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thumbnail_jessica_bolinJESSICA BOLIN

This summer I was an intern at The Akola Project, where I joined a ground team based in Jinja, Uganda. The Akola Project is a global brand of unique, handmade fashionable products. Their overall mission is to empower marginalized women to assist in the transformation of their own physical and spiritual livelihoods, as well as to make a direct impact on their families and communities. Through hiring Ugandan women in Jinja and surrounding villages (Nabukosi, Kibibi, Buwala, Budondo), The Akola Project provides these women not only a stable income, but also various social programs. Through reaching out to these local women, a joint partnership over the past eight years has been made between the US based organization and Jinja, Uganda. The values of the Akola Uganda summer internship were:

·         Collaborative partnerships: give time, skills, and resources to encourage others

·         Transformational relationships: build meaningful, cross-cultural relationships

·         High-quality products: 100% of net proceeds support local development initiatives

My role as an intern was with the business operations and empowerment teams at Akola. My day-to-day responsibilities included making trips to surrounding villages to collect beads for production, assisting with sales, checking the quality of the products, taking inventory of materials and products, researching new projects, and assisting with the training and writing of procedural manuals. Aside from different day-to-day responsibilities, I also had two long-term projects – creating a membership database and a leadership manual. The membership database was created through Excel and PowerPoint and used as a tool for administrative staff to keep track of basic member information. This included their date of birth, employment start date, skills (paper bead production, general jewelry production, rolling paper beads, cow horn artisan), and leadership roles (Akola Academy officer, Village Savings and Loans officer, jewelry production supervisor, HR supervisor). I compiled this information through meeting with employees one on one and through reading past files. The leadership manual will be used as a guide for the eight-week training course that The Akola Project uses when they promote Ugandan women to administrative staff. This manual was a combination of basic definitions of leadership styles and skills, activities to be used during course training, and guided questions to lead discussions at the end of each training. Each week held a different theme – leadership styles & tendencies, building trust & respect, multi-tasking, decision-making, defining performance, performance appraisal, coaching for performance improvement, and strategic planning.

Aside from the technical skills I gained over the summer, I also gained invaluable knowledge on how project sustainability is built within a nonprofit organization. I was able to gain cross-cultural experiential knowledge not just from the women who work at The Akola Project, but also from the people of Jinja. This opportunity allowed me to further both my academic and career goals by being able to see how an international development organization works on the grassroots level. I am grateful to the Global Studies department for financially supporting my summer in Jinja, and grateful to the women at The Akola Project for teaching me about development work and women’s empowerment.