The University of Wisconsin partnered with the Associated Center for Agro-Based Development, an organization promoting youth economic empowerment through agriculture, and a student organization to create new internship opportunities for UW students.
The organization currently supports 3,000 rural youth farmers in central Malawi through skill development training, farm input loans and market facilitation, according to the ACADES website. Project Malawi UW is a student organization partnering with ACADES to promote agribusiness as an employment opportunity for the youth in Malawi.
Project Malawi UW’s president and UW senior Lusayo Mwakatika said he led the organization’s partnership with ACADES after he attended one of their events while interning in Malawi in 2018.
“When I saw ACADES and what they were doing with agriculture, I thought it was a perfect organization for us to partner with,” Mwakatika said. “I saw that they’re actually doing something that has the potential to help the country as a whole.”
UW International Internship Program advisor and program coordinator Nathaniel Liedl said the new ACADES internship offerings would not happen without Mwakatika — he approached IIP with the idea and suggested trying it virtually when it fell through in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Mwakatika said ACADES is doing well keeping up with day-to-day activities, but has difficulty finding time to reflect and get creative with their work as an organization with a small staff now working with 5,000 people.
“We found that an internship would be an extra addition to their work because now … if they have some overload, they can have an intern help them,” Mwakatika said.
ACADES offers two different virtual internships — Program Assistant Intern and Development Research Intern, according to the UW IIP website.
Liedl said the two positions overlap a fair amount. Any students with a background in agriculture, economics, project management or research could benefit from these internships.
“[The team] started working from just pure passion and believing in the dream of the organization, so you find that they’re not just there for a job,” Mwakatika said. “That’s a very good environment to be in as an intern, because once you can get that kind of spirit, you can take that with you wherever you go to work.”
Mwakatika said this internship also benefits students by introducing them to another culture. This kind of cultural exposure is important, because it can help students grow and become more well-rounded citizens, Mwakatika said.
While bigger companies tend to have interns focus on specific tasks, working for a startup-based organization like ACADES also gives students the opportunity to work in different areas, develop troubleshooting skills and have a deeper impact, Mwakatika said.
While virtual internships cannot recreate the experience of living and working abroad, being engaged virtually still helped students develop valuable skills, the director of UW IIP Michelle Hall said.
“With the virtual environment, I think they’re getting the network, connection and mentorship with someone abroad, but they’re also getting communication, time management and other practices that are needed to work across languages, time zones and cultural differences,” Hall said.
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UW Study Abroad is regularly monitoring global circumstances with respect to COVID-19, but in-person summer programs starting prior to July 1, 2021 in addition to Spring semester 2021 programs were canceled, according to the UW Study Abroad website.
Hall said she hopes virtual internships will continue to have a place within IIP, because many students appreciate part-time opportunities they can balance with their schoolwork.
“This has opened up new channels and opened it up to students who might not have considered themselves able to go abroad or able to commit the time for something more intensive than this but have still gotten huge benefits, connections and work experience that these have offered,” Hall said.
Including the ACADES’ offerings, UW IIP has many summer internships which are still open, Hall said.
Mwakatika said students can also get involved with ACADES’s mission by joining Project Malawi UW and supporting their fundraising efforts. In April, the student organization will be selling handmade jewelry from an artist in Malawi who works with young women who are jobless, Mwakatika said.
Project Malawi UW will also be selling paintings by one of its artists and donating food from African restaurants in Madison, Mwakatika said.
“We are also accepting members … and we are very happy to welcome new students who want to join us,” Mwakatika said.