For the 2016-2017 program year, Community College Initiative Program participants have been hard at work building hands-on professional experience through internships in local U.S. businesses and organizations. Many participants select their internships based on their fields of study or future careers, and for Naik Alam, a business student at Northern Virginia Community College, his internship has given him the unique opportunity to learn about entrepreneurship and its relationship to women’s empowerment.
Since December, Naik has completed over 200 hours of internship experience working as a Development Intern at Empowered Women International (EWI), a non-profit organization that helps “create jobs and entrepreneurial opportunities for immigrant, refugee, low-income, and at-risk women in the Greater Washington DC Metro Area.” Naik says his interest in developmental economics, especially in sectors like NGOs and community institutions, led him to seek out an internship with EWI. “I wanted to work with this organization to gain professional experience with an NGO, but also because the cause of women’s empowerment interested me. [Women’s empowerment] is needed in developing countries like Pakistan.”
According to Naik, working with an NGO in the United States means a lot to him and to other people in his home country of Pakistan. He sees his internship as an opportunity to learn about how to be an entrepreneur, but also as an opportunity to learn about how to support the entrepreneurial endeavors of others. To get a firsthand account about what CCI internships can look like, we decided to ask Naik about his experience working with EWI so far.
What does an average day look like for you at EWI, and what tasks are you responsible for?
During the first few minutes, we discuss daily tasks with our director and then I allocate my timing for each task. I am responsible for managing donation accounts, and I make entries of all the donations we receive. On a weekly basis I generate thank you letters for our generous donors. When I get free time, I learn about grant proposals and reports submitted by our Monitoring and Evaluation team. Currently, EWI is focusing on a Spring2Action campaign, a chance for NGOs in Virginia to participate in a fundraising competition. For this project, I have attended sessions on fundraising campaigns where representatives of more than 30 NGOs shared their experiences, strategies and new ideas about the upcoming event (which is going to run from March 20 till April 5, 2017).
What are you enjoying most about your internship?
I’m learning new things every day. I also like that our office is so diverse. Our colleagues are from Germany, Pakistan, U.S., Yemen, Romania, India and Mexico, so collectively we have a diverse team where we share a lot and learn from each other by sharing our experience.
What skills do you feel you are gaining from your internship?
I’m gaining interpersonal skills and skills in donation management, writing thank you letters, organizing fundraising campaigns, handling transactions with banks, and a little about grants and report writing.
Why do you believe it’s important for women to become entrepreneurs and start their own businesses?
I believe in the equality of men and women, and when it comes to my own country women are being discriminated against. Although we do have young women who have won international awards, still a majority of women are not getting basic rights like education, and if they are educated many are not allowed to work. 40% of the nation is living under the poverty line and I feel the main reason behind this is women’s role in supporting their families. For example, a family with ten girls and one male must be facing financial challenges since many of these women will not be allowed to work on their own.
Encouraging women entrepreneurs can play a vital role in poverty alleviation, and as women begin to financially support their families and themselves it will encourage other females to work and get an education.
Also even though some women in my country do not receive an education, a majority of them have different technical skills according to the needs of the places they live. For instance, uneducated women in my region Baltistan are experts in sewing dresses, working on handicrafts, and they have expertise in growing vegetable, and so on in other regions. They should be encouraged to create businesses with these skills.
The experiences CCI participants gain in their internships help them explore their fields of study and plan for their future careers back in their home countries. Naik says that working with a nonprofit like Empowered Women International has been a great place to develop creative, new ideas about how to expand women’s empowerment through business ownership—ideas that he plans to take back to his home country in a few months. He also says his confidence in interpersonal skills has skyrocketed as a result of his internship because he has become more aware of women’s issues and business development.
When asked if he would suggest this or a similar internship experience to future CCI students, Naik emphatically said yes. “I must recommend working with this organization, especially to students who are interested in working on their own NGOs, entrepreneurship, small business management or women’s empowerment and economic development. They all can learn a lot from this organization.”