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:
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!