My name is Gayatri Chirambath and I am about to begin my final semester at McGill University. I am a student in Honours International Development Studies with a minor in Social Entrepreneurship. This summer, I had the amazing opportunity to intern remotely at Synergos in New York City. I am so appreciative of Mr. Brown, Mr. Schull, and Ms. Yang's support, in making this internship experience possible for me.
Synergos is an organization based in New York City that focuses on implementing global sustainable development projects that bring together various stakeholders through a process called “bridging leadership.” The organization works to solve complex issues around the world through creating, promoting and sustaining trust and collaboration among various actors.
In the last three years at McGill, I have been able to take various classes focused on managing sustainability in business and in politics. At the end of my third year, I had learnt about international development through various lenses, but had not had the chance to see what it was like to work on a concrete project. It was hard to picture how I could contribute to this important and diverse field. Being a Programs Intern at Synergos, an organization that works on many different projects globally, has shown me that I can actively contribute to socially impactful programs.
During my internship, I worked on two main projects: a drowning prevention program in Bangladesh and a Bridging Leadership Voices publication. I joined various team meetings and was involved in the organization of both projects. The first project advocates with the government of Bangladesh for the adoption of integrated childcare centers as an effective solution to child drowning. Drowning is the leading cause of death in Bangladesh amongst children of 1-4 years of age. My main role in this project was to improve the communication on the team’s research and ongoing work. I wrote many summaries for various studies and briefs to make this information more easily accessible to readers and potential project partners. The content I created was published on the Synergos website. I also worked with team members in Bangladesh (Dhaka) to update the website content regarding their progress in the past few years. I provided support with some additional administrative tasks as well.
The second project was an initiative led in part by my supervisor to publish a book about Bridging Leadership Voices. I mainly participated in drafting the publisher proposal for the book, targeted at commercial publishers. To better understand the goals and objectives of the book, I joined various team calls and conducted research on the market for similar books. I drafted a book abstract, compared various publishers and their requirements, researched competing books in the market, prepared a version of the book’s conclusion, and gathered/wrote the bios for all contributors to the book.
My overall goal during this internship was to be able to understand the context of the projects that I was working on and to help in their progress. More specifically, I wanted to be able to take the skills I had learnt in classes such as “Monitoring and Evaluation in Development Projects” and to apply them to the drowning prevention project. I saw many similarities in the way that progress in such development projects would be measured and noticed the emphasis on the long-term sustainability of these programs. I also aimed to continue working on soft skills such as working effectively in a team (especially over Zoom), as well as communication skills. Moreover, working on the publisher proposal was interesting for me, as it was a new type of work, and I was able to understand how to “sell” a book to different publishers.
The main highlight from my experience was being able to interact with my team members and colleagues. Although the pandemic changed the format of much of the international experiences through McGill, I am grateful that I was able to join in team meetings and felt so welcomed by the organization. Moreover, in the Bangladesh project, the team made a lot of progress over the summer. The project went through various levels of approval within the Bangladeshi government and some of these approval stages were reached during the course of my internship. It was exciting to see the feasibility of the project and its future impacts slowly becoming clearer.
Something I took away from my experience working at an NGO is that formulating these kinds of projects can sometimes be a complicated and lengthy process. I always thought that the unpredictability of this type of work must make it very frustrating for the team. However, my supervisor mentioned that, even though the team had never led a drowning prevention program before, and despite the presence of many obstacles, the team adopts a step-by-step approach and tackles problems as they come. I found this explanation of their processes to be not only reassuring as I consider NGO work for my career, but also to be good advice for navigating the uncertainties associated with the global pandemic.
I was the youngest person in my team, and I was exposed to the variety of different paths my colleagues had pursued in the development field. Some colleagues had authored many published works, others were entrepreneurs, worked for the government, or had had seemingly completely unrelated careers before working at Synergos. International development is a very broad field, and this internship has shown me that there is a myriad of different paths that can be taken, no single one of them being the “right one”.
I would like to thank Mr. Garvin Brown and the McGill International Experience Awards founders, for their generous support.