Opinion March 2012

A Case for Internships

And how Refugees International Japan ensures accountability

During my rewarding internship with Refugees International Japan (RIJ), I had a valuable opportunity to closely observe something that has been in the news a lot recently: how organisations—especially NGOs—should achieve accountability.

I helped coordinate events and there was particular focus on the “Tree of Hope”—which shows support for refugee children worldwide who are experiencing conflict-related hardships. I also updated and prepared country fact sheets and poster presentations, as well as maintained RIJ’s social media.

Although the general assumption is that an internship exposes one to a real working environment, my experience went beyond that. Here I’d like to share my thoughts on my achievements and aspirations and how I saw RIJ achieve accountability during my internship from 24 November 2011 until 19 January.

With employers increasingly preferring to recruit experienced people, I believe that enrolling as an intern provides students with a good opportunity to gain substantive and meaningful experience that firms could find attractive.

I see my internship with RIJ as not only a worthwhile addition to my curriculum vitae, but also as the catalyst that confirmed my decision to take up a career linked to international peace and conflict resolution, or with a development organisation.

Given my experience in the fields of education and accounting, as well as my relevant academic skills, I am sure that the experience gained with RIJ will count. Having met volunteers, friends of RIJ, donors and great people from diverse backgrounds, I expect that the established network will enable me to achieve my career goal: putting a smile on the faces of the poor, the needy and victims of conflict.

I look forward to working for a local or global organisation, where I might help contribute to peace and development around the world. One day soon I shall report back to you on the impact I have made. Keep your fingers crossed that I find the right opportunity!

NGO accountability

Even though NGO accountability has improved recently, there seems to be no shortage of media reports of scandals, malpractice and ethical failures. But my involvement in RIJ activities opened my eyes to the transparency required by NGOs, including reports from funding agencies and reports to donors and sponsors.

I found that RIJ places a beneficiary’s perspective at centre stage and ensures that said beneficiary owns the project. RIJ activities and funding thus have a positive impact on the lives of many refugees and internally displaced persons, which fact is supported by the extent to which beneficiaries declare RIJ-funded projects useful and life-altering.

RIJ donors, in turn, learn how their funds are used and, with the help of case studies, see the impact they are making on the lives of displaced persons.

RIJ takes on and completes projects that reflect the needs of local populations, unlike those NGOs that prompted the findings of a 2006 report by the Tsunami Evaluation Coalition—an independent initiative set up after the December 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami—that said houses were built that would never be lived in because the NGOs involved did not ensure local ownership of the housing projects.

Moreover, RIJ not only ensures that donor funds achieve results, but it demands accountability on the part of its partner organisations regarding the grants it awards them.