Skip to main content

Insight into a Washington D.C International Development internship


Thinking of applying for a Development related Internship? Second year International Development and Italian student Ludwig Ahlqvist blogs about his experience of working as an intern in a Washington D.C based NGO 'Free The Slaves'

I did a two months internship this summer (2015) at a Washington, D.C. based NGO called Free the Slaves (FTS). I became interested in FTS since during the first year module Making of the modern world; where we were introduced to the topic of ‘Modern Day Slavery’ and to NGOs working on this issue. FTS is one of the NGOs working to end slavery and I began to research more about their work. I found out that they work through a "Community Based Model", which means that they are not rescuing slaves directly, but instead are working with local communities who know the area where they operate better. This approach is a bottom-up approach and one that I am interested in. In the past I have been working with young people in Sweden about cultural diversity and openness in society through youth exchanges in Europe and the MENA (Middle East North Africa) region. During these youth exchanges the young people learn about different cultures and people through interaction with each other. It is a very simple method but I have seen an amazing change in the behaviour of young people through this approach. I think this is approach is similar to the one used by FTS. FTS staff work with the affected communities themselves to address the problems of slavery, rather than bringing in their own solutions.


FTS partners with grassroots organizations in six countries to free people from slavery, help them rebuild their lives, and do what it takes to end slavery in their communities. Current partners include local anti-slavery organizations in Ghana, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Haiti, Brazil, India and Nepal.

What type of work do you do as an Intern?

An internship at a development department is a good experience to learn what it is like to work in an NGO.

FTS offer four different internships: Media, Development, Policy and Program. I did the Development Internship in the development department.  This department raises all the revenue for FTS’s programs; they secure funding from the US government, private foundations, and individual donors. They also raise money through grant proposals, major donor asks, social media, and so forth. Working for this part of the organization was very exciting. The environment was very friendly and I got the opportunity to interact with all the staff.

The work I did was very varied. There were tasks such as research on foundations, donors, etc., and administrative tasks, such as data entry for donor information into their database (Salesforce), grant writing, report writing and events.

It was a great learning experience to do an Internship in D.C. since you saw how Development operates at the very top, i.e. in a capital city where professionals from every sector are boosting their professional careers. You have an amazing opportunity to network with people.

How can you get an Internship?

To secure an internship in D.C. can feel more or less impossible, I know I felt that way. But, there are great resources here at Campus, and here are some tips:

  1. Ask for help from your personal tutor or any other member of staff who has relevant work experience.
  2. Start with you application early and make sure to complete all of the asked documents.
  3. Follow the template from the country you are applying i.e. for an internship in USA, use an american CV template (no photo, no date of birth, etc.)
  4. Take advantage of the quality people at Careers Centre to make you application competitive (; get advice and help with writing the CV and application letter from other members of staff, in my case Dr Jörg Wiegratz who was very helpful and supportive.
  5. Ask Careers Centre or a friend to do a mock interview with you before your internship interview.

Top tips for getting the most from your internship

If you secure an internship there are some good things to think about during your internship.

  1. Remember that you are there to learn.

An internship is supposed to be a learning experience, but you have to approach this differently than you would a University lecture. Instead of being the know-it-all who has the answer to every single question, get ready to spend a lot of time listening. There will be no grades to dispute, and you should welcome constructive criticism about your work. And chances are that the people who will teach you the most are not the bosses you occasionally see at meetings, but your fellow interns and the young staffers sitting near you.

  1. Do the work you are assigned. Then show initiative.

The tasks typically assigned to interns are far from glamorous, data input, answering phones, doing research or maintaining a web site, but it’s work that has to be done by someone. And, right now, you are on the bottom of the pile. It’s not hazing; it’s life. But after a few days or weeks of doing that work and doing it well you could try to do more. If you have a reasonable idea, pitch it. If you hear co-workers complain about being slammed with assignments, offer to help. If your supervisor tells you about a new project, ask if you can work on it. If you see a problem that needs to be fixed or a void that needs to be filled, ask if you can do it.

  1. Admit when you make a mistake.

You are not the first intern to make a mistake. Don’t try to hide it. Don’t blame it on someone else. Take full responsibility, deal with the consequences, learn from it, and don’t do it again.

  1. Have a good attitude.

It’s not easy being an intern. But it will be much more enjoyable and productive internship if you bring a sense of optimism to work each day.

  1. Follow up.

When the internship is over, make sure to plan a meeting with your supervisor to talk about follow up projects. This is great way to show initiative and build on future relations in development work. Also remember to ask everyone for their business card since people enjoy being asked for them and you don't lose their details.

Great benefits for International Development students

I think International Development students should aim to do an internship at a major NGO to understand how they operate, only then, can you with your expertise criticize and praise such organizations for their work. After my internship at FTS I really saw the organization for what it was and I can truly support its work. It was great to do an internship in Washington D.C because it is a city full of young professionals, therefore you have a great opportunity to network and plan your future professional careers steps. An Internship also looks great on your CV and you will always have something to discuss with your fellow development colleagues, because many of them are likely to have been in D.C, and maybe had a giant pizza in Adams Morgan for a late night snack.