At a time when most third-year students are gearing up for their second gap-year internship, there are those who use the year to devote themselves and their abilities to a professional and human project, and to causes that mean a lot to them.
Written on 04 December 2018.
Since 2001, the EDHEC student association Student Consulting for Development (SCD) has been helping them to do this. Each year, a trained team of four or five students prepares a project geared to furthering international social solidarity and promoting awareness of the social economy in various fields such as microcredit, social entrepreneurship, sustainable development, ecotourism and fair trade.
Three months before their departure, the new SCD team met their predecessors to find out about the different projects SCD has worked on over the last 18 years. Here are the tales of Benjamine, now a fund manager focusing on the social economy (a member of the SCD 2007 team), and Nicolas, a Master 2 student (2018 team).
Can you describe your project and explain what led you to make your choice?
Benjamine - When we were in the second year back in 2006, we built our project around the theme of social economy, or in other words a way of viewing the economy as a means to achieve a social or environmental objective via self-sufficient and sustainable business models.
We wanted to distance ourselves from NGOs that function solely on a subsidy-based model. - Benjamine
We then contacted various structures, associations and companies for their support and expertise in the social economy field. The assistance they provided us enabled us to carry out assignments with various NGOs operating in the fields of fair trade (Plateforme Française du Commerce Equitable), microfinance (Inter Aide, Planet Finance, Elevages Sans Frontières) or social tourism (Tourisme et Développement Solidaire, Touscan). In one slightly different assignment, we also worked for the GERES NGO on the issue of climate change.
All in all, we carried out some 10 assignments in Africa, Asia and Latin America over a nine-month period.
Nicolas - My urge to take part in the SCD experience stemmed from the desire to put together a different and original CV, underpinned by the belief that we need to re-direct our development towards a more sustainable economy. After putting together a five-member team, we chose to go to Latin America, a developing region that lags well behind in terms of sustainable development. The choice of structure – a consulting firm – reflected our desire to work on several projects throughout the internship and thereby deal with as many aspects of CSR as possible.
What social/environmental impact did you think you had?
Nicolas - We helped the Buenos Aires-based association, La Ciudad Posible, in developing a wide variety of projects geared to promoting sustainable development in Argentina, where recognition of these issues is still in its infancy (agro-ecology, recycling, solar power, bioplastics and eco-tourism).
Benjamine - NGOs generally have no shortage of ideas, but lack the people or the money to put them into action.
So we went to some of these NGOs and said: we’re going to be in your country for 3-6 weeks, how can we help you? - Benjamine
We weren’t asking for much: just three mattresses in an apartment and, if possible, a meal at lunchtimes. No payment, not even a contribution to the cost of our air tickets… This enabled some of our partners to get started on projects they’d been wanting to launch for a long time. In Morocco, for example, we worked with an NGO that was looking to launch a support programme for women’s co-operatives producing argan oil in the Essaouira region. To get things started, the NGO needed to have a clearer view of the situation, but didn’t have a team on site. So over a week, three of us went on a detailed scouting mission, during which we identified structures and discovered that certain were actually “false” co-operatives. At the end of our assignment, the NGO was able to choose the co-operatives with which it wanted to work and to launch its programme.
What do you think was the biggest challenge you had to face?
Benjamine - The biggest challenge before the trip was to find financing at the same time as our assignments – one depending on the other – and hoping that it worked. It was very stressful, at a time when our classmates were all on internships and it would have been hard for us to do a U-turn.
Nicolas - Our chosen structure of a small consulting firm and Argentina’s escalating economic crisis during the period made it hard to move the projects forward at times. But this was also one of the challenges we wanted to face: we wanted to leave our comfort zone and particularly find out how organisations function in different political contexts
What is your best memory?
Benjamine - My world trip was actually a succession of best memories.
I could talk to you about the Berber families who we met in the Atlas mountains, the local teams in Burkina Faso who showed us jobs that disappeared in France decades ago, slum dwellers in India to whom we presented microcredit, 70-hour working weeks in Cambodia and Nicaraguan families who bent over backwards to accommodate tourists in the hope of earning some additional income…
And of course, the scenery was magnificent, but our best memories were essentially those related to the people we met; 2007 was the best year of my life.
How did EDHEC help you with the project?
Benjamine – First of all, EDHEC recognised this experience as valid for an internship. For us, it was a real acknowledgement of our work and we are still grateful to the School today for that. Next, it was what EDHEC gave us in terms of quality of tuition, and its reflection in the EDHEC “brand”: it’s a lot easier to secure an assignment in an NGO when you tell them you’re a student at EDHEC. And lastly – it might not seem as important today, but it was massive for us at the time - EDHEC lent us all the video equipment we needed to film our assignments and prepare a film of our experiences when we got back.
Nicolas – I’d say that EDHEC’s main help was in approving our experience as a gap-year internship and thus enabling us to combine a "classical" professional experience in the first part of the year, with a more personal project in the second, thought out, financed and executed solely by our team.
Do you have any advice for EDHECs looking for meaning in their gap year?
Respecting the environment is not just a question of NGOs and donations or a form of utopia. - Nicolas
Nicolas - It obviously means responsible consumption, but also relies on innovative companies… and the future EDHEC students who’ll be working in them shortly! Social economy structures are not pure philanthropic organisations: loose, packaging-free goods, re-useable products, organic production and leasing (to cite just a few examples) are radical and effective solutions within our reach.
Benjamine : Take care with those first jobs you do by default, as your first years of career experience can quickly confine you to an industry or a profession. Life’s too short to postpone a project, a profession or a sector of activity that really means a lot to you. To clarify your plans and what you want, you need to meet a lot of people and ask questions to people doing jobs that appeal to you. Ask them about the drawbacks and see whether they can be overcome.
And don’t get yourself trapped by a “decent” job if you dream of doing something else. - Benjamine