Shaping Tomorrow Today: Why Internships are a Cornerstone for Sustainable Development

By Felicite Dusabe

May 22, 2024

On the morning of May 13, 2023, I had the pleasure of welcoming a young man named Kalisa to our office. It was his first day as an intern, joining our environmental team. He was a young graduate with a master's degree from a well-known university in Germany. 

Mahatma Gandhi put it well: “The future depends on what you do today.” Internships serve as a crucial bridge between academic theory and practical application, benefiting both the intern and the organization. For many young graduates like Kalisa, an internship is more than just a placement; it’s a launchpad for personal and professional development. It provides a nurturing environment where they can make mistakes, learn from them, and gain the confidence needed to succeed in the workforce. This hands-on experience is invaluable as it not only enhances their understanding but also prepares them for real-world challenges, giving them hope and a solid foundation to advance their careers.

In my view, internships are a potential solution to the challenges young people face in the job market, where employers often prioritize hiring experienced workers. Internships allow interns to apply themselves, acquiring valuable skills and experience for their future careers. Most importantly, few graduates have the required years of work experience leading to the classic ‘egg -and-chicken-which-comes-first’ situation. Internships fill in the gap of the required work experience solving the age-old dilemma of young graduates’ access to the job market.

UNDP benefits significantly from the fresh perspectives and vibrant energy that interns bring. Each year, we select at least 10 interns from over 150 applicants who show immense enthusiasm and a keen desire to contribute meaningfully to our projects. When their internship placements end, they leave with a greater appreciation of the professional world, often securing jobs that help uplift their livelihoods and society. For example, Kalisa successfully transitioned from his role at UNDP to a prestigious position at an international NGO focused on the forestry sector in Rwanda, illustrating the profound impact and upward mobility that internships can facilitate.

However, the demand for these opportunities greatly exceeds our capacity to host interns, highlighting a significant gap that needs addressing. Other public and private institutions need to open their doors to interns. UNDP provides a monthly stipend to ease the financial burden on our interns, ensuring that all eligible candidates have the opportunity to benefit from these experiences.

Internships at UNDP are integral to our People for 2030 strategy, emphasizing capacity building and skills development in alignment with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). These experiences are far more than temporary roles; they are critical steppingstones that shape informed leaders and skilled professionals committed to serving communities. This aligns with UNDP's objective to not only attract and select top talent but also to prepare the future workforce in the development world.

Over the past two years, our interns have not only secured esteemed positions within and beyond UNDP but have also advanced to prestigious universities for further studies. Their journeys exemplify our commitment to fostering a workforce equipped to tackle global challenges and innovate solutions that propel us forward. By continuously advancing the UNDP legacy and upholding high standards of professional excellence, our interns embody the transformative promise of our development mission. 

The joy and satisfaction of seeing an intern like Kalisa thrive are indescribable. It reaffirms the value and impact of our internship program. I strongly advocate for more organizations to invest in the future by offering internships, thus nurturing a new generation of professionals equipped to handle the challenges of our ever-evolving world. Let us all contribute to this meaningful endeavor and help transform the professional landscape for the better.