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An unforgettable time, with enrichment, challenges, and impact

Sarah Mewes from Germany did an NGO management internship with a focus on Data Monitoring and Evaluation at the head office of the African Impact Foundation (AIF) in Cape Town. This non-profit organization works to implement long-term, positive change in the lives of individuals, families, and communities in Africa. Sarah was looking for an extra working experience with a smaller organization. Preferably in the nonprofit sector where she could use her reporting and analytical skills, which was exactly what this non-profit needed. We interviewed Sarah about her internship, her tasks, her most memorable moments and what she likes about Cape Town City. 

Why did you choose this Internship and what did you hope to Achieve?

Before I came to Cape Town I wanted to work in a social environment because I had never done this before. I am from a completely different background but I wanted to try something new, after finishing my bachelor’s degree. It was important to me that I could support in a way that I am really helpful for a team. As I have experience in data analyzing and assessing, I decided to join this organization.

Wondering how to find the right internship abroad? Let this blog post help you!

What was the Project about you were working on?

Data monitoring and evaluation are often misunderstood, and people think you want to control them and their work. But this is not the case. It is a rather useful and supporting tool to find and collect information that can be used by all teams (e.g. Marketing, Finance, Fundraising, Sales etc.). Our goal is it to use this information to find new grants and volunteers, to focus marketing tasks on a specific project, which are maybe not so in focus as other projects, and to get a sense how to develop projects in a certain way.

In the last years, a real system or tool to capture and analyze these data was not implemented. All data were collected by different persons and saved separately. So my main task was to create and implement a strategically focused data collection system accessible to all. According to her supervisor, Nwabisa Gunguluza, this project was born out of the need for the organization to evaluate its monitoring system with projects, the head office staff as well as community partners. As this was not something AIF could financially afford with their core costs. The system that Sarah was able to develop is something that will be introduced to the organization which includes African Impact, as well as The Girl Impact project.

What were your actual Tasks? And how did you do these?

My tasks during the internship were always diverse. In the beginning, we had many meetings with different project teams in several African countries. We had to figure out what the specific goals and achievements are and how to convert this information into indicators that can be used in the data system. After this, we spent a lot of time determining the indicators. It was always important to create a bridge between the overall goals and visions with specific small tasks.

For creating the first drafts with the new indicators per project I worked a lot with Excel and used different cell formatting and formulas. Overall, my tasks were a mixture of working on my own, presenting, and discussing the result in the team. In the end, we finished the template drafts for capturing the data. As this project is a working process, these drafts have to be changed and adjusted by discussing the indicators with the project teams again. Nevertheless, we could lay an important foundation for the next steps.

Surfing at Cape Town       Intern Life, Winegarden, Cape Town

What is the main Thing (or things) you have learned during your Internship?

I have learned how to interact in a completely new situation for me. It was the first time I worked as intern outside of my home country. Through the work on our project and our many meetings, I learned how to present ideas and results in front of other people, how to plan and manage a project and timeline strategically for all tasks, and I could improve my English.

Furthermore, Nwabisa says Sarah gained a lot of soft skills, engaging people with different perspectives, finding ways to bring people on-board with you and your idea, present her own ideas in front of an audience and plan and manage project deadlines. She improved in her listening and articulation in English. She got to experience working in the social development space, in a different country and different work environment. After a while, she opened up more and talked more during meetings and started to freely express her thoughts and ideas.

Were there any Challenges, and how did you overcome these?

As I am not a native English speaker, I had a few communication problems in the beginning. But I just continued to speak, and everyone was open and interested in what I said, so I was motivated to just go on. After a short time of settling in, I did not struggle with the language anymore. ”Working to shift people’s minds around their old ways of doing things and change management were high on the challenge list”, according to Nwabisa. “Their small working group team comprised Sarah to face some resistance on the ideas we were presenting, but Sarah persevered through all the work they did with project teams, was very accommodating and easily adapted to changes required from the team. Working to shift people’s minds around their old ways of doing things and change required from the team.”

What did you enjoy the most during this Internship? How was it to work in the Team?

I was always involved in the team. I have never felt like “just an intern”. The people are so lovely and interested, which makes you feel comfortable and settled down. They appreciated the work I have done and were always open to new ideas. I could make honest suggestions all the time and, after discussing these suggestions, some of them were also accepted.

In what way do you feel you have made a difference or impact for the Project and Organization?

Even though I was not very often on the ground on the project, I feel I could support in a strategic way. With the new system for data monitoring and evaluation, the organization is able to analyze the project and act appropriately. With my background knowledge, the work I did during this internship was the best way for me to support the organization. For the organization, the future of reporting will be changed to allow for better information gathering of what is happening on the ground with projects- therefore providing them with better and more quality data and more efficient and better ways to gauge their impact on the communities they work with.

“Sarah brought her great working experience of using Excel to the table. This was particularly handy as she was responsible for designing the datasheet templates to be used as a tool for the Monitoring & Evaluation work.” According to her supervisor, “Sarah also has a great mind for organizing and analyzing data which was helpful in thinking through how to frame and order the data collection tools. Sarah leaves behind a legacy of templates and training manuals for use at later stages.”

Have a look at how other interns made a difference during their internship 

How do you feel this Internship will help you in the Future?

This internship was a great experience for me. I learned how to handle challenges and entire new situations. Also, working in another cultural environment was really interesting and is important as, with the current globalization, you will always work with people with different backgrounds. And I have learned to work independently to achieve the project goal. All these things are very important for the future – both for my personal and professional development.

What was it like to live in Cape Town for three months?

Cape Town is such a great city and so diverse! You can do many different things (e.g. sightseeing, sports, hiking, surfing, exploring the Cape region, learning about history). It was a wonderful experience to explore the Western Cape. The only thing I was struggling with, is the safety situation.  Back home I am used to being independent. I can walk alone wherever and whenever I want to. It is different in South Africa. You should always go out in groups and share a taxi. But when you watch out and take each other, it is fine! Just keep that in mind.

Sarah Mewes_ Paragliding Cape Town      Internlife Cape Town Mountain

What would you say to someone interested in doing the same Internship as you did?

The internship is a great opportunity to work for an NGO with lovely colleagues and volunteers you meet in the accommodation. Interns get responsibility and are involved in the tasks. Last but not least, Cape Town and the Western Cape provide you with many things to do during the weekends. According to Nwabisa“Sarah was an amazing intern, with a sharp mind, which was very beneficial to the organization. Her plan is to go into the auto-motor industry but her experience taught her how there is always a human element to consider even in the most corporate settings.

Theory can never replace practice. So working with a non-profit provides real-life experience to understand how projects evolve from idea to implementation on the ground. New challenges and opportunities arise and theoretical knowledge is great to have but will not always prepare you for what it takes to really work through issues that impact human life as directly as interns may experience during projects.”

Other interesting reads: 
The life of a Cape Town intern
Why do an NGO internship?
7 reasons to do an internship in Cape Town
How to finance an unpaid NGO internship