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b2ap3_thumbnail_IMG_8122edited.jpgFor the past 17 years, MEDA has sent over 110 young professionals in 20 countries around the world to give them the opportunity to gain experience in the field and discover their career interests.

This fall 4 new interns embark on a 6-month international development Internship. The interns will be heading to Ethiopia and Ghana helping MEDA fulfill its overall mission of creating business solutions to poverty for families around the world.

Check back on this blog frequently to stay tuned as the 4 interns uncover unique experiences, gain new skills and change lives. Bringing different skills and life experiences to their position will no doubt make for varying perspectives on the realities of their internship and of international development as a whole.

Now let's meet the 2014 cohort of MEDA Interns...

Ethiopia
EDGET (Ethiopians Driving Growth through Entrepreneurship and Trade)
Stephanie Puras - Communication and Program Support Intern
E-FACE (Ethiopians Fighting Against Child Exploitation)
Clara Yoon - Communication and Program Support Intern

Ghana
GROW (Greater Rural Opportunities for Women)
Kevin Linklater - Program Support/ Enterprise Development Intern
Clarissa Heger- Communications Intern


Visit MEDA Internships for more information on our internship program and to read the biographies of the 2014 interns.

We encourage you to keep coming back to this blog to stay informed on the latest news about the interns's field experiences. Whether you're someone who knows one of the interns personally or someone who just discovered this blog, we hope you will find some truthful insight into the international development world and begin to connect with the people behind this posts. If you don't get the opportunity to travel to these places yourself to explore the food, culture and stories of our clients, let these interns' personal tales serve as a window to MEDA's work in the field.

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What initially drew me into applying for a MEDA internship revolved around wanting to work abroad again and see if I could find a placement that would give me the skills and opportunities to transition into a career with international development work. However, after applying and having my first interview with MEDA I realized this internship program was not like many of the other I had applied for in the past. The level of professionalism and care by the staff members and the investment MEDA made to provide the necessary resources for us to be most effective in our roles was evident to me from the start. This really drew me into the MEDA internship program and I was lucky enough to be selected.

I had previously served a nine month fellowship for an NGO in Rwanda working at a partner microfinance institution so this was not my first experience living/working in sub-Saharan Africa. I think I went into the internship with realistic expectations of what was expected of me, and what I could contribute during my time frame. So I think having previous experience can be very helpful in the first month of your placement.

The advice I would give someone who is interested in international development work is to focus on seeing the big picture. It's clear that sustainable international development is very difficult work and sometimes projects that may seem beneficial initially end up being unsuccessful. The key is to learn from the many challenges and difficulties you will be faced with abroad and think critically and outside the box on how complex issues can be solved in a way that empowers the local community. Do not think because you have down time or do not feel like you are "making a big impact" that what you are doing is insignificant A few key insights I would give is; be flexible, find opportunities in your challenges, focus on adding value however you can, and stay positive. If an intern does these things I think one will have a successful and memorable internship experience.
Having a strong background in business management was helpful in my internship placement. However, I don't think with my placement and experience working abroad I would say your educational background is the most significant factor, rather your attitude, willingness to learn, and flexibility is vital to success.

With me I feel extremely grateful for the opportunity I received through the MEDA internship program. The flexibility the internship provided me working with Zoona in Zambia allowed me to focus on the need the business had while I was there. This need was in establishing a training program for Zoona's agent network. I was able to work on this during my assignment and after my six months was complete Zoona offered me full-time three year contract to be the lead training officer in Zambia. This has enabled me to get valuable work experience now where I am having a strong impact on the future of the company by making sure new and existing agents are adequately trained on Zoona operational standards to ensure a quality end-user experience. I get to travel about 50% of the time for my current position which I also really enjoy since I have been able to see all the rural far off places in Zambia and soon, Malawi as well. I couldn't have asked for a better opportunity in gaining the necessary skills to benefit me at my current job. I was able to continue working for the company I was placed with and it is the most impactful and rewarding work experience I have ever had.

My most worthwhile experience was being able to build relationships with the 100's of Zambian agents and tellers that operate the Zoona business in Zambia providing improved financial inclusion to the 65% of the population who are unbanked. At Zoona, we want to challenge the status quo in the name of progress. We believe in a "cashless" Africa and are working tirelessly to bring our vision to fruition.

