Post 2: Critical Perspectives on International Non-Profits

This year at Brandeis, I took a sociology class entitled “Gender, Sexuality, and Globalization,” which explored sexual identities, gendered labor practices, sexual practices, and queer and feminist social movements from a transnational perspective. In this class, I had the opportunity to read critical perspectives on the employment of non-profit and non-governmental organizations as vehicles for social change. I have learned through that class and through my own personal research how NGOs serving the global south that are based in or funded by the global north frequently bring their own interpretations of social issues to the places that they serve. Unfortunately, because of this, the work of many non-profit organizations in the global north involves entering countries in the global south and essentially instructing local populations on what they should do to improve their own countries.

For example, international NGOs dealing with LGBTQI+ issues often utilize a Western understanding of sexuality or gender when serving non-Western communities. In a study I read for Gender, Sexuality, and Globalization, “The Queer Time of Death: Temporality, Geopolitics, and Refugee Rights,” (2014), Sima Shakhsari writes about how international human rights organizations frequently view sexuality as a “fixed universal sexual identity” (Shakhsari 2014, 1005). However, individuals being served by these NGOs often have an entirely different narrative of their own sexuality. Non-profits and NGOs can thus be both positive and negative forces of social change.

When searching for an internship with a focus on international development and human rights in the non-profit sector for this summer, it was important to me that I keep in mind what I have learned about the role of non-profit organizations in the global south. I found that American Jewish World Service, the non-profit where I am interning this summer, has a vastly different approach to their work in the global south. To me, AJWS’s strategy of providing grants to human rights advocates in developing countries, where activists on the ground can make a difference, is extremely effective. With a focus on marginalized people and communities, AJWS utilizes local experts who can identify and implement social change in a way that they view as being most beneficial to their community. This, combined with AJWS’s advocacy in the US government to adopt laws and policies that benefit people in the global south, is why I believe that AJWS’s model of social change is particularly beneficial. I admire AJWS’s unique approach as well as the values that motivate their work, and this is consequently why I am so delighted to be interning with them this summer.

Post 1: First Week at American Jewish World Service

This week, I began my summer internship at American Jewish World Service in their development operations division. American Jewish World Service, or AJWS, is an American nonprofit organization with their headquarters located in Manhattan. Their mission is to end poverty and promote human rights in the developing world. They have five main focus areas: civil and political rights, sexual health and rights, ending child marriage, disaster response, and land, water and climate justice. The organization is structured as both a grant giver to its partners in nineteen countries (Democratic Republic of Congo, Kenya, Liberia, Senegal, South Sudan, Uganda, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Cambodia, India, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, Mexico, and Nicaragua), as well as an advocate in the United States for certain laws and policies that support its mission. To me, one of the most interesting things that I’ve learned about the structure of the organization is that it is both a grant recipient and a grant giver, unlike other nonprofits that I am familiar with. As a development operations intern, I will hopefully have an inside look into some of the grant processes.

I began my first day feeling quite nervous, not really knowing what to expect as I walked into the office building in midtown for the first time. It didn’t help that I had some trouble finding the entrance to the building, nearly making me late for my first day. When I came in and was directed to a conference room down the stairs, I was delighted to see that there were already about seven other interns who looked about my age, waiting with looks of excited and nervous anticipation that matched my own feelings. It made me feel better knowing that there were several others at the same stage that I was. After a brief orientation and tour of the office, we were placed at our desks in our departments. As I got settled into my desk and began reading the organizational materials that had been given to me, other employees from the office began approaching my desk to introduce themselves. The multitude of smiling faces helped make me feel so comfortable on my first day.

After receiving preliminary training in Raisers Edge, the database that AJWS uses, I could begin some of my assigned projects. This week, I helped clean up some constituent profiles on the database, in preparation for AJWS switching to a new database. Later, I did a little research on prospective donors. On Friday, I began updating the board’s profiles. However, mostly this week was filled with slowly getting to know the office and the people in it and becoming more comfortable in my new routine. I’m looking forward to being able to get involved in more and more projects throughout the summer. Since this a field that I am considering pursuing after college, I am excited to learn more about the different facets of the not-for-profit sector through this internship.

– Mayan Kleiman