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The Foundation for Sustainable Development works with more than 250 partner organizations to create incremental, lasting change in communities around the world. With the Gap Year program, participants help make that change happen through a hands-on internship experience. It's an intense, immersive program for pre-college students (17+) looking to gain international development training and experience. It’s an exciting way to explore and learn before starting college.
The experience begins with an in-country orientation led by FSD’s local site team. Each site team provides each intern with invaluable guidance and insight throughout the program; this starts with orientation, which covers both theory (such as FSD’s asset-based community development model) and day-to-day details (such how to navigate the local transit system). Interns are introduced to other interns serving in the area, and then to their respective host organizations and host families.
After orientation, project work begins. The intern and the host organization will develop a work plan aimed at supporting the organization's work. Some interns create brand new projects, and others contribute to ongoing work, but the overall focus always remains on community involvement, sustainability, and effectiveness.
FSD internships can be as short as nine weeks or as long as a full year. The more time a participant is able to commit to a project—laying the foundation, doing the work, evaluating results, and adjusting accordingly—the more effective it can be.
LOCATIONS AND FOCUS AREAS
FSD has 10 sites in six countries: Argentina, Bolivia, India, Kenya, Nicaragua, and Uganda. Each location is unique in its culture, history, level of development, and more; all locations have demonstrated a willingness and ability to work with FSD to strengthen their local communities. Our site teams at each site actively build relationships with new and established host families and community partners to facilitate safe, culturally immersive, and developmentally impactful programs.
Each site has community partner organizations working in seven focus areas: Gender Equity, Equal Rights, Youth Development, Economic Development, Community Development, Health, and Environmental Sustainability. During the application process we gather information about each applicant's skills, past experiences, and areas of interest in order to make every Gap Year experience as beneficial as possible for the intern, host organization, and underserved community.
SITE TEAMS: Each FSD site features a site team comprised of a locally born Program Director and at least one Program Coordinator. FSD’s Program Directors are regional experts in the field of community development, making them a great resource for our interns as they conduct their in-country project work. Each Program Director develops and maintains FSD's relationships with our host organizations, and is involved in the Gap Year process as soon as his/her site receives a new application. Program Coordinators provide extra support to FSD's volunteers, host families, and partner organizations. During the application process they advise the Program Director and San Francisco staff on applicant placement from an international perspective. And, once volunteers are in the field, Program Coordinators serve as a bridge to the local culture and language; they also function as a lifeline when culture shock inevitably set in, and are available to advise volunteers as they develop their work plans.
HOST FAMILIES: Staying with a host family links FSD’s program participants to the local culture and community. All of our hosts have a desire to take in international volunteers and help them integrate with their family. Living conditions are generally “middle class” by local standards. This can be a drastic change from what many volunteers are used to, but every family FSD works with meets its standards for cleanliness and safety. Past volunteers have consistently noted the host family experience as one of the highlights of the time abroad, and many keep in contact long after their program ends.
HOST ORGANIZATIONS: FSD works with more than 250 community partners across our 10 sites. During the application process, each participant is paired with a particular organization based on our partners’ needs and our volunteers’ interests. Most sites have at least one partner organization working in each sector, and some sites are known for more intensive work in specific sectors (the Nicaragua sites have many microfincance organizations, for example). Final NGO placements are usually made 30 to 60 days before the start of a program. Each program participant has a direct supervisor at his/her host organization, responsible for working with the participant to ensure that the new work is effective and sustainable in the context of the organization and the local community.
SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT TRAINING: Through the Gap Year program, participants gain valuable training in international sustainable development. During orientation, the FSD site team walks participants through our asset-based community development model and discusses what it means for their particular site. Then, with their host organization, participants actively address one or more community problems through new or ongoing projects; this direct project work drives learning between volunteers, host organization supervisors, and FSD's site team. Site teams conduct regular check-ins with the organizations and participants, and help troubleshoot any problems that arise. By determining and implementing workable solutions for a community, participants increase their capacity for clear communication and teamwork while advancing sustainable global development.
GRANT WRITING: Grant writing is a key component of our Gap Year program. In addition to the initial project grant, FSD sets aside a limited fund each session for project enhancements. Interns submit grant proposals to the San Francisco headquarters through their local site team, explaining how extra funds would be used to boost the sustainable impact of a project. For volunteers interested in a career in the nonprofit world, this introduction to grant writing is particularly useful.
PROJECT WORK: Each project has its own flow and timeline. Most volunteers will have spent some time brainstorming about the work they will do before arriving in country; during the first few weeks of their program, they will need to adjust their plans to the local context. Some interns support ongoing projects with their organization, while others pilot new projects. After establishing a workplan, volunteers coordinate with their organizations, FSD, and other volunteers to gather invested community members, tools, subject experts, policy makers, and whatever else is needed to make their project a success. Project work can range from installing solar panels on an internet cafe to implementing a new branding strategy for a community grocery store to reforesting an over-logged hillside. The last segment of the program consists of a transition process comprised of monitoring, evaluation, and review. The objective of this final stage is to make sure the new work is handed off to the next person(s) so it will continue to benefit the community.
DIFFERENCES BETWEEN OUR GAP YEAR AND INTERN ABROAD PROGRAMS: Our similarly structured Gap Year and Intern Abroad programs differ mainly in the amount of support provided and the expected level of participant initiative. The FSD site team is significantly more involved with Gap Year participants, with more check-ins scheduled throughout the program to make sure they have/develop the skills and confidence needed for their time to be well spent. While we expect strong initiative from our Gap Year interns, their immersion into the community and the project work is simply a bit more gradual.