The single most important lesson I learned is to focus on your talents and really try to leverage them in the workplace to add value. I knew I had good interpersonal skills so I focused on building relationships with the agent network which led me to training. Since many of the network already knew me personally it made training easier as they felt comfortable communicating with me whether it was something good or a something that was troubling them.
In retrospect I would have packed more than two bags because after six months I never left the country so I am living a very simple lifestyle. But that is okay with me, most my time revolves around work and building a stronger network of trained agents who will provide better financial services while earning a stable income using our web-based technology platform for money transfers.

Overall, I couldn't recommend the MEDA internship program more. I have worked for a lot of non-profit, governmental, and for profit organizations and MEDA shines among the top. The support we receive as interns is unparalleled to any other internship/fellowship program I have worked for. I especially enjoyed the opportunity to come to Waterloo and meet the great MEDA staff, learn more about the organization, and spend quality time with the other fellow interns. Many of us are still close friends and I have travelled to other countries in Africa to visit fellow interns and share in our experiences over hiking trips, scaling 4,500 meter peaks, and wandering the streets of Stone Town together.

The housing allowance and stipend from MEDA also allows interns to not have to stress constantly about making ends meet so you can focus on your work placement and have a little bit of money to travel around the country you are placed in and really get the full experience. I will always look back and my internship fondly with MEDA and would be very keen to work in a greater compactly for the organization if the right opportunity presented itself in the future.

 

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b2ap3_thumbnail_Me-Training--Myself-with-Zoona-teller-Florence-going-through-a-new-bill-payment-option-on-the-Zoona-system.gifNow, almost a year after my initially arrival for a six month internship in Zambia with MEDA techno-links partner, Zoona I find myself sitting in front of the mighty Zambezi river writing this final blog post. I find it hard to begin where to start when recapping my MEDA internship experience. My time in Zambia had a profound impact on me both professionally and personally. For starters, my goal of hoping this internship would provide me an opportunity to get a full-time role in sub-Saharan Africa played out well. After my six month internship was completed I was given a full-time three year contract with my placement organization, Zoona as the Agent Training Officer. This is a role that previously did not exist but during my placement I was able to show the value created by having a more robust training program that focused on many aspects of what will improve agent performance.

The skills I have developed since stepping off the plane nearly a year ago up to present day would take pages to explain. To keep things simple I will touch on a few that resonate with me.

If your company values and beliefs resonate with you, work will not feel like work. At Zoona we have five core beliefs; we believe in entrepreneurs, we believe in impact, we believe in change, we believe in growth, and we believe in impact. We also have five core values; being real, entrepreneurship, integrity, togetherness, and fun. These beliefs/values align well with me. When I come to work now I am motivated and challenged. This has helped me develop professionally while having a strong loyalty to Zoona and what we are accomplishing in the financial inclusion sector. I can say after a year of working with MEDA techno-links partner Zoona, when I see a challenge at my job rather than seeing it as a challenge I now look at where I can find opportunity in the difficulty to unlock value for consumers. This is a fundamental change in my thinking that previously held me back.

b2ap3_thumbnail_Group-picture-after-teller-training-in-Luapula-province-Zambia.gifb2ap3_thumbnail_Fraud-training-presentation-with-Zoona-tellers-in-Chingola-Zambia.gifLearn to focus. My internship and time with Zoona have taught me that staying focused is imperative to achieving breakthroughs. I have always struggled in previous jobs with staying focused but now I have learned the benefits of what focus can bring at the workplace. This has enabled me be more efficient with my time at work and accomplish more without sacrificing quality.

During my internship I was able to travel to all the provinces in Zambia and train over 200 agents/tellers on operational procedures and how to grow their businesses. I was able to build relationships with the amazing staff and entrepreneurs I work with on a daily basis. The inspiration I receive from seeing a young Zoona agent like Sandra, who at the age of 24, is now earning 8,000 USD per month and employing 12 young adults is all I need to stay motivated.

b2ap3_thumbnail_Zoona-tellers-and-shop-manager-at-the-busiest-outlet-location-in-Zambia-Katondo-branch-in-downtown-Lusaka.gifMy time with MEDA provided me with the opportunity I always dreamed of but often times doubted I would achieve which was to work for a company in Africa that was making positive change among the local community with a scalable model. It did not take long for me to realize Zoona was doing this and was planning on becoming a pan-African brand in the future. I feel confident this will be achieved for the company. Just a few years ago sales staffs were celebrating 1,000 unique transactions per month. Last month at Zoona we processed over 300,000 unique transactions and we continue to grow aggressively month-on-month.

