This summer, I had the absolute pleasure of interning at IMANI Africa, a policy think tank based in Ghana. I spent roughly two months in an office located in the outskirts of the capital city Accra, in a small town called Kutunse. The office which was formerly in the middle of Accra, at a bustling hub of development known as East Legon, decided to move out of the area due to, as founding President Franklin Cudjoe described as “the need to get away from it all.” This was a crucial need for one reason: IMANI is one of the most influential think tanks in Ghana and on the African continent as a whole. It was therefore quite shocking, to see that such a powerful organization had its day-to-day operations ran by seven individuals not including three of us interns, a line manager in charge of proof reading and strengthening research points, and the President who was rarely in the office due to various commitments within Accra itself.
At IMANI, I worked mainly as a research intern, initially being placed on a project to create an index that adequately measures the performance of State-Owned Enterprises (SOEs) in Ghana. A project that had already been well under-way, a fellow intern and I were meant to find additional markers to what had already been provided by the project’s initiator in order to buffer the index. However, after about the second week, we were placed on another project that more urgently required completion and needed extra hands in terms of research. This project dealt with the role of extractive industries in Ghana, specifically focusing on gas contracts and how best they can be written out in order to benefit the Ghanaian populace instead of international oil and gas companies. I focused mainly on the first phase of this project which was to find out the key elements of a gas contract as well as what possible measures within existing gas contract would guarantee benefits for the larger population. This ended up being the project I worked on for the entirety of my time as an intern at IMANI.
There were a number of things that made this internship truly special and different from a typical “office” internship. There was an emphasis on work independence at IMANI. The only time there was any “checking” was when write-ups were completed and needed to be proofread by the line manager or the president. Apart from those cases, it was expected that everyone was doing their bit when they possibly could. This greatly improved my
ability to work without supervision and to manage my time and efforts properly. The small number of employees in the office made it almost like a second family. The permanent staff were friendly and always ready to help or engage in conversation whenever appropriate. What bonded everyone even more closely was the fact that, due to the office location about 45 minutes from Accra, we were all picked up in a bus provided by the IMANI and engaged in regular banter about all sorts of topics ranging from local and international politics to weekend experiences. As mentioned before, it was a real learning experience working with IMANI’s permanent staff as, in truth, they were behind the huge influence and success that IMANI has managed to attain over the years. They all carried a wealth of knowledge and credible experience among themselves which I certainly took note off and learned from myself.
The most engaging aspect of this internship was having to attend various seminars and presentations both organized by IMANI and other NGOs, CSOs, and businesses that the think tank had potential interests in. I will unabashedly say that this is where the majority of my experience and learning came from. I was able to see first-hand, the ways in which the government of Ghana and other stakeholders were involved in solving the nation’s problems, as well as the discussions that took place around national issues. This also gave me a chance to seriously critique the way these issues were being handled, allowing me to apply lessons from my classes at Skidmore and through my own personal learning. It was a truly fulfilling experience attending three different meetings by myself as a
representative of the IMANI president – one with a huge international oil company, another with an energy accountability institute, and the last one with an arm of the World Bank – discussing varying issues about the role of extractive industries in Ghana and their effects. Additionally, I was able to network with some of Ghana’s most prominent politicians and businessmen, allowing me to potentially build a basis for my hopeful return to work for the country.
For future aspiring interns, it is important that you firstly identify as accurately as possible where you’d like to end up with the help of offices like the CDC. There is very little point in going into an experience that is meant to enhance you and instead, wasting your whole summer. Secondly, this process of identification needs to be done quickly so that applications are also done quickly as well. The earlier you do applications, the easier it is to maintain focus on school work and other commitments. In being able to find this internship, I was studying abroad when I was lucky to have gotten notified about it with family friends in Ghana who knew I wanted to work there for the summer. It is important to use who you know as well to help you identify and give you a leg-up with the search process. During the internship, it is important that you do not become a bystander. Engage yourself fully. There are many cases where interns are called back with full time job offers, and with the amount of competition and lack of jobs in the job market today, that would be a gift for anyone. Open your mind to all the learning experiences that present themselves. Your internship should be able to boost you as an all-round person.
Finally, me writing this report and being able to excel with this internship; my peace of mind intact, would not nearly have been possible without the summer funded opportunity. Having left Ghana almost ten years ago, my immediate family would not have been able to support me with living expenses, transport costs, and food on-the-go. The funds from this opportunity allowed me to survive relatively independently (as I had aunties and uncles close by) and be able to focus on my work despite it being an unpaid internship. I encourage whoever is potentially doing an unpaid internship to immediately familiarize themselves with the internship funding department and to seek help from former funded students on how to write in order to potentially win funding for their internships. Many thanks, Skidmore!