Environmental Resilience Institute Internship Grant Reflection: Hannah Semmes
Internship Location: World Wildlife Fund
Journal Entry #1:
This Summer, ERI is helping me gain some fabulous experience and mentors at WWF, many of whom attended UVA. Never before have I worked with a team who wanted others to succeed more. My supervisors encourage me to read reports and indicate projects of interest. Once identified, getting on a project is as easy as an email, office walk-by, or offer to write a memo away. WWF's work is divided into "Goal Teams" like Fresh Water, Forests, or Wildlife, who operate in priority locations like the Mekong, Amazon, and Arctic, protecting cuddly charismatic species as well as invisible invertebrates.
As government relations intern, my responsibilities consist mostly of briefing my team on hearings ranging on subjects from Brazil's Bolsonaro to federal building design. Building on Batten's base of memo-writing instruction, WWF has reinforced that audience is essential-- for example, before you jump in, ask your supervisor if there is anything she or he would like you to focus on;
this is a double-edged sword: it helps you 1) define their professional interests, and 2) save time covering irrelevant information.
Beyond hearings, I have been privileged to work on a range of interesting projects, including: performing market research on Indonesian environmental strategy, running last-minute to the Hill (solo) to help a fellow "Panda" lobby legislative assistants, briefing a senior level VP on opportunities for bipartisan collaboration with a Congressman, coding keywords of statistics for an internal database, creating an Excel database on prospective government grants, using Bloomberg Gov to invite staffers to WWF's annual dinner (the excel sheet for which I found myself presenting to senior management), formatting international PhD's CVs, and more.
The location of my team's intern desk is incidentally set up for inherent flow of information; we are at the intersection of 3 teams, and thus the front-line of all office news, which we are sure to report every Tuesday-- our Government Relations team meets every Tuesday to brief each other on the status of everyone's respective projects. These are casual, fun, and accompanied by sustainable vegan food.
Beyond learning new skills, I have also been lucky to learn environmental policy subject matter: 1) There are inherent synergies between NGOs like WWF, USAID, and The Nature Conservancy; multilateral institutions like the UN, Regional Development Banks, the World Bank, and the GEF (not to be confused with GCF); and government agencies like the Department of State. 2) Climate resilience, mitigation, and adaptation is a growing trend (meaning that climate change is happening, its effects are worsening, and if we want to save money from future damages, we need to work right now). 3) I am happy to learn of the increasing trend of involving Indigenous peoples in international conversations on conservation-- upon brief study of Indigenous Peoples while abroad in Australia this Spring, it quickly became obvious that these people are master stewards of their land, and can teach the Western world a thing or two on how to act as responsible consumers of the (potentially) boundless natural world around us.
Above all, I am most grateful for WWF's lessons in organization and enterprise.
As I have learned to prepare my own action plans for the day, as well as action plans for NGOs at conferences 20 years ahead, I have learned to think systematically about future trends. To create an impact or get involved in something, you have to think about timing. To think about timing, you have to precipitate stakeholder action and the unforeseen state of the world. To see the unforeseen, you have to be organized and understand who's doing what right now. Basically, if you want an opportunity, you have to create its preconditions.
I'm excited to see all the opportunity WWF creates for the environment and its inhabitants this Summer and beyond!