April 24, 2017

Diary of a nonprofit intern

We’ve all met someone like this. Perhaps, you were once like this yourself. Karan Malik walks you through the musings of a young nonprofit intern as he tries to navigate the space we have come to know so well.

3 min read

Illustration: Rachita Vora

Day 0: I am so excited! My application to intern at this great nonprofit has been accepted. Thank heavens for Mom’s friend’s uncle’s contacts. I should really find out what this organisation does.

Day 1: Just spent the day comparing notes with my classmates on everyone’s summer plans. I am definitely glad that the investment banking and consulting internships didn’t work out. This is so much more my calling–I’ve always wanted to help people. Plus, I love dogs.

Day 2: What is “livelihoods”?

Day 3: Went to FabIndia and bought some real ethnic clothes so I don’t stand out. I heard that everyone at this nonprofit basically looks like JNU Spring/Summer collection ’17.

donate banner

Day 4: Forgot to buy accessories. Raided my dad’s closet for some.

Day 14: This is already an adventure! My first bus ride. It was really crowded, so my plans to revise the notes from “Development 101” and “Culturally Appropriate RCTs” didn’t quite work out. But I feel really confident.

Day 14: Got lost. I bet everyone is late, though. No one is on time at these places, right?

Day 14: Apparently, they are on time. I apologised profusely, though. To no one in particular.

Day 14: There is no espresso machine. This is going to be some story for when I get back to Cambridge!

Day 14: Okay, so my project manager is really cool. She’s really busy, though–and didn’t seem that interested in what Professor Alright has to say about the dangers of the saviour complex. She gave me some cool work to do. I’m excited about jumping right in.

Day 15: I found so many great icons! This is going to be the best PowerPoint they have ever seen.

Day 21: Okay, so apparently asking for four days off in a four-week internship is “excessive”. But what about my trip to Manali?

Day 24: Wow! A theory of change is way more complicated than the Wikipedia article made it out to be. I’m not sure we cover this stuff in school. Maybe we should?

Day 25: I’m going on a field trip! To an actual rural village. They told me it’s absolutely safe–apparently I don’t even need any vaccines.

Illustration: Rachita Vora

Day 28: So, villages look very different from what they do in the movies. There’s no spontaneous Bhangra dancing in the fields. I mean, yes, this is not technically Punjab–but still? Instead, it seems like they’re all just working hard, especially the women.

Day 28: Wait, speech in Hindi? I’m not prepared for this!

Day 28: I think the speech went well. Everyone was really polite about it.

Day 29: Okay, this stuff is really complex. Like, really hard problems, you know? It seems harder than what my classes made it sound. Not sure all the solutions I was preparing are relevant.

Day 30: My icons are still relevant, I think?

Day 30: These people work really hard. I wasn’t expecting this.

Day 35: At a conference with lots of funders. They’re all talking about outcomes and impact. Everyone is nodding their heads. Including me. And I don’t think anyone understands.

Day 44: Last day of my internship. Time has really flown by! My manager has finally started to call me by my correct name, which is cool.

Day 44: They’ve cut down the time for my final presentation to 15 minutes now, which is annoying. I have 36 slides.

Day 44: They seemed really happy with my presentation–they asked me to email it to them. They seemed really excited about my idea for growing organic quinoa using terrace farming techniques–they kept pointing and whispering during that part of the presentation.

Day 44: Said emotional goodbyes to everyone there. This has been a really humbling and eye-opening experience. There’s so much I have learned about the real India.

Day 45: Lined up an investment banking internship for next summer.

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Karan Malik-Image
Karan Malik

Karan Malik is Head of Programmes-India, British Asian Trust. Previously, he worked with the Social Impact and Development Practice at Boston Consulting Group. Prior to that, he worked on issues relating to maternal and child health and adolescent girl empowerment at Dasra. Karan has also worked with PRS Legislative Research and the Singapore Economic Development Board. He has a Masters in Public Affairs from Princeton University, where he focused on International Development.