Why I became an Advocacy Intern at CARE International UK

by 08th Dec 2015
Extract from CARE International Advocacy Handbook Extract from CARE International Advocacy Handbook

Getting your first job in the development sector can be a hard nut to crack, writes Marco Bartholdy. Here is why I took up an internship in CARE International UK’s Policy and Advocacy team and this is what I learnt from six months on the inside of a large International NGO.

Getting started

Working at an International NGO is valuable experience. No matter which career path you take in international development, understanding how these organisations work is an asset. As a Master’s student I was looking for part-time work in the sector to kick start my career. I was introduced to CARE through a consultancy project organised by LSE’s MSc Development Management programme. My team and I consulted CARE on the role of the public sector in value chain development. I soon found that my academic interests were closely aligned with much of the work CARE was involved in and I wanted to get my foot in the door.

Having neither the time nor resources to take on a volunteering position during my Master’s I reluctantly let a number of opportunities pass me by. A short time later an internship appeared on their jobs page – paid, 2 to 3 days per week with flexibility for coursework and exams; perfect.

Why CARE?

CARE International is a leading development and humanitarian charity supporting the poorest communities in 75 countries around the world. I have a keen interest in the role of the private sector in international development. CARE works with a range of corporate partners to promote dignified work and women’s empowerment throughout their supply chains. They work with multiple stakeholders, including banks, donors and governments to promote financial inclusion. They also work with their partners to establish social businesses like JITA in Bangladesh.

CARE also looks at all development issues through a gendered lens. Women’s empowerment should be at the core of any development strategy, and at CARE it is. No country can prosper while leaving half its population behind.

Why advocacy?

“Advocacy is the deliberate process of influencing those who make decisions about developing, changing and implementing policies [in CARE’s case: to reduce poverty and achieve social justice].” – The CARE International Advocacy Handbook

Advocacy is an essential part of influencing decision makers. CARE’s advocacy might be focused on issues in the public or private sphere, or in some cases arguing that the ‘private’ should be of public concern (eg FGM). Advocacy at CARE involves building bridges between people living in poverty and ‘formal’ institutions (eg local authorities and national government, parliaments, donors) by influencing policy.

My role

The Advocacy Team at CARE branch into a range of programme teams including Private Sector Engagement, Humanitarian and Conflict and their Interns have the opportunity to work on a diverse range of issues and projects.

I worked predominantly on a joint report with the global consulting firm Accenture that aimed to advise financial institutions on how profitably and responsibly to provide formal banking services to low-income populations. My remit was to draft case studies, feedback reports to banks, promotional material for the report and write blog entries for CARE’s website. I was also involved in organising webinars, conferences and other events. In the context of that project I was able to work closely with Accenture, and gain insight into the different approaches, strengths and weaknesses of NGOs vs private consultancies (particularly valuable as I have just been hired as a sustainability consultant).

I worked on a number of other projects, including the flagship Banking on Change initiative that CARE runs in partnership with Barclays and Plan UK, as well as projects not related to financial inclusion, such as a project targeting reproductive health in crisis.

At CARE I also had the opportunity to feed into high profile events. I prepared presentations for senior policy advisors to deliver at the European Development Days and training sessions for the EU delegation in Brussels. I was involved in organising a number of events at the UN General Assembly in New York and other conferences at the UK Department for International Development.

Three things I learnt

  1. My experience working on issues of financial inclusion and private sector engagement gave me insights into how to attract the private sector into development – why it is commercially strategic for them to address sustainability issues and stakeholder concerns. A great example of a company that is doing this well is Mondelez, who in partnership with CARE and others are implementing a range of projects to improve the livelihoods of workers in their supply chains.
  2. In my role as an Advocacy Intern, I had the opportunity to apply academic development theories in real world scenarios and see them play out on the ground. This made it easier for me to grasp the concepts I was studying at the time which also became infinitely more interesting. On top of that I had access to loads of data and case studies for academic research.
  3. Finally, I learned an important lesson for anyone trying to break into the development sector. Much of the sector is moving south into developing countries, and rightly so. There are few organisations that can afford to invest in training young staff, and a few years of experience is often required to get a job. That doesn’t mean they don’t exist. There remains work in influencing Northern policy makers and international businesses based in the global North. Fundraising and partnership building are likely to remain key activities for Northern actors. So don’t be disheartened. Focus on your niche in the extensive field of international development if you plan to work in the global North. Or if you’re up for a change, get some experience in the field.

What’s next for me?

I was recently hired as an analyst at Critical Resource, a consultancy that specialises in political, sustainability and stakeholder risk consulting with companies in the extractive industries. I will be in a position to exploit the skills I gained from my internship at CARE and continue influencing international corporations to improve their impacts in developing countries in a responsible and profitable way.

CARE’s policy and advocacy team regularly hire new interns, so keep checking their jobs page for updates. To all prospective applicants, good luck!