

Even though I feel that I’ve explored a lot of the city, there is still so much more I need to see–stay tuned for pictures from my upcoming sunset monuments boat tour!

Celebrating Independence Day in the Capitol

The fourth of July is a BIG DEAL in DC. Ever since I decided intern in DC for the summer, I knew that I would be celebrating July 4th in full force. The holiday was on a Thursday this year, and everyone at NDI had the day off. A majority people, myself included took the following Friday off. And hence my 4-day weekend adventure begins!

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This is a huge flag that was put over the entrance of the DC baseball stadium. I was beneath it looking up.

I began my 4th of July celebrations by going to a Washington Nationals Baseball game. I bought a beer pretended to know what was going on as I watched the game.

The view from my seat!

The view from my seat!

Afterwards I attended a CMC pool party and bbq! I watched the fireworks from a roof top later that evening– they were amazing!

Disclaimer: Not my picture. But my view was equally as good.

Disclaimer: Not my picture. But my view was equally as good.

 

Learning Outside the Office

One of my favorite aspects about my internship at NDI is the encouragement for interns to go out and explore lectures and events at other institutions. My bosses send me multiple emails throughout the week of interesting lectures about women’s participation in the Balkans, post-USSR development in Eastern Europe, etc for me to explore. When NDI interns attend outside events, we are required to take notes and then either type them  up and send them to our entire regional DC staff, or make a presentation at our next all staff meeting.

One of the first events I attended was titled ” The Role and Impact of women in Lawmaking in Kosovo” and it was held at the Woodrow Wilson Center on Capitol Hill. Four women from the National Albanian American Council (NAAC) Hope Fellowship Program from Kosovo presented on Kosovo’s gender quota law, domestic violence issues, issues female representatives and politicians face in Kosovo’s government as well as the relationship between state and non-state actors in building programs and advancing female leaders in Kosovo.

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Please excuse my phone’s poor image quality! This is a picture of the panelists and the discussion monitor (far right).

Only a week after I attended this event, four different Hope Fellows came and spoke at an event at NDI! I helped set up this event. Their presentation themes were similar to those at the Woodrow Wilson Center event. Women in Kosovo politics face a number of challenges that go beyond the stereotypes and difficulties women face in other countries. One way that Kosovo’s government has attempted to combat these issues is with the establishment of a gender quota law–which requires a certain number of female representatives in all levels of local, regional and national government. This law is controversial, as there are a number of positive characteristics but some still feel that this law is not doing enough to advance the position of women in Kosovo politics. I enjoyed hearing these fantastic and very accomplished female leaders from Kosovo speak and share their experiences.

Later in June, I attended an event at The Heritage Foundation titled “Central Europe — The Indispensable Region”. Dr. Tibor Navracsis spoke about Central European cooperation win Atlanticism and European perspectives as well as its experience in democratic economic and political transitions.

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Please excuse my poor mobile image quality again! This is Dr. Tibor Navacsis speaking at the Heritage Foundation.

 Dr. Navracsics, currently the deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Public Administration and Justice in Hungary believes that Central Europe has been increasingly more ignored in  American strategic planning and foreign diplomacy. He described three reasons (1. Central Europe is important to sustaining balance of power, 2. Central Europe is an “interface” region, and 3. Central Europe is an indispensable region because it is a success story) as to why Central Europe (not exclusively Hungary) is indispensable not only to Europe’s advancement, but to the international community as a whole. I found this talk especially interesting because, as the speaker noted, the United States does not put a lot of diplomatic emphasis on Central Europe as it is no longer deemed a major critical area. However, it was refreshing to hear the Central European perspective on the issue. Central European countries feel that they are success stories in the field of democratic and economic traditions, and they hope that major powers such as the United States utilize their experiences and use it to further their missions abroad.

Its always nice to get out of the office and see what other organizations are doing, and figuring out how the information presented to me at these events can help further my departments projects abroad. :)

 

 

First Day on the Job

My first day at work (May 27th) at the National Democratic Institute at DC was very exciting. The short definition in describing what NDI does is as follows: it is a nonprofit, non partisan organization working to support and strengthen democratic institutions worldwide through citizen participation, openness and accountability in government. However, as I learned from my first day, people can use one sentence to describe NDI’s work, or they can talk to you for 3 hours. Like you, I preferred the sentence. 

Shortly after I met everyone on my team (Central and Eastern Europe regional team) including my co-interns Adam and Duncan (!!!), I was whisked off to orientation. The first of three orientation days. Here I learned how exactly people can go on for hours about their work at NDI. We met with representatives from the executives office (where the president Ken Wollak works) and functional team representatives from accounting, operations, governance, public affairs, program coordination, program administration, political parties and women’s political parties. In orientation I learned how to book a flight for a field office employee in Albania, get petty cash reimbursements, and that professional software hackers from China are NDI’s biggest security threat. <– Weird, right? 

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My co-interns Adam who is on the left ( he is oddly enough my next door neighbor!) and Duncan on the right!

NDI takes up three floors in a twelve story building (floors 7-9). Advice for any future NDI interns, the best vending machines are on the 9th floor. We received a tour of the entire office. NDI moved to this building only two years prior. Afterwards I learned what country programs I was going to be working on for the duration of my 12 week internship. 

I’m assigned to the Kosovo Country Program, the Roma Political Participation Initiative, as well as the Regional Political Participation Initiative. My responsibilities will included editing monthly reports coming in from field offices, formatting quarterly, annual and final reports for our donors, writing news media updates on my specific countries, working on an independent research project (topic TBA) performing administrative duties (booking flights, helping register new offices/programs, reimbursements, setting up internal events, etc), making presentations and taking notes at our staff meetings, as well as attending outside relative lectures and presenting this new information to staff. Needless to say, I’m living the typical DC intern life.

Orientation continued the rest of the week, and afterwards I met individually with the country program officers for my assigned countries to discuss in further detail my responsibilities, as well as our CEE regional director who had a few kind words of wisdom to share :) By the end of the week, I was nicely settled in my “office”. 

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My desk!

I look forward to learning more about my country programs, as well as exploring lectures at other organizations in DC. This internship already is so different from my previous experiences– I look forward to developing my skills and learning more about democratic development from my superiors.  

 

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