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Achieving Sustainable Community Development Outcomes in Internships and Volunteer Engagement

For this week’s #GLOVicariously webinar, we were joined by Margaret Nassozi, site director for GESI Uganda and founder of Foundation for Sustainable Community-Based Development (FSD Jinja Uganda); Christine Malarkey, international program coordinator for FSD Jinja Uganda; and Julius Kisere, chief executive officer of Kakira Outgrowers Rural Development Fund. The speakers discussed models for sustainability in community development work involving interns and volunteers not from the community.

Grounded in the United Nations’ definition of sustainable development as “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs,” the three pillars of sustainable development—which cut across all sectors of development work—are economic growth (profit), environmental stewardship (planet), and social community and inclusion (people), according to Nassozi. 

“If you are going to do any development work, you have to make sure any project or program you are working for has the three balanced,” Nassozi said. 

Nassozi then elaborated on three categories of community development internship designs:

  • Community-based development projects entail a community assessment, project planning and implementation, ongoing monitoring of the project, and a final evaluation of the outcomes.
  • Community-based participatory research “equally involves” community members and others in all aspects of the research project, sharing in decision-making and ownership and integrating results with “interventions for policy or social change” that benefits the community members themselves.
  • Policy analysis and advocacy focuses mainly on social policy (e.g., culturally based gender expectations and inequalities) and public policy (e.g., government or institutional policies affecting equity of access or experience). 

Kisere, who runs a local community-based NGO, highlighted the potential impact of interns in supplementing NGOs’ and nonprofits’ existing work. “When they have the interns at our places, they provide an extra human resource that helps us accomplish some of our projects,” Kisere said. “The interns come with a wealth of innovative ideas, new ideas, that are helpful to our organizations.” 

However, a crucial component to any sustainable community-based development work is building on the community’s existing strengths, expertise, and assets and beginning by listening to the community’s goals.

“Don’t come to the community thinking they don’t have anything,” Nassozi said. “Please don’t come with your own agenda. […] You have to ask the community what needs they have in that sector. They will be in a position to tell you what they need and what they want.”

Malarkey echoed this sentiment: “The student [intern or volunteer] plays the role of facilitator, not direct implementer. They act as a mirror to reflect what is already that may be overlooked. An outsider connects people and they act as change agents. They also have external resources and external experience.”

Malarkey concluded with a story highlighting a common misconception many student interns and volunteers make, in which students were speaking to a group of community members and expressed a desire to help give them a voice in their community. However, the community members emphasized that what they needed from the students was assistance in bringing visibility and attention to their existing message: “It’s not that we don’t have a voice; it’s that no one is listening.”

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About #GLOVicariously Webinar Series:

Amidst the global COVID-19 pandemic and ongoing anti-racism protests, global engagement across difference and development of intercultural skills are critically needed to build a more just and peaceful world. We want to continue fostering global learning opportunities for students throughout this summer 2020 through our virtual webinar series, #GLOVicariously. #GLOVicariously webinars feature speakers involved in GLO programs who have expertise on a variety of critical global issues. View upcoming #GLOVicariously webinars.