A Workforce That Reflects the Change We Want to See in the World

The Open Society Foundations' Global Internship Manager,Patrick Freeman, shares what an equitable and inclusive approach to recruiting interns can look like.

von Patrick Freeman – Global Internship Manager at The Open Society Foundations, January 13, 2021
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"to belonging" is a long-term project driven by tbd* that aims to change the discourse around diversity and inclusion to one of belonging. Anti-racism, feminism and equity will be the focus of our work and should lead to a radical systemic change in the impact sector, from "power over" and "power for" to "power with". This content series is a part of this project and is made possible by the Open Society Foundations (OSF).

More often than not, unpaid internship spots at NGOs are filled by students whose parents can afford to pick up the bill. The Open Society Foundations are on a mission to change that. In this “Snapshot,” Global Internship Manager Patrick Freeman shares what an equitable and inclusive approach to recruiting interns can look like.

Are you an intern at a social justice organisation? What is it like? Let us know!

A couple of years ago we started to reevaluate the way we do recruitment at the Open Society Foundations, so that we could primarily reach individuals in underserved communities. That always looks a bit different depending on where we are based. We operate in over 120 countries, so context matters. In Germany, we are looking to engage candidates from communities that have faced racism, economic inequality, and disenfranchisement such as individuals of Turkish descent, Arab, and African migrants. In the United Kingdom, we are trying to break out of the London and South East bubble. We pay our interns, providing relocation assistance and helping to offset housing costs, where necessary.

Patrick Freeman

We have also changed the way we go about recruiting interns. We don’t just use the traditional model of posting online. The individuals we are looking for aren’t necessarily looking for us, so we go and look for them. We work with partner organisations on the ground. In Germany, we work with Each One Teach One, a community-based education and empowerment project in Berlin, which works for the interests of Black, African, and Afro-diasporic people in Germany and Europe. In the United Kingdom, we work with organizations like Rainbow House, which works with LGBTQI* immigrants. In the United States, we are looking to engage with communities in the South and Midwest—otherwise all of our interns would typically come from East Coast universities. We don’t just want graduates either. We are creating a pathway for people who did not complete formal education, but who have different life experience.

When our interns come on board, we provide programming for their personal and professional development, and we give them mentors in other departments and programmes. We make sure that they have a dedicated supervisor who we work with to ensure that they are doing appropriate and meaningful work. Every intern works on their own independent project. And we run a speaker series where members of staff share their own stories—not pontificating about their awesomeness but rather keeping it real and authentic, telling their story, sharing their struggles, and being open about their own journey.

It’s not just about bringing people in for the sake of it. As well as helping individuals to gain experience of working in a large human rights organization, we are enriching the Open Society Foundations, and building a workforce that reflects the change we want to see in the world and that can help us get there. It’s about creating a cultural shift, and giving people an opportunity that they might otherwise not get.

I know that personally, I’ve been helped so much on my own professional journey by people who have taken the time to help get me to the right place at the right time. I grew up in Ghana and moved to London when I was seven. Now I live and work in Washington. I have worked for the U.S. State Department and the Obama Foundation. After college, I started out teaching British and American Literature.

I get a lot of satisfaction from helping people realize their potential. I want as many young people as possible to feel that they are valued. That they are important. That they can make a difference. It doesn’t matter to me so much what our interns end up doing after they leave us. I just want them to have a better understanding of the unique learning opportunities that working in a large human rights organization, such as the Open Society Foundations, can offer. That is my goal.