By Lauren Hobbs ’19
Walking into work on my first day, I stopped and stared at the United Nations flag waving above me, and smiled from ear to ear. I was 4,500 miles from home in Rome for an internship at the UN’s International Fund for Agricultural Development. As part of the organization’s Geospatial Analysis and Solutions team, I would have the chance to use my coding skills to help end poverty and hunger, and I couldn’t wait to begin. Over the next ten weeks, I would work with brilliant people, help those most in need and do what I love.
My opportunity to work with the UN’s International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) agency in Rome came about through the Global Research Institute’s Summer Fellows program. IFAD is devoted to helping the world’s most rural poor achieve food security, gain better nutrition, and reduce poverty by providing grants and loans to those in need, in alignment with the Sustainable Development Goals. I was thrilled to be using my data science and geospatial science background to support these admirable objectives.
From day one, it was clear that Summer Fellow Josh Panganiban and I would not be spending our time making copies or brewing coffee. We worked on meaningful and exciting projects including the launch of IFAD’s geospatial data-sharing platform, GeoNode, and running geospatial analysis for project impact assessments. We also worked with an amazing and diverse team, including fellow interns from ten different nations spanning the globe from China to England and South Korea to Zimbabwe. Discussing culture or politics, the interplay of perspectives yielded fascinating dialogues.
During our first week, my team and I helped modify visuals for the GeoNode data platform, and for videos about each country where IFAD works, and caught some glitches pre-launch. We also had the opportunity to propose and develop data governance policies for the GeoNode, which was particularly important to me as a data science major who cares deeply about data ethics and protection. Another task focused on IFAD projects’ alignment with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), so we matched project objectives and components to the SDGs. I identified a dataset of SDG contributors created by AidData, a research lab at W&M’s Global Research Institute, to help IFAD compare funding to the SDGs by country.
After wrapping up our initial work on the GeoNode and SDG alignment, my team continued with other exciting projects focused on improving income and food security for rural populations in Cambodia and Uganda. The projects use a range of initiatives such as market linkage, infrastructure, and climate change adaptation to achieve their goals. We assisted these projects by geocoding locations, cleaning datasets, and deriving road networks, among other tasks. Finally, we presented our findings to the Research and Impact Assessment division – as interns! In just ten weeks, we did much more than the typical intern, and I am very grateful for those opportunities and the skills I learned.
As my last day of work came to a close, I passed through IFAD’s doors one final time and looked up at the UN flag that had entranced me on first sight. Though I was leaving, the same smile spread across my face once more. Over ten weeks, I did more than I could have imagined. I grew so much and was able to support an amazing cause in return. I am so thankful to have had the ability to work with IFAD this summer. I will never forget the valuable skills I learned this summer or the feeling of excitement that I had looking up at a waving flag that first morning, unaware of the adventures to come.