2010 PFIG Recipient Melissa Bender
College of Arts & Sciences
Foreign Affairs Major
2011 Graduation Year
Internship: The Global Environment Facility
Notes on the first week
My internship with the Communications Department of the Global Environment Facility (GEF) started a week later than those of my friends for good reason: the large majority of the staff were overseas in Uruguay, covering the proceedings of the 4th GEF Assembly! The GEF is the largest independent funding mechanism for environmental projects world-wide, which essentially means that they are the primary organization which gives out grants for countries to pursue climate change, biodiversity and sustainable development projects. The GEF used to be associated with the World Bank, and still partners with them on a lot of things (the GEF offices are actually located within one of the Bank’s buildings in DC!) but our organizations is now technically independent to pursue its own specific development goals. The GEF holds Assembly meetings, like the recent one in Uruguay, about every four years for representatives of donor and recipient countries, members of NGOs, and delegates from various international aid organizations and institutions so they can all evaluate the GEF’s progress thus far and collaborate to strengthen the GEF’s strategies for sustainable development project implementation within the next four-year funding cycle.
If that sounds at all like ridiculously confusing bureaucratese to you, don’t worry, you’re not alone. I guess I should have known that interpreting legalese into layman’s terms would be a big part of my job in Communications, where we try to make dry project reports into more readable, journalistic articles to present to wider audiences, but I never realized until I started how difficult the "language conversion" was going to be. For instance, my first day on the job, I was given a short publication on what is known as STAR, or the "System for Transparent Allocation of Resources," the set of guidelines which dictates how the GEF leadership selects individual projects to fund. Just to understand the document itself, I had to read it at least three times before I began to grasp all the bureaucratic terminology and acronyms (PIFs, TTLs, and CSOs, oh my!). You know it’s bad when every project report has an entire page before the introduction just to list and define all the acronyms they use . After a week here, I’ve finally begun to grasp the nuances of their complex diplomatic diction and the perfectly good reasons they use such weird wording - every profession has their own particular terminology, it’s just that GEF and international aid groups like it must utilize both economic and politically diplomatic language, with a bit of environmental and technical terms thrown in on the side. Just the nature of the trade, I guess.
Work in the GEF Communications Department is extremely interesting, but definitely challenging and a bit overwhelming as well since the scope of their programs is so broad, with thousands of projects taking place all across the world. Of course, as an intern, I’m not expected to know everything about every program, but familiarizing myself with the work the GEF does requires a lot more time and patience than just a quick overview. I’m sure I’ll learn a lot more about the work of the GEF as the summer goes along, which will be great for my interest in development policy and international institutions more broadly.
My specific assignments vary from day to day, but it looks like I’ll be concentrating a lot on online media, focusing specifically on composing press releases and newly approved projects summaries to the GEF’s website. Maureen, one of my supervisors, even wants me to create a Facebook page specifically for the GEF, to connect our organization and its social and environmental investing mantra with a younger audience. I’m very excited for all these social media projects, which will hopefully allow me to become both a better writer and a more effective communicator through both print and online outlets. My first week has been absolutely amazing and I can’t wait to see what else is in store.
The past few weeks at the Global Environment Facility have flown by so quickly, it’s incredible! The two women I work most closely with in the GEF External Relations department, Maureen, the GEF Spokesperson, and Patrizia, the Online Communication Officer, have put me to work on our new foray into social media. The GEF has been active on Twitter for almost a year now, and my part of the effort is to get us onto Facebook so we can connect with an even wider audience. My first step was to set up meetings with all the social media gurus in World Bank, which is one of the main executing agencies of GEF projects and houses the GEF Secretariat offices, as I mentioned in my previous journal entry. We first got together with the creators of the official World Bank Facebook page, Mario and Sarah, who both work in the Bank’s Publication Office. They gave us a lot of great advice on starting our own page, suggesting that we compose a report of detailing our intended audience, outreach strategies, and objectives for the GEF Facebook page, and giving us a lot of tips on tailoring Facebook advertisements to proper audiences, promoting our page through all our publications and official documents, and how to use analytics to track our weekly and monthly page views and comments. A few days later, we had a conference call with another social media strategist at the Bank, Sameer, who works from his home in Toronto! He laid out for us the stark differences in content and audience engagement between the two largest social media outlets, Twitter and Facebook. According to Sameer, Twitter as an outreach tool for organizations uses almost no original content and solely revolves around reposting links to independent articles which mention the organization and its works. Facebook, on the other hand, provides organizations with an outlet to actually create innovative and appealing content on their own, and is much more appropriate than Twitter as a forum to solicit feedback from a wider online audience. These planning meetings themselves have been so novel and fascinating, I’m so used to viewing Facebook as a purely recreational social site, it’s simply fascinating viewing the strategic marketing aspect of it all.
After all our meetings, I set to work on the social media strategies report, researching, compiling, and detailing all the successful techniques required to cater to an online audience on Facebook, laying out who exactly we should target, and how much time and resources we should be willing to put into our new project. Maureen and Patrizia both looked over the report, and pretty much gave me free reign to design the GEF Facebook page however I chose, as long as I stuck to the guidelines I had laid out in the report. Facebook provides a ton of applications to organizations looking to tailor their page to specific audiences; I decided to go with "Issuu" which provides the viewer with a very professional-looking online publication reader. I’m also experimenting with an application which allows us to create our own interactive polling questions with graphics, to illustrate the environmental conscious of our online viewers. After two weeks of the page launch, we had almost 50 followers!
