About the Author: Greeshma Polkam (second from right), from Narsee Monjee College of Commerce & Economics (NM College, Mumbai), throws light upon her meaningful internship experience at ATMA Education NGO.
After months of working at a corporate, I realized that I was missing out on something. It was the urge to do some ground work that actually helps in making others’ lives betters. We, at corporates, believe that we are providing a good service/experience to our consumers. Little do we realize that what we actually engage in, is a barter system of sorts – you give me money; I give you a product which you may or may not need in the first place. Once this thought was in, I couldn’t see things as they were earlier. I started to notice how opportunistic we, as people, were. How rescuing someone was out of reach for us. How our actions were terribly going against humanity. Soon, I left my company and took up a summer internship at a nonprofit which later placed me at the renowned ATMA Education NGO. There were several rounds of interviews that crosschecked my intentions of wanting to join an NGO.
A tip for all the future interns – Be brutally honest with why you want to intern with any organization; honesty is highly valued and the truth always outshines the made-up answers.
The mission at ATMA is to help develop grass-root level organizations into bigger, better, and more impactful organizations, indirectly working for the cause of education. I was excited, rather thrilled to finally be the ‘agent of change’. My first day began with my fellow mates who were placed at ATMA for the same duration. This was followed by a heartwarming welcome by our mentors, Roseann and Chirag, who started with a presentation on the key highlights of ATMA’s work with stimulating activities such as role plays, brainstorming etc. The best part of working in an NGO is that there’s a mix of professionalism and individualism. You are a professional and you are your own demonstrator. Enthusiasm, shared lunches, group discussions in your boss’s cabin and fun filled activities – you’re lucky if you have such a candid workplace!
In the first week, our mentors assigned us to our respective Partnership Managers(PMs) who were the point of contact for the NGOs ATMA works with. ATMA has a unique concept of working towards its mission. The grass-root level organizations are assigned to PMs who analyze the scenario and set the target/goals that the organization achieves over a predetermined period of time. This includes social media presence, fundraising efforts, better operations, volunteer supply for projects to the organization, and ensuring a holistic and overall growth of the NGO. The project I was assigned was to make a website for one of ATMA’s partner organizations – ‘Spark A Change Foundation’. The next two weeks were focused on building a blueprint and getting approvals on the proposed features. The website in my view was a fantastic opportunity for me to learn something new. HTML coding was something I had learned in college but applying it on a practical level was a challenge. ‘Udemy’ and ‘Coursera’ proved to be a great source of learning. Video tutorials on YouTube also offered several useful hacks for beautifying the look and interface, enhancing the superiority in quality work. With extensive research, I was building a dummy website which, if it was approved, could prove to be the basis of the actual project. After finalizing the key elements like the color theme, template, SEO, target audiences and UX, I was all set to place the pieces of the puzzle on the board. Upon implementation, I realized that certain changes would make the current version better. Hence, after consulting my mentors, we decided to keep improvising upon the same. Platforms such as wix.com and strikingly.com have wonderful template ideas where one can lay their plans without any hassles. Tons of templates and hundreds of fonts and features make it a lot easier for developers to build websites. Cherry on the cake was how the overall cost was unbelievably cheaper than hiring a professional to code the website. As we went on to improvise, the changes made were approved by the partner NGO and the remaining week was enough for me to add on features like the payment gateways (for donations), volunteer invites (volunteer enrollment), blog setup etc.
Along with work, we also had ‘Weekly Volunteer Meets’, where one volunteer chaired the meeting and directed the group towards interesting group discussions, ice-breaker games, and most importantly, ‘Appreciations’, during which everyone at ATMA got a chance to appreciate the work or assistance of another colleague. Doing it in front of everybody helped boost one’s confidence and self-esteem. Post the meet, the former chair nominated the next meet’s chairperson and I also got to be the one.
As my project ended, we were asked to present our work and the time being spent at ATMA in the form of a PowerPoint Presentation. Each of us also spoke about the key learnings (both professional and personal) that we would take along for the future. Post the presentations, we were felicitated with certificates and a small farewell party. It was truly an enlightening experience with so much to learn about how NGOs function. Visiting the fields and meeting the beneficiaries made us realize how much our efforts contributed to their happiness and prosperity. Many people ask me, “how building a website or fundraising events contribute in improving the education system?” My answer to them is, ”Well, supporting the cause is like strengthening the impact. You don’t need to teach hundreds of kids to be a change maker; you can be one by simply supporting that one leader too. That way you’re contributing to the final product – the impact.” This experience has not only rejoiced the emotion of giving but has also helped me find that missing spark. The social sting has finally been satisfied. At least for now!