IEDP Blog: Lessons Learned in the 1st Month

Three important thoughts during the first month

My advisor: The most educational part of the work-experience is the fact that my advisor understands and communicates that this internship is a part of my education, a large investment of time and money on my behalf, and that internships are rare experiential learning opportunities. My manager reminded me, “We have internships to turn you into a better professional”.

He has made time to explain conceptual matters to me, asked for my feedback on content, and given me a myriad of responsibilities including content contributions. He has been forgiving of my typos, overlooking small details, and a few other inevitable mistakes of the digital world. I am thankful that his understanding and humor compliments the inevitable uncomfortable smiles associated with experiential learning.

Lessons Learned: Don’t print out a multi-colored graph in black and white and then guess the colors.

A Change Space: My manager, a teacher of organizational psychology at Hong Kong University, imparted an interesting model regarding the psychology of organizational change. In paraphrase, “ Change occurs at the intersection of three aspects. These aspects are concerned with what an organization can accept, allow, and afford. I liked this simplification because we may be able to accept or entertain the concept of a proposed change without allowing it. I imagine that allowing is the process of letting go and/or taking on the new circumstance, and afford refers to the social, financial, capacity costs of the change.

They acknowledge the emotional barriers to change that slow the pace of seemingly “logical” proposed changes.

Lesson Learned: Theory is applicable in the early conceptual stages of a project, but beyond the early design stages logistics and practicalities take over.

Consultants: Since coming to the office I’ve gained a clearer understanding of how the development field hires and retains workers. The primary factor to hiring is the budget that the organization or the project has. Since UNESCO has a very limited budget, UNESCO Paris only hires a handful of people to work in Bangkok as full UNESCO staff. In our section of 15 workers only two or three are full UNESCO staff, the rest are consultants and interns.

Since the budget of the organization is so limited, UNESCO must compete with other NGOs for funding from donors. (This is in contrast with organizations like USAID and the World Bank that have set budgets). In order to compete for funding, UNESCO must bid that they can complete projects more thoroughly than the competing agencies.

Once project funding is awarded to UNESCO, the actual staff members are able to hire consultants. The consultants are individuals from outside of UNESCO who are hired according to the project’s HR budget. Therefore a consultant’s contract is only as long as the project’s lifespan. In order to maintain their jobs, consultants help UNESCO staff bid for more funding and win more projects.

Making yourself indispensable in the conceptual design of a new project, and having a donor fund your project will ensure that you keep the position within UNESCO.

My section of sixteen workers has six interns. According to the organizational chart, the interns are advised directly by the UNESCO staff members. However, they work with the consultants and staff equally.

Lesson Learned: Understanding the details of budgeting and hiring provide a valuable insight into how this field operates on an organizational level. This layer of the development field is best learned “on-the-job”.

UNESCO is heavily dependent on intern contributions because the US does not fund UNESCO on the grounds that UNESCO recognizes Palestine as a member state.

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