I have known for a long time that I wanted to pursue a career in the international development field. I have also known that I want to work at the intersection of economics, law, politics and government in order to influence policy that improves the living standards of people in developing countries. This interest was stirred by my experience growing up in Ghana, West Africa, where I witnessed socio-economic problems such as poverty, inequality and poor infrastructural development. The quest to understand the factors that accounted for the differences between my country and other more developed ones was fueled further when I traveled to Canada, and later USA, and observed the wide differences between our economic positions. Once I came to Cornell, I began to seek opportunities that will allow me to combine my love of travel with my pursuit of a career in the global arena. An internship with the International Labour Organization was the perfect fit for my interests.
At the ILO, I interned at the Research Department, formerly called the International Institute for Labour Studies (IILS). The department conducts research on issues relating to the labour market that are relevant to the global economy, interests of workers and development of economies. As part of its research activities, the department produces an annual flagship publication that details trends in the world of work, and makes recommendations on ways to improve employment and worker conditions. In recent years, it has also began country studies, especially on those countries that have been hard hit by the 2008 financial crises. These studies make recommendations on ways countries’ can pursue sustainable economic growth & development that translate into better living standards. I worked as part of a team that conducted research on Spain, to be published in the summer of 2014 in a report titled, Spain: Studies on Growth with Equity.
My research focused primarily on investigating the history of labour market reforms in Spain, with special attention on the most recent reforms. In addition, I examined Spain’s bundle of labour market policies, with particular regard to active labour market policy. The overarching goal of my research was to examine the policies Spain already has in place, analyze their actual use in policy implementation, and finally perform comparative analysis of Spain’s use of active labour market policy with comparable economies in the European Union. My research allowed me to write contributory sections for the forthcoming study. I applied concepts that I learned in my economics classes at ILR directly to my work at the ILO. My experience writing case briefs in my labour law class as well as analytical policy pieces in my economics classes made me well equipped to write for international development publications. My internship also gave me insight into how researching issues that have the potential to directly influence changes in public policy evolves. I learned the tedious process of collecting and verifying information, and of making careful analysis with available data. I became acquainted with how the department collaborates with other organizations such as the IMF and the World Bank to produce research that is able to drive effective change. Additionally, I saw how governments’, international organizations and even private sector interests can work together to achieve mutually desirable goals. Moreover, I became acquainted with the day to day work of the ILO and now have a deeper understanding of the challenges of working in the international development field.
My internship experience was enriching beyond the confines of the ILO. I was exposed to a vibrant development community in Geneva, which is home to several other UN agencies and organizations involved in the development field. I had the opportunity of attending public lectures, and observing demonstrations at the Palais de Nations that I would otherwise only read about in the news. In addition to the experiences that I was exposed to in Geneva, the internship gave me the opportunity to travel around several areas in Switzerland and in Europe. I went hiking with friends in the Interlaken region of Switzerland, where we were lucky to encounter the annual tradition where cows are paraded into the city from grazing several months in the mountains. This was a spectacular sight, with the cows beautifully decorated in colorful flowers and with large bells fastened around their necks to loudly announce their return. We lined along the city streets and cheered loudly as the farmers led their herd home. I had the opportunity to explore the beautiful south of France, where I sampled ice cream of varied flavors from coca cola to chocolate ginger. All the places I visited taught me something specific to that region and offered treats, sights, activities, and adventures that made them memorable and life enriching experiences.
While different aspects of my internship experience combined to make my time at the ILO incredible, I have to give special credit to the role of the beautiful, intelligent people I worked with at the ILO and others that I met on my travels. The ILO is a diverse place staffed by dedicated, passionate people from all over the world. I have learned short phrases in many different languages, I have learned others’ stories of how they chose a career in the development field, and I have met individuals who have impacted my life in transformative ways. I have matured from the friendships that I forged, and the time others’ took to invest in my professional development has already started to pay off. This internship has solidified my interest to work in international development, and to dedicate my life to the advancement of less developed countries, especially in Africa. I have very fond memories that I will carry along with me, and prized keepsakes that remind me of an incredible time with special people.
I am grateful to the ILR School for the opportunity to intern with the ILO, to the alumni association for their generous financial support, and to the International Programs Office for their continued support. I am also thankful to Professor Robert Smith for his wise counsel, and to Professor Gary Fields, whose unwavering dedication to the economic issues that plague developing countries has inspired my commitment to this field.
- Phoebe Sam