In our many social media strategy meetings over the course of the summer, the External Relations Department and the GEF Secretariat in general seem to be in an ongoing identity crisis of sorts on how the organization wants to present itself to the outside world. Some of the Secretariat prefers to continue on the track of the old school international development agency, which has no need to market itself beyond the very limited circle of stakeholders, primarily the donor and recipient governments and implementing agencies. The contemporary outlook of newer development agencies seeks instead to expand the base of stakeholders, to raise awareness among concerned citizens about the solutions the agency provides through its projects and additionally to emphasize the agency’s continued relevance in an age of dwindling federal resources and mounting deficits. This ‘narrower versus broader audience’ marketing argument applies to the GEF External Relations team in whether or not we define the messaging debate as zero sum, meaning whether we view increased engagement on laymen’s terms as a trade-off with our high quality, yet technical reports. For example, GEF website currently caters to a highly bureaucratic group of people who are already familiar with the organization, its structure and principles and in need of easily accessible project reports and other dry statistical data. Some in our department wonder if adding more "dumbed-down" versions of GEF material would make it more difficult for government and project representatives to find the information they need, or whether the effort would be worth the trickle of civilian feedback. Many others feel that casting a wider net of public engagement would not only help with the GEF’s own institutional preservation but would additionally demonstrate to publics across the world that environmental solutions and international cooperation are both possible and mutually beneficial. In our age of globalization, environmental crises like global warming and dwindling land and water resources have become multilateral in scope. The GEF, as the primary funding instrument for several UN environmental conventions, is perhaps the institution best suited to assist the developing world cope with these major ecological dilemmas while still promoting economic growth. The world needs to know about the sustainable development solutions that the GEF provides, and External Relations is set out to do just that, through both social and conventional media outlets.
I cannot believe the summer has already ended! The last few weeks of my internship in the External Relations department of the Global Environment Facility switched focus from the public relations and social media aspect over towards governmental relations, with significant work going into a publication to be distributed on Capitol Hill.
The GEF's relationship with national governments is quite interesting in that it receives the entirety of its funds from government coffers but still remains independent from those governments and from the agencies which implement the sustainable development projects it supports. Essentially, the GEF was created as an entirely independent entity, above the petty conflicts of national interest, but continues to submit itself to governments in order to receive funding for projects and institutional preservation, a strange dual identity to say the least.
A great example of the GEF's independence from governments occurred earlier in the summer, at the biannual GEF Council meeting in which representatives from all donor and recipient governments were present. The other interns and I helped the Senior Advisor to the CEO behind the scenes at the series of four day meetings, mostly taking notes on the Council's decisions and debates and drafting versions of the "daily highlights" and "Joint Summary of the Council Chairman" based on those notes. It was fascinating observing the diverging perspectives of various countries on proper distribution of development aid, with the debates between national representatives similar to Model United Nations dialogues I had witnessed in the past. Just seeing how international organizations like the GEF work in reality was so stimulating, bringing my textbook discussions on international aid into new light. At Council, the GEF CEO was neutral but firm, pressing on with the day's agenda and not letting country representatives get tied up in irreconcilable arguments and steal the stage from the task at hand.
In stark contrast, when the Senior Advisor goes to the Hill this fall, she will be asking for additional funding from Congress, when in a time of federal budget constraints will require a great deal of effort to persuade spend-thrift lawmakers. It just goes to show that international organizations, while powerful, still have to respect and consider the interests of the countries that support them. My individual work on the Capitol Hill project consisted primarily of editing and composing sections of an extensive publication which will be distributed at all the congressional visits. This publication, detailing the six distinct focal areas of the GEF and the statistics on the new GEF5 Replenishment funding numbers, will be part of the package that the Senior Advisor to the CEO delivers to lawmakers and their staffs in hopes of increasing the amount of U.S. contributions to the GEF. This project was difficult both in breadth and depth in that every single department within the GEF had to approve their section of the publication, with many edits and re-edits done by myself and the other interns in External Relations. Additionally, we composed a large, detailed list of exemplary projects from around the world for the Senior Advisor to refer to when talking to individual congressmen about the practical results of the GEF's work. Between Council and the Capitol Hill project, the two facets of GEF-governmental relations could not have been made more clearly.
My whirlwind ten weeks at the GEF have been such an amazing experience! I truly could not have asked for a more interesting or educational summer internship. I have met so many wonderful people who have shared a great deal of career advice with me and have opened doors onto the world of international organizations that I thought impossible at this stage of my life. My communications skills have improved drastically, and I am definitely going to keep my mind open to future work at an international organization as well as in the communications department or governmental relations department of large non-profits. If I were to give any advice to fellow undergraduates, it would be to explore internship and career options as much as possible. I essentially stumbled upon the GEF when searching for a summer internship, and what an experience it turned out to be! Don't turn anything down, and never be afraid to try something new and out of the "ordinary career path" for your major. Eventually, I began to realize that the doors open to me with a Foreign Affairs major were endless, and that no "ordinary career path" even existed. Because of that realization, I now live my life believing that every opportunity is worth trying, and that risk can be both great and productive. I am so thankful for the opportunity the Parents Fund has given me this summer and I hope the experience will be just as rewarding for future recipients as it was for me.