There are three types of aid according to Dambisa Moyo – “humanitarian or emergency aid,… charity-based aid,… and systematic aid” these different types of aid are funded by different sources and are utilized for different reasons, a complicated global economy of aid is created with these funds totaling in the hundreds of billions annually. Yet somehow, this industry is often overlooked by the people whose tax dollars fund it.
When I tell people that I’m getting my undergraduate degree in Global Development they usually have two questions. The first being “what does that mean?” and second – “what will you do with it?” The first I usually answer by explaining that it is interdisciplinary with a focus on economics, political science and language acquisition along with global development courses themselves. While I always think I’ve answered the question, it’s not uncommon for people to still look very confused. The easiest way to explain is to say it prepares me to work in international development, finally I list the UN or Aid organizations and people begin to understand.
The United Nations is well recognized around the world, even by the most disinterested. People may not know the extent of the UN’s activities or scope of interests, but most know they do involve themselves in development work. The opportunity to complete an internship with one of the UN agencies is very exciting, but also quite daunting.
When I first arrived at the United Nations Office for Project Services (UNOPS), I was very intimidated by the large organization and so many important people. I was concerned that I wouldn’t be able to keep up with my colleagues’ expectations. I don’t have a master’s degree, but I’ve noticed many of the interns do, which added another level of intimidation.
My first week at UNOPS was full of reading. I read country strategic plans from the last few years, other supporting documents from the UN which inform UNOPS’ actions as well as documents to help me better understand the UNOPS organization as well as the region I am in.
After being here for a month I think I have a better understanding of the region and my context here especially. I’ve had the opportunity to work on a few different projects so far, my work has involved writing a concept note, attending meetings and taking minutes, and doing research on funding available for certain projects. As an intern I am doing support work for the other people in my office, this means that I am given the opportunity to do a lot of research and which means I have a better understanding as I draw from documents and even as I sit in meetings.
My first assignment was to write the background for a concept note to be given to another UN institution to demonstrate UNOPS’ ability to undertake an infrastructure capacity assessment. From the beginning of this assignment I was a little out of my depth, I’m not an infrastructure expert. I had to start at the very beginning and do a lot of reading and research to understand the situation and framework of UNOPS. My understanding of development and ability to think critically about development processes was invaluable. meant I was able to take what I needed from the information and use it effectively.
After my first week it became obvious – this is exactly what my academic experience and the Global Development Studies program has prepared me for. While there has still been a certain amount of ‘on the job learning’ on topics that are very specific to this position, I have also been able to pull from my previous experience and learning, my field of study and degree is very relevant. I may not be an infrastructure expert, but I was able to filter through information and complete a concept note based on infrastructure development using my past knowledge
The opportunity to complete this internship has both solidified my confidence in my abilities and helped to bolster my in class learning with real life experiences. While I feel that my degree has so far really grounded me in the history and theory of global development processes as well as allowed me to examine current issues and debates in the development industry this international experience has permitted me to expand my knowledge so exponentially.
The most important part of my learning is continuing to view all of my experiences through a critical lens and remind myself that I am experiencing a very specific part of development and Kenya from the desk in the UN office. Yes, I am learning a lot but often the projects I am working on affect people that I will never meet or even see. Keeping the reality of development in perspective is key and I look forward to doing just that during the next couple of months of my internship and my time here in Nairobi.