My summer internship at Practical Action

Person working in field - from Practical Action Website

Practical Action is an NGO focusing on international development.

It aims to help the world to be more sustainable in four ways:

  • Farming that works
  • Energy that transforms
  • Cities fit for people
  • Resilience that protects

Their goal is to use practical methods to help people in poverty and enable change in those places.

Their motto is: big change starts small.

I study international development so when I found this opportunity, I was very excited to be a part of this organisation. I volunteered at Practical Action for 5 weeks over summer 2019 (between my first and second year) in the Corporate Partnership and Philanthropy department. I was unsure about working in this division, as I thought I was more interested in policy and had little knowledge of corporate partnerships. Moreover, I went in with the expectation that the role wouldn’t be hands-on, and I would just be doing coffee runs and observing, as I was only an intern.

My prior expectations were wrong. I found I thoroughly enjoyed and learned a lot in Corporate Partnerships. This unit works on identifying businesses that help fund their projects across the world. Quickly, I was thrown in the deep end and was asked to make a case report about a ‘cocoa project’ in Peru for Practical Action Logopotential donors to read. I had to research their company voice, produce a well-presented report and then show it to my supervisor; this was a task that I found incredibly fun. It was interesting to be working on a project that impacts smallholder farmers and will actually be implemented. In my second week working at Practical Action, my case report was sent to a potential donor which really excited me, and I thought it was amazing how quickly I had become useful.

Throughout my internship, I also started many due diligence forms for different agriculture companies, such as Olam, Kellogg’s, AB Sugars etc. where I was able to do research and discover the controversies behind these companies as well as what companies are doing to become more sustainable. Then, I worked on ideas for potential partners for Practical Action’s energy campaign – a campaign to get energy to those who are isolated in their environment. I did research on around 40 companies and then presented my opinions on each of their sustainability to my supervisor and my recommendations from my research. Even though I felt passionately about this assignment, it was probably also my most challenging piece of work and working consistently scrolling through the internet on similar Corporations for a week and a half was quite tiring.

Practical Action was an amazing environment to work in and very flexible, if I ever wanted to work from home I could, and my supervisor always valued my opinion and acted as if I was an actual employee. Their offices were very laid back and open plan, with the CEO was sitting just across the room.

Every Tuesday, there would be a stand-up meeting to hear from all the departments, and it was fascinating to hear the inner workings of an NGO. For instance, one man just casually came back from the government, talking to DFID (Department for International Development), where they discussed contemporary problems hitting their other offices across the world such as the Amazonian fires for their Peru office, Ebola for their Rwandan office and dengue for their Bangladeshi office. Everything I was learning about at the office was on the news that evening!

Person working in field - from Practical Action Website

As you can see Practical Action was a fascinating volunteering experience and it gave me a lot of skills (teamwork, creative skills, research, presentation, professionalism etc.).  Also, I discovered a lot about myself: that I enjoyed working in an office more than I expected and that I love researching and presenting in a creative way. I was further able to network and meet practitioners who have worked in the development sector since the 1960s and hear about their experience. Finally, I enjoyed working in Corporate Partnerships so much that I changed one of my modules in my degree to Corporate Social Responsibility and would consider that as a new potential career path for me.

Practical Action enabled me to discover more about the sustainability of companies and find out how NGOs are trying to improve sustainable livelihoods across the globe.

Article written and provided by Dani Whitington, University of Reading International Development Student.