International Development student Nataliya Mykhalchenko blogs about her internship experience
As part of the ESSL Summer Research Internships Scheme, funded by the alumni Footsteps and Q-steps project, I spent 5 weeks over the summer as a research intern, working alongside Dr. Jörg Wiegratz on a project titled ‘’ The Political Economy of anti-fraud measures in the Global South’’. The project was aimed at analysing the various drivers, characteristics and repercussions of the anti-fraud measures in the Global South, particularly in Africa.
The internship began with a one-week SPSS training bootcamp, which introduced me to qualitative and quantitative research methods, and in particular the SPSS software programme. Although the project I was working at is based on qualitative research, I found the introduction to quantitative research methods very useful. Never particularly great at maths, I was quite surprised to learn that I find statistics interesting. This experience motivated me to take on the Analysing Data module in my third year, which looks at this type of research in more depth.
The main body of the internship involved looking at a selection of websites of newspapers and TV stations, identifying and analysing anti-fraud measures carried out by state and non-state actors in various countries on the African continent. I managed to look at six countries: Tanzania, Ghana, Malawi, Kenya, South Africa and Rwanda. The research revealed a number of characteristics, which include: the popularization of the anti-fraud fight via awareness raising and sensitization campaigns; the use of technology (mainly in the form of computer software) as a tool in fighting fraud in a range of sectors such as the mobile and banking industries; the involvement of international companies specialising in checking the compliance of firms with regulations and standards; the use of language in anti-fraud campaigns by both state and non-state actors that creates a sense of alarm and urgency (i.e. referring to fraud as cancer), among others.
The researched material suggests that the drivers behind such initiatives include, among others, business and consumer concerns. The furthering of business interests (ranging from aims to protect brands and retain existing markets, to attracting new customers and creating an image of ‘’reliable brands’’) is indeed a major motivation behind some measures, especially those initiated by private actors. There is an indication that the development of anti-fraud technology tools, such as the already mentioned computer software, and the involvement of international companies specialising in checking the compliance of firms with regulations and standards, together contribute to making anti-fraud measures a profitable business. The material also shows that the anti-fraud fight is not void of tensions and conflicts. In some instances, political and economic power of those allegedly involved in fraud is used to influence the running of investigations.
I became interested in issues relating to political-economy in my second year as part of a module called North-South linkages, and this project helped me to gain a more in-depth understanding of the dynamics and features of the political-economy with regards to the anti-fraud measures. At first, I found looking for information quite challenging. Having been a POLIS student for two years, I was used to writing analytical essays with the use of a range of academic sources to back up my arguments. However, this type of research was different. The topic of anti-fraud measures is not widely researched, thus, I had to gather secondary data and analyse it without the backing of academic sources. It was difficult at the start, but my project leader was very encouraging and with time, I began to identify relevant points of analysis. The feedback that Dr. Wiegratz gave, having read my reports, was very useful and helped to improve my analytical and writing skills. Overall, I found the experience extremely beneficial and fulfilling. I had a chance to work in an academic environment, which will no doubt help me in my future studies and professional life.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank the organizers of the Summer Research Internship Scheme and Dr. Wiegratz for supporting me throughout my journey.
Nataliya Mykhalchenko is a third year International Development student at POLIS. The thematic focus of the internship research – the political economy of anti-fraud measures in Africa – is informed by the ongoing research of Dr. Jorg Wiegratz on anti-fraud measures in Uganda (funded by British Academy/Leverhulme Trust, Sir Ernest Cassel Educational Trust Fund, 2014-2016).