“In Our Own Words” Young People & Growth:The internship concept …..(2)


Compiled by Gilbert Makore

The story continues, you can access last week’s edition here


After graduation at the end of 2006, I eventually landed a trainee position at one of the global four auditing firms. I was working in the human capital advisory team of the firm. While human resources was remotely exciting, the seed of environmental justice activism planted during my internship with ZELA had begun to germinate and I still tried to keep up with what the organisation was working on. Interestingly and possibly as testament to the strength of ZELA’s internship programme, the Director, Mutuso Dhliwayo and other staff members still remained in touch with me.

Towards the end of 2007, I was alerted to a job opening within the organisation. The position was that of Projects Coordinator and Fundraiser and was only for a few months and gap cover for the then substantive post-holder, Shamiso Mtisi, who was away in Uganda on a fellowship programme. I was grossly under-qualified for the position in terms of education and experience but various staff members still encouraged me to apply. I managed to land the post and began working in this new position in January 2008.

This brings to the fore an admirable quality of ZELA’s internship programme. That of identifying individuals or students with potential and working with them to ensure they reach their potential. It would have been very easy for ZELA to not even consider my application given that I did not have the requisite experience and yet the organisation provided me with the opportunity to interview and consequently hold the post. Since January 2008, I have worked with ZELA in various capacities.

I have gone on to manage and lead the implementation of multi-year projects funded by various partners. I have co-led fundraising efforts that have see the organisation raise significant funding, remain afloat and expand its operations. During my time at ZELA, I witnessed the organisation take on a position of influence in the natural resources sector, not only in Zimbabwe but in the southern Africa region.

All the aforementioned changes and achievements happened while I was a full time-employee of ZELA. Yet, it still felt like an internship. This is due to the fact that I was exposed to so many training opportunities. I still remember that in my first couple of months at ZELA, Makanatsa Makonese, then a Senior Legal Officer at the organisation, asked me to attend a meeting convened by Third World Network in Accra, Ghana. This was akin to being ‘thrown in the deep end’ and yet it solidly built my capacity. I also remember being requested to contribute to the organisational newsletter ‘Environmental Justice in Zimbabwe’ and being asked to speak in front of law students at the University of Zimbabwe as part of the organisation’s  Public Lecture Series .

I managed to work on my graduate studies and leave the organisation for a six month fellowship programme in the United States of America. Many years, many projects and many adventures later; I assumed the role of the Coordinator for Publish What You Pay- Zimbabwe, a coalition of civil society organisations advocating for a more open and transparent mining sector in Zimbabwe. The coalition is hosted by ZELA.


ZELA’s internship programme is a success and I am testament to that. It is important to note that I am not an outlier or the only one. One of the organisation’s legal officers, Veronica Zano, was an intern with the organisation in 2009. Another intern went on to become a substantive Monitoring and Evaluation Officer with ZELA. Others have gone on to have successful careers in public service and within the field of non-governmental organisations. The organisation’s internship programme is not just effective as a talent development pool which the organisation can eventually tap into. It is important to note that ZELA’s internship programme has been effective in developing a cadre of young, dynamic and effective professionals that have a passion for improved natural resources governance in Zimbabwe.

The effectiveness of ZELA’s internship programme lies not just in the development of a well-structured programme for capacity building for students but in a well-orchestrated mentorship programme. Senior staff members take a genuine interest in building up the careers of interns through exposing them to high profile meetings, giving them opportunities to work on complex research projects and asking them to represent the organisation in various fora.

What may be counted as the only challenge with ZELA’s internship programme is that of lack of consistent hiring of interns. This may be attributable to funding challenges and this has meant that the organisation may only hire one student intern or not hire at all during some years. In addition, the culture of the organisation is that of high-performers and people that are able to work on their own initiative. Thus some interns who are not self-starters may take longer than others to get into the swing of the organisation’s work. 

This does not, however, detract from the quality of the internship program. Indeed, the organisation is inundated by requests from students to intern at ZELA. It will be important to develop a more structured internship programme with dedicated adequate resources so as to ensure that a significantly higher number of students benefit in much the same way I and other ZELA interns did.

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