Why does it mean so much to a small team like ours to win such a big award?
At Roots Interns, we do things a bit differently. We offer the unique combination of quality academic work experiences and tangible impact on development work in Africa. As a team, we are hugely motivated by the life-changing experiences we offer to people around the world. And we’re so excited that our work was just recognised by a prestigious WYSTC Award! Roots Interns co- founder and Director Marleen Lammers reflects on what this recognition means.
An organic beginning
The idea for Roots Interns grew within Greenpop, an environmental nonprofit in Cape Town. Soon after launching Greenpop’s tree planting projects, we started getting interest from international students to join us for an internship. We had no experience in hosting interns, and we felt like we barely knew what we were doing ourselves, but we welcomed the idea. Soon had excited students joining our little team for a few months at a time. As our projects grew and our team expanded, so did the amount of interns we hosted. And this proved to be absolutely invaluable.
For a small nonprofit organisation, having constant input and support from interns around the world – people with different backgrounds and skill sets, and generally huge amounts of enthusiasm – is a big deal. Grassroots organisations often have great passion for their cause but a lack of resources, and getting that extra support can add substantial value. It grows efficiency, brings in new ideas, and allows for more impact to be made on the ground. In Greenpop’s case, it’s no hyperbole to say that the organisation would not be where it is today if it wasn’t for the few hundred interns that have been part of our team over the past nine years.
But we realised our internships at Greenpop had another impact; they offered a kind of work experience that is hugely valuable to students, and fairly unique. We allowed interns to be an integral part of our programs, and a key ingredient to our growth. We carefully assessed each intern’s skill set and knowledge, and made sure challenged them in the right way. Internships – especially ones with larger companies – are often admin-heavy, demand little creativity, and don’t give much responsibility to students. We put large projects into the capable hands of our interns, thus creating great learning experiences that are both highly educational and hugely rewarding.
A big Idea
It’s the success of these internships that inspired us to start Roots Interns, just over three years ago. We wanted to offer other nonprofit organisations the same support through skilled interns, and we were excited to expand our offering of unique and valuable internships to students around the world. We’re proud to now offer 47 different internship programs – with a wide range of academic focus areas – across 11 locations in Africa. At all our programs, we ensure that our interns are a large part of a small team that’s doing important work. They get to contribute on a strategic level, see their work translate into impact in the field, and, in many cases, help drive a project forwards with their own skills and knowledge.
An impactful Experience
A great example of this, and the project that led us to winning the WYSTC Award, is Roy van den Berg’s internship with Greenpop. A Dutch Masters student of Bio Inspired Innovation (also knows as Biomimicry), Roy came up with an innovative solution to a complex issue Greenpop was facing. One of the organisation’s main programs, an urban greening program at schools in Cape Town’s township areas, was jeopardised by the severe drought the area has been facing for the past few years. While the projects usually rely on grey water for irrigation, they had to adapt to planting fynbos plants; a water-wise plant that has many environmental benefits, but that can’t cannot cope with the high levels of nitrates and phosphates in the grey water. With strict water restrictions in place, this left Greenpop without an irrigation option.
Enter Roy, who, during his 5-month internship, managed to design and build an innovative grey water filtration tower that the schools could use to filter their grey water, rendering it near-devoid of nitrates and phosphates, and allowing it to be used on fynbos. The Grey Water Filtration Tower is going to be built at every school as part of one of the Fynbos for the Future workshops. During this workshop, the children will be doing the building themselves, thereby gaining intimate knowledge not only of bio-filters, but also of how important healthy soil is and how best to care for their fynbos garden, which in turn is then going to help ensure the longevity of the gardens.
Roy managed to conduct relevant research and design a hugely innovative solution to an issue that’s affecting South African communities; an academic as well as a humanitarian and environmental feat. And Roots Interns, we are proud to have played a role in this. We are honoured to have been awarded by WYSTC, and motivated to keep growing and improving our work.
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