2013 PFIG Recipient Edel Tessema

Career Administrator

Edel Tessema
College of Arts & Sciences
Global Development Studies Major
2015 Graduation Year

Internship: Appleseed

Notes on the first week

This summer I have the privilege of working with the Appleseed foundation, an organization dedicated to "sowing the seeds of justice" all over the nation with its network of 17 centers in different cities and states. Appleseed was established in the understanding and belief that there is much to be done in our society to ensure the fair treatment of all people regardless of their race, economic status, or social background. The organization's resourceful staff tackles the fields of immigration, education, financial access, and economic development by locating areas in need of improvement and public attention. One incredibly pressing issue facing our nation today is the lack of an educational system that meets a high standard, especially in low income areas. Appleseed implements thorough research and pro-bono legal work to make a change both in classrooms and in the creation of public policy. The organization has built a network of law firms, corporate givers, and various local activists to facilitate the growth of social responsibility.

In order to fulfill this demanding role of being a public benefactor, Appleseed collects donations and applies for many grants by presenting proposals of its various projects to foundations. I am very intrigued and excited to work for a network that utilizes the available resources out there and allocates them into areas overlooked by profit-seekers. Because several individuals including both multinational and domestic companies run non-profit foundations created for the purpose of uplifting communities by giving back, NGOs like Appleseed serve as the middleman in ensuring existing funds are used in the most effective possible way. The grants Appleseed receives range in amounts, and it is my duty as the Grants Intern to organize and update any information regarding these foundations. I'm hoping to be thoroughly familiar with the process of grant application and proposal writing. These tasks are an integral part of development as I have come to understand it: identifying a social problem is the first step, and gathering the necessary resources to effectively fix it is a skill I want to become familiar with. In addition to government sponsored projects, the private sector has a massive responsibility to give back to the communities from which it collects its revenue. I’m looking forward to a career dedicated to striking the balance between corporate revenue and social responsibility.


The month of July saw the release of a groundbreaking new social study from the collaborative work of Harvard University and University of California researchers. Titled "The Equality of Opportunity Project" the study highlights the link between economic upward mobility, geography, and the availability of resources. Our nation’s largest cities are bustling with an overflow of people, and this finding proves what many already fear is already true: it is easier for some children born below the poverty line to become top earners as adults depending on what city they reside in. Equal opportunity is an abstract concept and difficult to actually implement across the board. Despite its illusiveness, the goal of ensuring no group of people is disproportionately victimized is not easily disregarded in the offices of Appleseed but addressed through work in various social issues. Schools, legal centers, and local or federal level policy reforms are utilized by the Appleseed team to ensure that our society is staying true to its fair standards and promise of an American dream. Having the opportunity to speak with the program officer whose task it is to oversee Appleseed's education reform project gave me insight into the process of effectively reducing concentrations of poverty in schools. It was very interesting to learn of the long and meticulous process that precedes any systematic change in the field of public policy and this requires the dedicated work of program officers on the ground as well as skilled law professionals who give pro bono hours to these special causes.

My role as an intern was to research available funding prospects for various fields of social service sectors. I have learned that there are countless corporate and family foundations in the U.S. alone that have set aside large sums of money to be allotted to the improvement of social, technological, and institutional issues currently affecting the public at large. Appleseed has a long history of applying for competitive grants and effectively utilizing funds through well-organized project proposals. One project I worked included the use of an online foundation search tool that allowed access to an array of charitable foundations according to their interest areas and geographic preferences. I had to create reports customized to each of the 17 Appleseed centers around the country (and one in Mexico). The services these centers provide range from immigration law reform to nutrition improvement in public schools and in order for them to properly implement these much needed public services, they need to be funded and operating fully. The reports I compiled matched the state and area of social service of the centers with those of their possible funders. There was a long list of possibilities that I hope the program officers in each of the centers find helpful.

Final Reflections

Ending my experience at Appleseed is not as easy as I initially thought it would be for various reasons. I have grown accustomed to coming into D.C. every day along with the sea of adults working a 9 to 5, and getting the opportunity to interact with a professional staff that is dedicated to the work at hand. I have learned that providing assistance in an office in a timely and focused manner is expected of every staff member and one’s abilities are reflected in their quality of work. Developing working relationships with some of my fellow interns as well as the different staff members was a truly rewarding and learning experience. I have chosen a career path in the world of development, and despite the vastness of that concept, I have learned that systematic change and ground level implementation in many different regions are achievable through patience and collaboration. Public policy reform across several U.S. states is a demanding task to take on, but issues regarding immigration, education, and financial access have effectively been addressed by the 17 Appleseed centers through committed research. In the future I hope to work at the international level of development, and this internship has given me a chance to learn about the ins and outs of acquiring funding to support projects with the capacity to change lives. It also quickly became apparent to me that running a national office requires consistent and organized communication between various program officers, donors, and service providers. Utilizing the talents of others successfully, I have gathered, takes networking efforts and outside relationships that must be kept alive. Appleseed has built a positive reputation by showing proof of the solid work it has achieved ensuring that public policy meets the best interest of the people. By clearly demonstrating their past works and establishing credibility, they are able to receive more support in the future.

I would be remiss to not mention the impression left on me by a strong woman I had the pleasure to work for. I was struck by the Appleseed network president Betsy Cavendish, whose strong leadership and clear vision are the driving forces behind the office. She is a brilliant woman with a law background, and she juggles her work and family life gracefully. As a young woman aspiring to have a big career, I was thankful to have her as a role-model I could look up to. Witnessing her hard work and determination only drove me to truly focus on my own tasks at hand during this internship, and I hope to gather more useful experiences like this one that will give me opportunities to grow.