Rakkshet Singhaal, Programme Associate, Community Systems Foundation
After finishing my first year of college, still trying to figure out my passion, I received a Posey Global Leadership Fellowship to volunteer at a hospital in Makeni, Sierra Leone. Even though my work revolved around supporting the administration to better fund their projects, living a life inspired by a desire to learn more by pushing myself to do things outside of my comfort zone, I opted to shadow an operation at a hospital in Sierra Leone to get a better sense of the medical sector in the country.
It was during that surgery, when a pregnant teen mother died clutching my hands, not because of any complications, but due to a lack of basic essential equipment, I realized something that took me traveling 6,000 miles to recognize, that millions of people around the world struggling to be noticed and heard about their aspirations for a better life - This was something I had failed to recognize growing up in Delhi.
At that moment, I knew that my future career would be in an area where I could benefit others, and I realized then that the best way to do so was to get engaged in the development sector in some capacity. Since that day, I have volunteered and researched in different countries across the world to gain a better understanding of international development. None of those experiences compare to the opportunity I had as an intern at Community Systems Foundation (CSF). My placement has provided me with invaluable insights and experiences that I never imagined I would get as a college student.
My Role at CSF
As with any internship, my experience began with deep learning - about CSF's operations and its role in assisting international organizations and national governments with its information technology solutions that support the realisation of sustainable development for all.
At first, my role began with communication where I supported the expansion of the CSF Project Portfolio and Stories of action and impact from our work in the field. This made me realize the importance of quality, timely data to realize the ambitious of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the vast experience CSF has built over the years supporting countries around the world in areas of data for development.
This also allowed me to gain hands-on experience and develop a strong foundation of the software developed and supported by CSF. Learning about CSF’s tools enabled me to get involved in the development of proposals to build development sector websites and expand the implementation of OpenEMIS projects, a tool designed to collect, manage and disseminate education data. Working on these proposals with other team members allowed me to get to the point where I could work independently and lead the development of a proposal to a UN agency (UNIDO).
During my internship, I learned that CSF had partnered with my alma mater, Alma College, to improve the strategic planning process within the institution. This provided us an opportunity to pilot the Data For All (DFA) toolkit in a higher education institution and develop a strategy to offer similar support to universities, in areas of planning, monitoring and reporting results. .
I contributed directly to university outreach and a restructuring of our strategy to target organizations that specialize in developing strategic plans. As a result of our efforts, we were able to get in touch with several organizations that identified DFA Monitoring as a potential solution for institutions to utilize. I hope 2022 brings results and DFA Monitoring will be used in universities across the US and beyond.
With my background in Economics and Political Science, a significant focus of my internship was to develop a case study on the growth of the OpenEMIS community in the Caribbean. The research focused on looking at the progress achieved and challenges faced during the utilization of OpenEMIS and the benefits drawn by Caribbean countries like Aruba, Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Guyana, Saint Kitts and Nevis, and Turks and Caicos. The reflections and recommendations of the case study provide CSF and its partners with strategies and action to promote OpenEMIS to strengthen and sustain data systems to improve education in the region..
Beyond general activities at CSF
As I look back over the past seven months, especially keeping in mind that we are living in the middle of a pandemic, I am thankful for the opportunities I have had to work with our partners across the globe. It has helped me to develop a better understanding of the development sector.
Like a coin with two sides, I have consistently recognized the beneficial influence the development sector can have on the world. At the same time, because of this internship, I also received a new perspective on the challenges and areas for growth within the sector that may be critical in improving development outcomes.
I noticed that as an organization initiates more and more programmes, it stretches its resources, particularly human resources, to the point that it cannot fulfill its goal to the degree it had intended. Furthermore, this shortage of human resources causes one individual to be responsible for multiple programmes, resulting in issues like communication gap between them and partners such as CSF, culminating in ineffective or delayed programme execution.
However, even in the limited time I was working at CSF, I saw a tremendous amount of determination and work ethic among diverse professionals within this sector who have given their all to make a positive influence and become the voice for millions of people across the world. I realized it was because of such efforts, that as an outsider before working for CSF, I could not see the other side of the coin - the challenges that hinder the development sector.
As I reflect on the previous seven months, I cannot believe the opportunities I have had to learn and grow in the field of development - working directly on initiatives with our partners across the globe. Even though the pandemic posed some challenges, having the opportunity to live and work in New York City, while simultaneously being connected to staff and partners from the Caribbean, Botswana, Yemen, Singapore, India, Thailand, Belgium, and South Africa allowed me to gain a clearer picture of my goal and the role in Development I see for myself in the near future.
As my internship comes to an end, I am confident that CSF's efforts to improve quality of life through innovative technological solutions will produce positive outcomes that leave no one behind.