Interning at CAMFED: Clara McGaughey

I am a first-year student in McGill’s Faculty of Law. I have a particular interest in education policy and development as well as the legal side of international humanitarian work. I enrolled at McGill after working as an English teacher in Argentina, Japan, and Canada, where I became passionate about the capacity of education to unlock the potential of students and improve the prospects of communities. Through working with a diverse variety of students, including during an economic crisis in Argentina, I experienced first-hand the ways school protects children from external hardship. Working for CAMFED this summer was an incredible experience that perfectly combined my interest in educational development and international assistance projects while deepening my understanding of sustainable models of international development.

CAMFED (Campaign for Female Education) is an international organization that expands girls’ access to education in five Sub-Saharan African countries: Ghana, Malawi, Tanzania, Zambia, and Zimbabwe. The organization aims to reduce poverty, accelerate economic development, and mitigate the effects of climate change by unlocking the leadership potential of vulnerable girls at the margins of society through scholarships, local partnerships, and support from previous CAMFED scholars. CAMFED’s model of development takes a sustainable, community-focused approach, with community members in local offices leading programme design and implementation. CAMFED’s alumnae association creates a support system through which post-graduate alumnae across the continent connect, support younger students, and can apply for microloans through the fundraising platform Kiva to start their own businesses. The alumnae association currently includes nearly 180,000 young women leaders.

Clara's summer work station, with CAMFED’s slogan displayed on the main screen: “when you educate a girl, everything changes.”
Clara's summer work station, with CAMFED’s slogan displayed on the main screen: “when you educate a girl, everything changes.”

Working for CAMFED, I aimed to learn from the inner workings of an international non-profit instigating positive and sustainable change. My internship was with CAMFED USA, but I joined conference calls with CAMFED’s UK, Canada, and Africa offices each week. Through these meetings, I observed the ways the organization’s international offices work together to support the development and management of grants and implement a host of programmes to support the communities they serve. This included an innovative movement advocating for climate action through girls’ education. The organization’s collaborative work environment provided an ideal setting for learning how international partnerships can support a complex pan-continental, post-colonial development movement.

My responsibilities at CAMFED included writing and presenting monthly financial reports that tracked loans raised through Kiva; reviewing profiles of young women entrepreneurs seeking Kiva loans; supporting CAMFED USA’s Development Manager in reviewing and summarizing reports on girls’ education and related topics in Africa; and conducting research on potential funding opportunities and partners. Since my educational background is neither in economics nor finance, compiling financial documentation into reports was challenging, but provided an opportunity to develop analytical skills, including learning to build complex spreadsheets and then communicate findings clearly and concisely to CAMFED’s national offices. As a law student with a background in English, I was grateful for the opportunity to apply research, writing, and editing skills in a professional environment.

This year has been a particularly poignant time for CAMFED due to COVID-19’s global impact on education. All five CAMFED countries experienced school closures, making it especially challenging to maintain school enrollment. It was educational and inspiring to observe the ways the organization addressed its scholars’ changing needs and the ways CAMFED’s alumnae association mobilized to support girls through unprecedented personal and educational challenges. A highlight of my internship was researching and writing news updates on Ghana to keep the international offices up to date on current issues in the country, including COVID-19-related school closures. This research contextualized the issue of girls’ education within the framework of politics, economics, society, environment, and health, underscoring the reality that insufficient education access makes children, especially girls, vulnerable, and that expanding girls’ education can reduce collective instability, poverty, hunger, and illness.

The pandemic also meant that I was unable to join CAMFED USA in San Francisco and instead conducted my internship remotely from Montreal. This reality posed several challenges, namely the inability to participate in in-person meetings with the shared energy that comes from working with colleagues in an office. Working remotely gave me space to become a stronger independent worker and take more initiative. It helped that my supervisors checked in on me consistently to ensure my work was progressing. They also included me in team meetings so that I was able to interact with my colleagues.

I was drawn to CAMFED because of an interest in education development, and I leave with a more nuanced view of what it takes to manage a large, multinational, not-for-profit organization. This experience proved to be an effective transition between education and law and has already shaped the courses I have chosen this upcoming year—many of which focus on human rights. I am grateful for the Faculty of Arts Internship Awards and to the McGill Internship Offices Network for facilitating and funding this opportunity. Internships play a crucial role in the professional development of students and are often not possible without such funding options. This internship has informed the path I will take from here and I am extremely grateful to CAMFED and McGill for making it possible.

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