Midway: Some Happy Thoughts and Messages

It is now the sixth week of the internship. The brevity of this program is really beginning to sink in, and I do find myself wishing we had more time.

Here’s a picture of the cafe. Isn’t so cool? I love that it’s sprawled through one of London’s old buildings.

I love the work we’re doing. Deliverables, goals, expectations, they’re all changing and transforming into completely new and different things, but they’re so much fun. To any and all future or prospective interns reading this: I hope you love this job as much as I do. I really, really hope you find the work of putting your knowledge to professional use fulfilling, and that the social impact is equally fulfilling. No matter what internship you’re looking at, whether it’s with SAUT or Mikono Yetu or Aga Khan University or something else: you’ll be perfect for the position if you love what you’re doing. Putting your loved skills and knowledge to use in a dynamic work setting will help you change and develop even faster than in school, I believe.

And here’s SAUT’s campus, while we’re at it! Also incredibly pretty – makes me wish I could go explore it!

Here’s what we’ve been working on lately:

  • With YOU, we’re deep into brand development and product launch plans. Things are getting set back slightly, but overall, we’re lining up our brand design, packaging production, and coupon launch to match with one of London’s festivals so we can hand out discounts and get people to swing by! We’re looking at setting up a meeting with the youth mentors and some more youth from the culinary program to help them understand what Fiti is and how to build the brand. The youth are going to pick our colours, fonts, and everything related.
  • Then we’re going to start building an education plan / booklet for the youth mentors. That way, they can teach the new youth about Fiti every year.
  • With SAUT, I’ve been in regular communication with one of the students! His name is Peter and he’s very excited about the project, which is so relieving to see. We discuss the kitchen and he’s going to help us with student engagement.
  • Which, speaking of student engagement, has become our new main deliverable for SAUT. Delphine wants us to help build a sustainable engagement model that is set up with good bookkeeping, clear roles and responsibilities, and expectations. This way, motivating the students to sell 40L a day will be much easier and they can manage that either on their own or with the next batch of WHE interns.

It’s funny – for a couple weeks, it felt as though YOU and SAUT were headed in completely different directions. Diverging from the same goals and developing completely different deliverables at completely different rates. But now they’re converging again. We’re developing education, structure, brand and engagement for both groups. It’s almost uncanny that the puzzle of this internship has developed this way!

(I like puzzles. When I can frame problems as puzzles is when I am at my happiest.)

It makes me wonder what the marketing industry is like. How much do the deliverables change there? You still need reports, you still need data and predictions and plans and campaigns and more data, but how much do your goals end up shifting? Do they shift all that much when you’re working for a large, well-established company? Is it railroaded up there, the rails made of “here’s our recipe, copy-paste this” and the spikes holding it all together the “this is what works” mindset?

Because, honestly, I enjoy watching the deliverables change and shift and mould into new things. Again, I like puzzles. Part of the puzzle of making something work is figuring out what’s actually needed. And in this internship, we’re given the freedom to do just that. At this point in our academic and professional careers, the answer is not obvious. I can’t look at YOU’s data and go “oh, of course, you need a three-year Search Engine Optimization plan and a ten-year investment plan”. (That’s made up, by the way. I don’t think that’s how plans work.) I have to sit there with what little knowledge I have and constantly realize that I have less knowledge than I thought the day before. And I have to figure out the puzzle.

My biggest worry, I think, is that I’ll never get an experience as cool and thrilling as this in the working world. That I will be railroaded. That someone else will have the answers and my investigations will be moot.

I write this because I hope the future and prospective interns that read this can visualize what this experience will look like for them. Entering into this internship, I really had no idea what was ahead. Never having had experience in marketing before, I could not fathom what this was going to look like. This wasn’t a bad thing; perhaps it was even good. I could not set up expectations and therefore I could not allow myself to be frustrated when those expectations were assuredly warped. This experience was simply allowing myself to be curious about the unknown ahead, which I think is a valuable experience to hold for the rest of your life.

So yes. Future interns, know that the road will not be straightforward in this experience, and that this is the most valuable and enjoyable aspect of the entire thing. Your supervisors will warn you that, although setting goals is critical to your success, they will undoubtedly change and you should brace for it. But it’s the best thing! This is your chance to look into a problem and say “I think your root problem is actually this. You will find the most success and it will be sustainable if we address this factor first.” And the fun is that you very well may not be challenged or overruled. Nobody is there to say “that’s not the actual answer”. You have to trust your gut that this is the right answer. And you’ll come up with it together with your interns and supervisors, of course, but there’s no right choice. Ever. You make the choice and then see if it’s right. Or you make it right.

I’ll end my rambling there. I think I’ve made my point.

We’ve got a few goals lined up for the next few weeks: build YOU’s brand with the youth; establish responsibilities for SAUT’s onboarding program; and start measuring progress.

See you on the other side!

The Plans Begin to Change

It is the fourth week of my internship, and things are changing drastically already with SAUT. So I’ll start with that.

We were informed that plans and goals would change and adapt to our situation many times during orientation, and it is quite fascinating to see. While the goals of the community partners remain the same, our approach is constantly evolving.

Dr. Delphine Kessy at SAUT has one essential goal for the yoghurt kitchen: increase daily sales from 20L to 40L. This will give them enough profit to maintain kitchen supplies and to pay students to work in the kitchen. Right now, the kitchen relies on voluntary help.

