Interning at CAMFED: Karlee Thomas

Pictured are Karlee Thomas and Adedoyin Adewunmi attending their final bi-weekly team meeting with the CAMFED Canada and US team. In this scheduled meeting, all participants would discuss their weekly tasks, something they are grateful for, and if they need assistance from another team member to complete their assignments. All participants approved of this photo.

Karlee Thomas working on her laptop, sitting at a table on a balcony on a sunny day
Karlee Thomas is pictured writing notes during the weekly Development Operations meeting. During this meeting, the team discussed important political, economic, and social information regarding each country CAMFED operates in and how this can influence program development.
By way of introduction, my name is Karlee Thomas, and I will be attending my final semester for my Bachelor’s degree in International Development Studies with a minor in Political Science at McGill University in fall 2022. I have a particular interest in education policy and development as well as researching the interconnection of systemic racism and structural violence in educational inequality and inaccessibility in Canada and abroad. After interning at Desta Black Community Network and the Quebec Board of Black Educators here in Montreal, I became passionate about the potential that education has to unlock opportunities for students and how it can be a powerful driver of economic development for communities. Through working with these non-profit community-based organizations, I realized how integral they are to the Montreal community in building a cohesive voice that continues to support the advancement of Black youth as they provide a range of programs such as academic support, personalized career counselling, business mentorship, and family programs among others. I applied to intern for CAMFED because I was drawn to their core values that took a gender-based approach to tackle poverty and inequality by supporting girls to go to school and to learn more about sustainable models of international development. In addition, I wanted to learn how education policy can be shaped at a national scale.


As an international organization, CAMFED’s mission is to expand girls’ access to education and women’s leadership in five sub-Saharan African countries: Ghana, Malawi, Tanzania, Zambia, and Zimbabwe. The organization aims to reduce poverty, increase economic development, and mitigate the effects of climate change by empowering the most vulnerable girls through scholarships, partnerships with rural communities, and support from former CAMFED clients. In other words, previous CAMFED clients return to the CAMFED Association network—an alumnae association that includes 207,941 young women leaders across the continent—to support the next generation of girls through business mentorship or as Learner Guides in classrooms. The alumnae are then eligible to apply for microloans through Kiva—a person-to-person microlending site—to start their businesses. Additionally, Parent Support Groups are created in rural communities that further volunteer their time and resources to keep children in school by providing meals or improving school infrastructure, for example. As a result, CAMFED employs a community-centric approach to their sustainable development model as local offices design the programs and their implementation to build a network of continuous support around each girl. All of their operations work together to monitor the welfare of the girls and to hold themselves accountable to their clients.

Screen showing CNN's African Voices Changemakers
Here is a screenshot of CNN’s African Voices Changemakers that highlights the leadership of Angeline Murimirwa, CAMFED’s Executive Director—Africa, and her peers in the CAMFED Association, discussing and demonstrating how students are supported and young women stepping up as leaders of change and becoming entrepreneurs.

My main learning objective was to learn how an international non-governmental, non-profit organization engages with various stakeholders and governments at local, national, and international levels. My internship was remote with CAMFED Canada, but each week I was very fortunate to attend weekly calls with the US, UK, and Africa offices. Through these meetings, I learned how their international offices practiced knowledge sharing regarding grant management, project development, fundraising, and the political and economic climate of the respective countries CAMFED operates within. My duties as an intern included proofreading a grant application before being submitted to the final receiver; conducting research on potential funding opportunities and donors; providing a presentation on zoom skills training to the Canadian team; drafting event logs and descriptions for a donor’s monitoring, evaluation, and learning requirements; assisting the US office’s Development Manager with the processing of Kiva loans; recording call notes for the CAMFED Association’s Environment Day dialogue; attending team meetings and other calls; and various ad hoc tasks. Since I had no experience in fundraising nor researching potential donors, my supervisor had scheduled a meeting with the Senior Manager of Corporate Relations in the UK where we discussed CAMFED’s fundraising model, the difference between restricted and unrestricted funding, and the importance of concept notes and proposals to donors. Thereafter, I felt much more confident doing independent research on potential strategic partners and donors.


Screen showing CRM Salesforce software
Pictured here is a screenshot of the CRM (Salesforce) that Karlee Thomas had to learn to use to do prospecting on potential donors and the processing of Kiva loans. She learned how the data is recorded and the process CAMFED requires fundraisers to go through to research potential donors and strategic partners.
A highlight of my internship was working briefly with the Development Manager in the US office editing and processing Kiva loan profiles. It was an opportunity to gain better insight into the lives of CAMFED Association members and to learn how to use different fundraising platforms. In addition, I learned that instead of requiring borrowers to pay back their microloans through money, CAMFED developed a framework for the beneficiaries to pay back through “social interests.” Borrowers pay back their social interest by volunteering as mentors to local high school students, usually in the same schools they attended. I think the concept of “social interest” is revolutionary in relation to Pan-Africanism because it changes a one-time monetary transactional relationship to collective and individual philanthropy by requiring young women to educate and create unity with the next generation of girls across the continent. Moreover, it alleviates the financial burdens from borrowers. Equally important, I attended an introductory conference call with the Canadian International Education Policy Working Group where I learned how twenty-two different organizations meet and discuss their organizations needs with the intent to raise their collective concerns to Global Affairs Canada. I was also very fortunate to work with another intern, Adedoyin Adewunmi, who I worked very closely with and received continuous support from.


Since CAMFED offices operate in different time zones, this reality posed several challenges, namely that support would not be available after certain hours. For example, I had trouble when a few Kiva profiles were not processing and had to wait the following day for support. However, I informed the Development Manager in the US and IT support in the UK. Eventually, the profiles went through at the IT team’s earliest convenience. There were also times when some assignments were unclear. However, I kept an active line of communication open with my supervisor, other team members and asked questions for clarification.


To conclude, I am leaving this internship with a more nuanced understanding of what it takes to manage a large international non-governmental, non-profit organization. In relation to my research interests, this experience has proven that through culturally relevant programming, education is a powerful driver of economic development globally. I am not receiving academic credit for the internship, but it has informed the courses I plan to take in my final semester. I am grateful to the McGill Faculty of Arts Action Plan to address Anti-Black Racism Fund and the Internship Offices Network for funding this opportunity. With their support, I could intern comfortably with CAMFED Canada and support myself financially throughout the summer internship. This opportunity afforded me the chance to experience working in the field of international development to further complement my studies.

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