Praktikum bei einer NGO in Wien

I was determined to find an internship in a NGO focusing on human rights because I have always been inspired by the work and contribution done by such organizations and would love to gain practical experiences by working with professionals in this field. I asked many of my friends, former colleagues and family members who are currently working in NGOs for any potential internship opportunities while simultaneously writing to NGOs and collectives that I find align with my value asking for internship openings.

It was quite a challenging task, since the COVID-19 regulations back then were still extremely strict and most NGOs that I contacted with were not looking for any interns. After a few months of searching, a friend of mine who was working at World Health Organization reached out to me and suggested that I contact an acquaintance of hers who is working for UNSA Vienna, a non-governmental organization mainly based in Vienna, Austria, which aims to provide a platform that discuss some commonly overlooked yet crucial topics within the United Nations framework. I sent off my resumé and a few sample work that I have done showcasing my focus of research, and shortly after that I got a confirmation to do an interview with Fausia, who later became my supervisor. After the interview I was offered a position as a research assistant trainee in the organization. UNSA is a small-sized organization that employs only around 20 to 30 people. The organization is divided into different departments characterized by its functions e.g. graphic design, management, research and data analysis, accounting, programming etc. The research and data analysis team is then further subdivided into four specific topics, namely Femicide/ Gender-based Violence (GBV), Climate Change, Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and Migration. My task as a research assistant trainee was to work with the research and data analysis team in which my main research topics were Femicide, Migration, and SDGs. My main task for the six month length internship is to work on blog series on the topic of migration and femicide, using data collected from GMDAC, IOM, refugee centers.

When I first started my internship program, my supervisor offered all our team members to attend courses and workshops about SDGs and guided office tours to better understand the work that UNSA Vienna has been doing. It was extremely informative because prior to joining the team, I was really uncertain about how human rights NGOs were being structured and managed. These team building events offered by UNSA not only clarified some of the goals and responsibilities performed by each team, but it also brought the interns from different teams closer together. Due to the organization’s small-sized nature and the close communications between the interns from different teams, I was able to work not only within my Research and Data Analysis team, but to also cooperate with other departments and join interesting projects carried out by other departments. One of the main projects that I worked on early on during my internship program was the blog series, where my task was to collect data on how refugees from the war on Ukraine were affected by gender-based violence, exploring how gender, race and other forms of oppression intersect with one another for migrant women and female refugees. The war on Ukraine was a topic that was not only researched within my team but extended to other departments. It later evolved into a bigger cooperation project called “Ukraine is a Crime Scene“, where UNSA Vienna was able to collaborate with other Vienna based NGOs and institutions to host a hybrid online /live discussion about the crimes being committed in the Ukraine and what could be done from grassroot organizations’ point of view. Though my task was merely to collect some of the data regarding this topics, some people with legal backgrounds were able to help research on Ukrainian Criminal Law, some work on maintaining contact with human rights activists and a few worked on making and distributing flyers. By the end of it, the project went beyond its original goal, and was able to transform into something that connected within individuals, teams, NGOs and institutions. Aside from the tasks that I was expected to do as a research assistant trainee, I was also given the opportunity to work with the Secretary General of UNSA, Angelika, and help create a skill matrix for the management team. Closely working with Angelika showed me how management system in NGOs work, more specifically, how NGOs like UNSA Vienna that is mainly based on volunteer work is able to operate smoothly and efficiently with the limited resources given. Because of my lack of knowledge and experience working in the management team, creating a detailed skill matrix was a very challenging and time consuming task for me to complete. Although UNSA is based in Vienna, it also extends to different parts of the world, as the team consists of volunteers that work in person in Vienna but also remotely from other parts of Europe. This constellation of live and remote work made it more difficult to get all the data from the members efficiently. I had to contact each UNSA members individually to gather their data after the lack of success in getting enough response from announcing it in the general meetings and posting the assignments in public channels on our main communicating program, Slack. The project was more complicated than what I had imagined, not only because I had to learn how to create the skill matrix sheet by scratch, but mainly due to the difficulty in finding ways to engage all members to notice my request. Luckily, I was fortunate to have Angelika and Laura, the vice president of UNSA, to train me, give me feedbacks weekly on my project, and to provide some of their expertise on management skills, in particularly, how to create content that maintains effective teamwide communication. The work tempo during my internship program varies from project to project, as each project as its own deadline and difficulties in completing. What I am really thankful for is that, even when the work load is too heavy for any of our team members to handle, we could always bring it up in our small team meeting weekly and discuss how to divide the task in a way that it could still be completed in a less overwhelming yet efficient way. I have since learned that productivity is more closely tied with the level of openness in communication between team members than it is within individual work progress when working in NGOs.

As a undergraduate student that majors in anthropology and minors in political science, I have acquired the text book knowledge essential for analysing power structures and political issues within our society. However, the theories that I had learning during my studies at Freie University alone wasn’t adequate enough, as I did not know how to apply these knowledge and transform it in a more practical way. During my time working for UNSA, I was able to put classroom skills into action. I was able to use the skills I acquire from my political and anthropological academic background – my skill in collecting literature and writing academic papers, and apply them onto grassroot projects that is able to mobilize political activism and effect change in a local context. By the end of my program, I had learned how management system in an NGO works, developed journalism skills through writing blog series on various topics, learned about the international NGO world and UN Mandate/ SDGs, and most importantly, how to communicate and cooperate in a team. This internship experience has showed me my ability to see the world in an intersectional perspective and to incorporate this experience onto the political activism and work I devote myself to. This multifaceted skill set allows me to respond to new topics with insight, imagination, and intelligence. Overall, my internship experience at UNSA Vienna was positive, as it allowed me to build relationships with professionals in this field and create a wider network for myself to improve my future career opportunities. Prior to the internship program, the thought of work abroad seemed like a daunting experience. However, I was able to explore the benefits of working abroad and meet people who I would not have been able to connect with if I hadn’t worked in UNSA Vienna. This experience definitely showed me the positives of working overseas and encourages me to pursue that in the future.

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