I hope we all we were able to enjoy our cities a little bit before our internships started! My first few days in Paris have been super intense, and I very happy to be here. However, I am definitely already starting to feel a little bit of language fatigue! Meeting my host family, trying to understand a little bit of how the city works, and just getting used to being by myself in a different country has not been the easiest, but it is also super gratifying when things work out.
Right before arriving in Paris, I found out I would be an intern at Robin des Bois, an environmental non-profit organization in the 19th arrondissement of Paris. Founded in 1985, Robin des Bois is one of the oldest environmental NGOs in Paris and overall, in Europe. Over the decades, the organization has dealt with multiple environmental issues from the illegal selling of ivory products to soil, water, and air pollution in France. Their work is more geared towards researching, writing briefs and reports, activism, and acting as a consultant with the French government on solutions and resolutions for environmental problems.
While not technically an industry or a business, the NGO world is a space where content is produced and decisions are made. They play a major role as a non-governmental actor in negotiations and decision making from a regional to the international level. In the social sciences world, interning or working at an NGO is usually competitive, as it is a great way to gain professional experience while having the feeling of contributing to a significant cause. With that, non-profit organizations are not competing against each other or trying to come up with new ways to make more profit, yet there is still a strong set of skills that one needs in order to do well in this “industry”.
From what I know, perhaps the most important aspect of working in a non-profit organization is genuinely being interested on the issue that the NGO focuses on. This might not be seen a skill per say, but considering that a major part of most NGO jobs is research, being interested on the organization’s mission is crucial to one’s success. As well, there is a need to always being up to date on current issues that relate to the NGO, so being interested in such topics makes the job more enjoyable and consequently, increasing the chances of success.
I would say the number-one skill necessary for working at a non-governmental organization is being flexible and adaptive. From what I know, working at an NGO comes with a lot of unpredictably, as world events and political changes can alter the quality and the production of content, the budget, and organization’s goals, imposing further limitations on their work. Because of that, knowing how to “expect the unexpected” and learning how to act under unpredictability is a key part of the job. On a more personal side, NGOs are also known for being a transitory workspace, where most professionals work in these organizations for a short period of time. I believe that knowing how to deal with a space that faces constant change is also a great skill to have because the professional needs to be comfortable in this type of work environment.
Furthermore, knowing how to do effective research, how to produce quality content, and how to develop communication channels are also a set of competencies that are necessary to be successful in the workplace. When working in a non-profit organization, your work is always linked to other people’s work, so knowing how to communicate with colleagues is a must. Successfully communicating the NGO’s mission and accomplishments is also an extremely important part of the job, as it gives visibility both to the professional and to the organization itself.
Lastly, it is important to well-rounded and have a curious mind. A big part of working at an NGO involves communicating with other non-profits and even with other national and international organizations. Because of that, I think it is important to always have an open mind and understand not only your responsibilities inside your organization, but also understand the environment around you.
My first day at the internship was today, and it was super interesting to see how such an influential organization is, deep-down, made of passionate professionals who truly believe in Robin des Bois objectives. I started work translating one of their most important annual reports that expose trafficking of endangered species across the globe. While environmental studies is not my main academic focus, the little bit of work that I did today was already interesting, and I truly think that interning at Robin des Bois will allow me to learn so much in so little time!