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.