Zoona is a good example of an innovative start-up company that benefited greatly from having funding from the MEDA techno-links project that enabled the company better opportunity to grow the business and provide additional opportunities for the many rural communities where we offer financial services in the way of money transfers, bill payments, and voucher projects. Every day now Zoona is working hard to achieve our bold vision of a "cashless" Africa.

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I decided to apply for CIDA's internship program as I was looking to start a career in international development. The program seemed like a great opportunity to gain field experience and contacts which could help me launch my career. MEDA specifically appealed to me as I loved the organization's business approach which I believe is a very sustainable and practical approach to development. I also wanted to gain more experience in microfinance which was the area of focus for my internship with MEDA.

I had worked abroad prior to my internship with MEDA but this experience really offered me the opportunity to gain a ton of professional experience and skills. I learned so much from my fellow MEDA staff and partner organization staff in Nicaragua which really complemented my academic knowledge of development issues.

I think my post-grad in International Development and Project Management was extremely helpful in preparing me for this position. This degree in particular gave me a lot of background in areas such as monitoring and evaluation and donor reporting which I used in my position.

I was recently hired at MEDA as a Project Coordinator. I believe that my internship experience and the skills I developed in project management, communications, M&E and other areas will help me to succeed in this position.

I think the highlight of my internship experience really was the people I met and worked with. I built close relationships with a number of MEDA and local staff members and learned so much from them. I also had the opportunity to take the lead in a number of projects and am extremely proud of the work I did. I would highly recommend the program to anyone looking to pursue a career in development.

 

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In my fourth and last year as a Political Science student specializing in International Relations, I was beginning to worry what the next steps in my life would be. I was applying to a variety of internships and job applications when I came across MEDA. To be honest, I was drawn to MEDA because I was able to not only improve my professional skills, but also to travel abroad. I had no idea that MEDA would become my backbone in strong morals and the ideal view of a non-governmental organization.

In arriving to Nicaragua, I was completely lost, to say the least. I had volunteered continuously throughout my high school and university career and had already lived abroad, but MEDA provided a unique opportunity in becoming comfortable within a career setting. MEDA sparked my individual strengths and gave me a strong voice within a well known international organization where I was able to view my point and use creativity in projects.

I'm asked if working in the realm of international development is what I expected..I was surprised at every turn of the internship because this was completely new to me. If you become an intern with MEDA you will learn very quickly that MEDA employees are passionate about what they do and want to share that passion with you. I gained a wide breadth of knowledge that would not have been possible without the generous time that Waterloo and Washington staff took the time to give me. I was fortunate and greatly blessed to work with a local, Roger Larios. Roger was beyond a mentor to me, he is a friend and he calls me his daughter now. He taught me how to have interviews with clients when I was travelling throughout Nicaragua; I knew nothing about agriculture before I left Canada, and he patiently described new technologies and the companies that MEDA worked with; alongside everything, he was an amazing Spanish tutor. There is no way in words to describe my gratitude to everyone at MEDA.

Looking back, the most rewarding experience was having interviews with local farmers that were apart of the Techno-Links Project. Each interview per client was about 1 hour and the questions regarded income, level of education, impact on the climate, and other positive outcomes they have experienced or not experienced. Overall, each interview shocked me in the difference the was made over the projects three year time span. Non-governmental organizations are not about giving pity money to individuals, they need to be based on providing knowledge, and the right to the individual to lead their own life. MEDA shocked me in doing this and taught me this value. One interviewee was in his 40's and had never had a stable job. When the Techno-Links Project began he was asked to join and now he has an income, he is able to help his daughter in school, and his wife has returned to school. Alongside my pride in working with MEDA, I am astounded by the breadth of knowledge I was able to acquire in 7 months. For example, I can have a full conversation in Spanish now about irrigation systems and biolabs working on embryos to improve crop yields.

Not only did this internship offer me with exceptional experience, but it has made me a driven individual that has become passionate about sustainable development. At times, yes, it was hard and I have to admit there were times when I wanted to go home, but I have never learned more in 7 months then I did with this internship. The best advice to give anyone, I believe in national or international work, is to be prepared to expect the unexpected, and be OPEN to it. My experience was unique, in that my studies were not related to the internship, being agriculture. I am now passionately driven to do a Master's in sustainable development the following year. I am currently not working in the field, but I have amazing news that's working towards helping others.

 

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