Friday, July 17, 2009

Internship at BRAC...delights and disappointments

After arriving into Dhaka at around 4:30am, I waited around for a few hours to the amusement and stares of arriving passengers until I was picked up by Zahid, who was the assistant to the guy whose coporate apartment I was staying at. Orientation for my internship at BRAC started in less than two hours, so it gave me just enough time to drop off my stuff and get a shower (after 60+ hours of travel I didn’t smell too fantastic).

The orientation was great. Despite all my previous research about the organization, I was even more impressed after hearing what they had to say. The video embedded here is a pretty good overview. To put BRAC in a nutshell, it’s the world’s largest NGO (non-governmental org) with over 115,000 staff including volunteers, and seeks to attack poverty holistically, realizing that factors such as health, education, income-generating activities (microfinance), human rights, and others all contribute to a person’s standard of living. And it does all these activities with only 20% outside funding - the rest is internally generated. In the past few years it has started to branch out to other countries in the Middle East and Africa, while leaders from the USA and other developed countries have come to Bangladesh to learn its methods. It seems that along with Grameen Bank (at where I will be doing a site visit after BRAC), BRAC has almost become a psudo government, filling the gaps of the government where it has failed.

I could go on for a while about the organization, but I’ll save you the reading. To get a more complete description, check out the New Horizons videos (total 10 minutes). What will I be doing for my internship? That’s a question both me and the BRAC internship people were asking for the first few days. I was put in the microfinance group along with three others at my request, but as it turns out the head of microfinance had no idea who we were, and said he had nothing for us to do.

The internship coordinator, who we went back to with our arms up and a “So…” expression on our faces, said that we could just do some learning over the next month or so...kind of like those book reports you did in 3rd grade, or more recently for some of us. She even told one intern to move her flight up because she had nothing for us to do and no space for us to work. Needless to say, we were all highly disappointed with the professionalism and preparation of the internship unit, especially considering they had people (yours truly included) flying halfway around the world at our own expense for an unpaid internship (and knew about it months in advance). We met some Brits from the first summer intern session and they could tell we were concerned. We had a closed door meeting where they told us that they basically got the same treatment - and these were guys studying at Cambridge getting their Master’s in econometrics and stuff like that - I was baffled by the amount of (free) talent being wasted by BRAC.

At the suggestion of the Brits, we went around to departments asking for work. Sumaiya saved us, and while the work she suggested didn’t interest me, she did help me set up my own personal research. I’ll spare you the details, but basically my cousin Josh is helping me develop a hypothesis about people’s social network relative to income. I’ll let you know if I find anything exciting.

No comments:

Post a Comment