(If you’d like to see the kitchen: Mikono Yetu posted this video on YouTube in 2019 talking about the benefits of the kitchen, and Western Heads East posted this video on their Facebook page in 2017 showing a snippet of what it’s like to work in the kitchen!)

My first plan was to dive right into marketing stuff. Gathering research on the audience, figuring out the most appealing parts of the kitchen to draw people in, researching other locations to sell the yogurt. The standard Global North procedures for procuring campaign information.

Now, after developing some familiarity with the SAUT student leaders and the program, these preliminary tasks have changed. While those points are still valuable and that information would benefit my efforts, I have come to realize that I should be helping the students learn this for themselves. While I could take all that information and summarize it in a campaign plan and give them instructions on how to carry it out, that doesn’t encourage sustainable practices on their side. Helping the students learn how to do this independently and long-term is the ultimate goal: one day the university will hand the enterprise over to them completely and it will have to be sustained by individuals who can identify root problems and understand how to handle them.

So, instead, our current efforts have changed to encouraging student engagement. If they can get excited about this program, then we can help them learn how to think about business sustainability and give them some examples to help them get started. The business and marketing plans should be guidelines that they can then depart from and develop further according to the needs they identified.

We did, however, have to go through some trial and error in order to figure out what the students and the program needed most from us. So, to any future interns who might be reading this: patience and reflexivity are going to be your most valuable tools. Making intercultural connections is a slow process full of learning and growing, especially when done online. (Slow is not bad – it simply means we are being deliberate and careful about compartmentalizing our Global North habits, behaviours, and instincts.) You’ll run into many obstacles when you first start out. This is great! This is the vital learning process. The knowledge that you have is coming into contact with the community partner’s culture and their own knowledge. Having the patience to engage your reflexive brain and think about why certain obstacles might be coming up is going to be the most insightful practice you can incorporate into shaping your internship goals.

 And as I typed this, I was looking through SAUT’s university website, and found some fantastic news that might now change my plans even more:

Screenshot from SAUT’s website, on the Programmes Page.

They have business AND marketing degrees!

One of our deliverables was to create Community Engaged Leaning projects with other faculties – this could be the perfect solution. If we could potentially invite some business and marketing students from SAUT to help launch this project, it could produce the type of sustainability that the kitchen will thrive most on. From there, Western’s interns can fill in whatever gaps we can identify, and hopefully get the situation into a place where sustainability looks plausible.

The roadmap to success in this internship is fluid, changing, and full of mysteries and new information. Don’t sweat it if you feel like your goals, at any point in the internship, feel like they aren’t working – chances are that something new will pop up and give your plans the boost they needed.

I look forward to seeing where this takes us!

Onboarding and First Tasks!

This marks the end of my second week working with Western Heads East, and I am in a whirlwind of excited and nervous emotions.

Over the course of these two weeks, here’s what I’ve done so far:

  • I’ve met with my supervisor from Saint Augustine University of Tanzania (SAUT), Professor Delphine Kessy. On the call with her were the program assistant, Constantine, and ten out of the eleven SAUT students who would be working on this program with us.
  • I also met our Youth Opportunities Unlimited supervisor, Nick Martin, who is in charge of many of YOU’s food enterprises.
  • I attended my first Swahili lesson!
  • I reached out to my group of SAUT students to begin researching our target market for SAUT’s marketing and business plan.
  • And I have begun to research into YOU and its target market, compiling my findings into a digital marketing analysis report for future reference when I begin to construct the new marketing and business plans.

The aforementioned whirlwind of emotions comes from the continuing realization of how big this project is going to be, how little time we have to complete it, and how little guidance there is. None of these are bad things – on the contrary, they’re thrilling! I love the sensation of taking these projects into my own hands and being trusted to deliver high-quality content that will ideally help these organizations thrive for the next few years. It is my first step into the working world, and I couldn’t be more grateful that I get to start on my dream path: marketing.

There are two other factors that give my future internship tasks an interesting twist: I am trained as a digital marketer, and only that. While there is much overlap, I do not have training in business. Learning how to think in marketing terms also opens the door to being able to think in business terms, but as I pore through research and informational sites on how to analyze a company’s business structure and produce a business plan, I realize there’s still so much I don’t know. It feels as though there’s an entire angle, a whole perspective lost on me yet. And as the marketing intern, there’s considerable expectation to create the business plan alongside the marketing plan.

There is also the fact that it appears thus far that SAUT, and perhaps the community in Mwanza, Tanzania, rely on traditional marketing practices – posters, brochures, flyers – to sell their products. More research is necessary to determine whether this is still the case, but SAUT’s Fiti Yogurt marketing resources all seem to be posters and related materials. As a digital marketing intern, adapting what I know to traditional marketing practices will be a new experience and I think I will pull a lot of insight into the foundations of marketing from this!

While nervous, there’s this intense feeling of excitement and determination within me. I’ll be learning so many new skills to reach my goals for this internship. While it seems like a lot right now, I know that with some compartmentalizing and task-sorting, everything will fall into place.  In the meantime, my first steps will be to continue compiling my research on our target markets, to learn more about what it takes to build up a reliable business plan, and watch the next steps unfold as all this information comes together.

I couldn’t be more excited!