2014 PFIG Recipient Christine ElDabh
College of Arts & Sciences
Global Development Studies & Foreign Affairs
2016 Graduation Year
Internship: Discovery House in Alfanar, London
Notes on the First Week
I’ve loved my time at Alfanar and can already say that I’ve learned so much about the world of development and venture philanthropy from the team here. Alfanar is a venture philanthropy that invests in social enterprises and grassroots in the Arab World that are creating meaningful change in their local communities. I began my internship with an introduction to how Alfanar operates as a venture philanthropy, and developed a more in depth understanding of how Alfanar uses principles from the private sector to guide its philanthropic mission. I also learned about the missions of social enterprises in Egypt, Libya, and Lebanon that Alfanar invests in and how these projects seek to create sustainable, positive change in the realms of women’s empowerment and early childhood change. So far, my main duties have involved conducting research into the legal rights of Syrian refugees in Lebanon, social enterprises that work in the realm of food and catering, and foundations that invest in early childhood education.
The small size of the organization has enabled me to engage with the extremely intelligent and helpful team members who are always ask if I have any questions and give thorough explanations about their current tasks. I worked with the investment manager, senior program assistant, and another intern to develop a new metric that will measure the ambitiousness of a social enterprise that applies for one of Alfanar’s grants. Through this very hands-on experience, I learned the importance of measuring not only impact, but organizational capacity and “wow” factor of various social enterprises to make the best possible investments. The investment manager was incredibly helpful in his guidance and encouraged interns to come up with our own ideas and rationale for investing.
The most interesting aspect of Alfanar is their commitment to ensuring financial sustainability, and I hope to develop a more precise grasp on how Alfanar evaluates the finances of social enterprises. One of my goals this summer is to ask more questions and fully take advantage of the brilliant minds that are so dedicated to Alfanar’s mission. I also aim to gain a better comprehension of budget layouts and formats so that I can understand how Alfanar determines whether an enterprise is financially sustainable. I have already learned so much from the team here, and I look forward to the next stage of the internship!
I am now midway through my internship, and I feel like I have settled in at Alfanar. I’ve had various projects that have introduced me to different dimensions of international development as well as the day to day functioning of a non-profit organization. My main tasks have included assisting the team in organization tasks along with conducting research. I’ve helped to organize Alfanar’s donor database and am experimenting with a new online management system that tracks donations, donors, and donor contact information. Through sitting in on meetings involving the London, Cairo, and Beirut offices, I’ve gained insight on how an international organization truly manages to be cohesive and effective despite geographic boundaries.
Since the Executive Director is working on writing Alfanar’s business plan this summer, I’ve been tasked with doing research that she will use when developing Alfanar’s long-term goals and plans for growth. I’ve been busy researching impact investors, venture philanthropies, and crowdfunding sites that would work well in the Middle East. Through this research, I’ve learned about how traditional philanthropic giving is becoming less common, and how private sector approaches to charitable giving have been proven to have a significant impact in disadvantaged communities throughout the world. While venture philanthropies often expect a social return on their investments in innovative social enterprises, impact investors invest in profitable businesses that will generate financial return for the investors and social return for the communities in which they work.
I’ve finished my presentation on early childhood education in the Middle East, and this has been my favorite project so far; while I initially knew very little about the importance of early childhood education, I now feel like I am very knowledgeable about the topic. Through reading James Heckman’s research on early childhood education, I’ve learned about the significant economic and social impact that early childhood education can have later on in life. Economic, social, and health problems in adulthoood can be traced to stunted early childhood development. The highest rates of returns on investments in education come from early childhood education (between ages 0 and 5); these rates of return come from increased income as an adult, reduced need for remediation, improved health, decreased need for costly social services, and increased productivity. Since there is an overall lack of knowledge about how critical the early years are for a child’s cognitive and socio-emotional development in the Middle East, there is no significant effort to increase the rates of enrollment and improve the quality of preschool and nursery school , which in turn leave the poorest children (who don’t have access to quality early childhood education) at a significant disadvantage. This is where Alfanar fits in—as a venture philanthropy, Alfanar is looking to invest in enterprises who recognize the importance of providing quality early childhood programs in marginalized communities and who will effectively work towards achieving their mission.
My final weeks at Alfanar have been busy with wrapping-up the major projects I’ve been working on throughout the summer as well as finishing new assignments. In my final week, I assisted the Executive Director in her development of Alfanar’s business plan by researching investment guidelines and bank accounts specifically for non-profit organizations, which gave me perspective on the administrative and managerial complexities of running an international non-profit. During my time at Alfanar, I’ve developed a deeper understanding for the many facets of non-profit and development work and I feel like I’ve had a very well-rounded experience; while my research in early childhood development and women’s empowerment has been more “big-picture” oriented and visionary, I’ve also had organizational and public relations experience through helping to manage the donor database.
As a Global Development Studies and foreign affairs major, I’ve found that my internship has given me real world experience and insight into the disciplines that I’ve been studying at UVa. While I’ve read theories and case studies about international development, the practical experience and insight I’ve gained from everyone at Alfanar has left me feeling more prepared for the GDS major and more confident that I want to pursue a career in development. I feel especially lucky that I was able to complete internship while living in London—a truly global and multicultural city that I’ve come to love.
While some internships may become repetitive and dull, I’ve felt constantly engaged in my work here. With every project I research or blurb that I write, I know what it will be used for and why it is important for Alfanar. Having the experience at a small office and learning from such passionate and dedicated people is invaluable, and I am immensely grateful to the team at Alfanar for making me feel like a welcome and valued addition to their office.
My time at Alfanar has challenged me to think about what kind of career in development I see myself having. Do I want to work behind the scenes, or do I want to work directly in the field? Do I want to work in a small non-profit organization, or do I see myself working for a large government agency? I am constantly thinking and changing my mind about these questions, and luckily I still have some time to figure it out! The team at Alfanar encouraged me to work in the field and they told me about the impact field work had on them and their career development, so that’s my tentative plan for next summer!