In the welfare-state utopia that is Scandinavia, there is a saying that goes, "give the youngsters a computer before football gets to them," alluding to the ever-dominant role the sport plays in Scandinavian society. In the world of social enterprise, perhaps it is time we adopt a similar approach: "give young people a purposeful career before the corporates get to them." Step one? Adopt an intern.
As a twenty-year old college student I was lost in what to do with my life. Like many of my peers I was young, idealistic beyond belief and equipped with a hard work-ethic. However, what I lacked were hard skills, proper levels of pragmatism, and a realistic view on how to 'change the world'. Then I got the opportunity to intern for a month with a social entrepreneurship organisation, which took me in, nurtured my confidence and taught me about how social enterprise practitioners apply idealism. A year and a half later this experience has put me on track for a career that mixes purpose with professionalism, work with an outside life, and idealism with pragmatism. While there are many similar stories out there, there is still a large gap between the many young interns who stand ready to join small social enterprises, and those who actually gain the opportunity to work. Why? Here are a few hypothetical claims…
– Small social enterprises or NGOs often lack the funding to bring in an intern, even for part-time. As far as I know, outside funding alternatives specifically aimed at bringing in interns are few and far between.
– Prospective interns often have no idea where to begin their job search. Finding a small social enterprise is hard enough, finding one that can afford them and is willing to go through the process of hiring an intern is virtually impossible.
– Small social enterprises are not proactive enough in searching for interns. Many organisations want trained employees, and fail to see value of fresh perspectives and the hard work-ethic interns often bring to the table.
– Prospective interns prefer big organisations or well-known employers. In looking an internship with a name-brand business, they often do not see that with a small NGO they will receive greater responsibility, more advanced tasks, and ultimately, greater skills.
– Students are often limited for time in that they can only do internships that last for one to four months. A lot of organisations prefer longer contracts to make it a more useful learning experience for intern, but also because it gives the intern a greater opportunity to make a positive impact on the NGO.
Surely other factors play a role as well, but these stand out to me as particularly limiting.
Why is it important to defy these factors and make a conscious effort to recruit more interns? As is widely accepted, not everyone could, or should, be a social entrepreneur. However, there are plenty of young men and women who still want to partake in social enterprise, and who want to make a positive impact on their society. In this sense, second-tier organisations might be a perfect fit. NGOs often prioritize the day-to-day tasks over long-term projects that involve research, updating of databases, technological innovation – they just fall by the waste side. Ironically these features are essential in moving the sector forward, through strong networks, new initiatives, a deeper understanding of complex issues, and organisational growth.
If you work for a small social enterprise and you are looking for an intern, what do you do? SSE was lucky enough to be approached by an American college, looking to set up a sustainable internship relationship. This coming January, SSE will welcome its third intern from St. Olaf College. Looking for such a partner might be a good first step – loads of schools are filled with competent young men and women, ready to enter the sector and contribute to its growth and development. While it might be time-consuming and not directly beneficial for your organisation to adopt an intern, it might be essential for the social enterprise movement. Youth is an essential ingredient to a successful sector in the future.