During the summer of 2012, Rachel Tardiff had the exciting opportunity to intern with Mercy Corps at their headquarters in Portland, Oregon. Mercy Corps is a global aid agency that seeks to alleviate poverty, conflict, and oppressive conditions in countries that are experiencing or have recently experienced considerable turmoil. When asked why she chose to intern at Mercy Corps, Tardiff responded, "I thought there might be a good opportunity to provide assistance while also gaining valuable experience in the Leadership and Organizational Effectiveness division (LOE) of Mercy Corps."
Upon initial investigation, Tardiff found that Mercy Corps did not offer an internship for a conflict resolution and leadership development position within the LOE division. Yet she was not deterred. Tardiff was able to secure an internship with Mercy Corps by writing a proposal detailing how both Mercy Corps and herself would benefit from her internship in the area of conflict management. Mercy Corps was interested in utilizing Tardiff's expertise in the field of conflict resolution, and in turn worked with her to find the optimal way to use her abilities at Mercy Corps' headquarters. They decided that the best way to utilize Tardiff's talents was to arrange an internship for her in the LOE division.
During Tardiff's internship, she shadowed the Senior Director for Global Leadership Development. Tardiff's tasks included attending meetings with the directors of the LOE division of Mercy Corps, reviewing documents relating to the organization's core competency model of evaluating effectiveness in the field, developing and delivering three conflict management workshops, and constructing a quick reference guide for managers on how to provide feedback to employees. The conflict management workshops, which Tardiff designed and held, were an example of how she was able to directly apply her education in conflict resolution to her internship at Mercy Corps' headquarters.
Tardiff's conflict management workshops were met with enthusiasm by the staff at Mercy Corps. Tardiff notes that, "Initially, it was supposed to be just one workshop, and we were concerned that only 8-10 people would be interested. In the first hour after advertising it, 12 people had responded that they wanted to attend. By the end of that day, all 25 spots were full, so an additional session was added and it was also filled by the end of the week, with a waiting list. We added a third workshop as a result, which also filled, and all three had waiting lists." In the end, almost 40% of the employees at Mercy Corps' headquarters were trained in the conflict management workshops provided by Tardiff.
The staff of Mercy Corps' headquarters viewed Tardiff's internship and her effort to bring her conflict resolution skills to their workforce as a very constructive experience. Tardiff says, "Having a conflict resolution intern come into Mercy Corps was viewed as a positive sign of support from management for enhancing both workplace conflict resolution skills and also for individual career development." The experience at Mercy Corps was likewise very beneficial for Rachel. Looking back on her experience, she remarks, "I learned quite a lot while working at Mercy Corps—more than I could have imagined. Not only did I have the opportunity to facilitate workshops, but the Senior Director who I shadowed did an amazing job in teaching me about the field, and in providing me with constructive feedback." Further, the internship allowed Rachel to see the inner workings of a nonprofit and to identify and to address specific challenges to implementing sustainable solutions to conflict in the workplace.
For those students who are currently looking for an internship, Rachel says, "My general advice on internships is to do a lot of investigation and find a place where you think you can learn as well as add value to the organization, and if an internship doesn't yet exist for conflict resolution in those places, create your own proposal and see what happens." She urges students not to be dismayed if in this process they have trouble finding the right opportunity. Tardiff notes that "If nothing less, you will make contacts and practice selling yourself. A lot of organizations, especially nonprofits, are looking for driven people who will make a difference and be of help in the organization. By showing initiative and creativity, you can make a good first impression and hopefully have a valuable learning experience." As for whether or not Rachel would recommend Mercy Corps to fellow students looking for an internship, she says, "Mercy Corps is a great place to learn about nonprofits as well as the inner workings of leadership development, workplace dynamics, and interpersonal conflict."
Rachel Tardiff can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Check out: Internship opportunities with Mercy Corps