Becki Curtis shares her experiences as she undertakes an internship with Jersey Overseas Aid and Practical Action
I have now been at Practical Action’s UK office for a month and a half and, since the very beginning, it has been a whirl of friendly faces, deadlines and meetings.
Since my arrival I have been based in the International Programmes Team (IPT), giving me a unique insight into the co-ordination and facilitation of development programmes overseas. Although each project is different, projects such as the BICAS Project, part of which involves Gravity Goods Ropeways [https://practicalaction.org/blog/news/the-gravitational-release-the-hillside-story-of-the-western-nepal/] (funded by JOA and the EU), are implemented in the field by Practical Action Staff and Local Partners and coordinated by the Regional Country Office of Kathmandu. IPT, based in the UK, provides additional support, ranging from partnership brokerage to systems support, negotiating contracts to project development.
Recently, I also had the opportunity to learn more about the sector as a whole when I attended the two day BOND course “Introduction to International Development”. Covering topics from ‘Development Theories’ to ‘Key Players’, from ‘Project Cycles’ to ‘Future Trends’, the course really contextualized the work being undertaken in the international development sector. Over the two days we participated in a range of activities designed to encourage us to consider the complexity of international trade, engage us in developing an NGO adapted to potential future economic and social changes, and question what ‘development’ means to us. It was striking to learn that substantially more money is sent to developing countries every year by migrant workers than is received in international aid. Overall, the course was a really important opportunity to reflect on how we understand, and engage with, the world around and the type of future we are looking to create for everyone.
My time with IPT has also given me the chance to better understand how the ‘systems thinking’ approach interplays with the design and implementation of programmes to catalyze sustainable change across a region. Historically, international aid predominantly involved the provision of emergency supplies which, although life-saving, was only a short-term solution. As a result, the international development sector increasingly sought to change people’s circumstances by improving their opportunities in life, for instance, by implementing clean water sources, building schools and implementing irrigation systems that allow land to be cultivated. However, whilst lives have been undoubtedly improved by this approach, it has become increasingly clear over time that the solution is not that simple. Indeed, proximity to the market place, access to financing and national regulations all determine whether a business will be prosperous, or even possible!
In response to this, the ‘systems thinking’ approach involves identifying an issue faced by people in the developing world, such as a lack of access to electricity, and then looks at the existing structures and key players to determine why the needs of the people are not currently being met. The aim is to identify changes that can be made to the existing systems that will facilitate and catalyze the sustainable improvement of lives in the region.
Excitingly, I will soon be able to see for myself how a ‘systems thinking’ approach leads to projects, like the Gravity Goods Ropeways, which have the power to sustainably change lives for the better as there are only a few months left before my overseas placement begins!
New Beginnings: Introducing JOA!
Now that a hectic October has come to an end, it has finally sunk in that this is real; I am actually working with Jersey Overseas Aid and Practical Action, with the dream of carving out a career in international development.
For those unfamiliar, Practical Action is a global innovator, inspiring people to discover and adopt ingenious, practical ways to free themselves from poverty and disadvantage. Based in Rugby, UK, Practical Action works around the world, including Nepal, where currently two projects are underway in association with JOA. During the course of this thirteen month internship I will be based in Jersey and Rugby, as well as undertaking a six month overseas placement on a Practical Action project. For now though, I am just at the beginning of this journey, working in Jersey at the JOA office to better understand the role of a donor organisation and the JOA’s unique place in Jersey.
I began this internship three weeks ago with an MA in Middle Eastern Studies, voluntary experience in Ghana, Nicaragua and Calais, and a three year career in the legal profession. I have always wanted to pursue a career in development but after years of working every university holiday and still never having the funds to cover the cost of gaining essential experience in the industry, the path forward was difficult to envision. Fortunately, the chance to apply for the internship arose and excitedly I accepted the offer of this incredible opportunity, ready for a new beginning. Not entirely certain what to expect, it became clear that, with the 2019 community work project (CWP) launch and a series of educational outreach workshops ahead, I was going to need to learn the workings of JOA very quickly!
By day two I was on the street, shiny new JOA brochure in-hand, speaking to members of the public about the work JOA undertakes and encouraging enthusiastic individuals to consider joining one of our 2019 CWPs in either Tanzania, Kenya or Lebanon.
October’s outreach activities continued the following week as we took to the Skills Fair to encourage individuals to consider utilising their skills for international development, whether they wanted to be engineers, medics or had an interest in marketing. With our virtual reality headsets, we were also able to truly show people what Jersey can achieve, as countless children and adults excitedly took a virtual tour of the Orbis Flying Eye Hospital, run by Orbis, one of JOA’s selected partners.
Week three arrived with a flurry of activity as our secondary school workshops commenced and nearly one hundred students undertook our ‘Stop the Spread’ challenge. Led by Practical Action’s education experts Julie Brown and Bren Hellier, the workshops introduced students to the issue of infectious diseases and the UN Sustainable Development Goals, before inviting teams to think on their feet and build a low-cost hand-washing device designed to conserve water and minimise the spread of diseases. During the course of the workshops I led several short tours of JOA’s free public exhibition, set out in the Gallery of the Jersey Museum, in order to introduce students to the impact JOA has worldwide. My role also gave me the opportunity to discuss the workshops and JOA’s activities with students, as well as get more involved than I had anticipated, as occasionally all hands were required to tie, tape and glue the final prototypes before presentations began!
In addition to outreach activities, during these initial three weeks with JOA I have also had the opportunity to review project proposals and project reports, develop a schools section on the JOA website (complete with educational material developed by Practical Action in collaboration with JOA), and assist with social media. With November fast approaching and many months of this internship still ahead, I’ve had a fascinating whirlwind start and can’t wait for everything still to come! Just watch this space…