Using NGOs to Further Your Studies
When educational institutions talk about nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), they often focus on the roles that NGOs play in society, but seldom discuss how NGOs can help students enhance their studies. Not only can NGOs support a sustainability-related major; a sustainability-related NGO can help a student add a component of sustainability to a major in any field. Some colleges have recognized the value of work in NGOs and offer students opportunities to work directly with them; on the flip side, NGOs often encourage institutions of higher education to send students to work with them. In addition, students themselves can seek out opportunities to deepen their learning through involvement with NGOs.
Giving Your Studies NGO Power
Working with NGOs or even referencing them can lend legitimacy to sustainability studies; for example, the personal experience that a student can gain through work in an NGO can give that student’s essays depth and provide “proof” that his or her assertions are valid. The following are ways in which students can enhance studies in sustainability with NGOs.
Search University Libraries
University libraries are a good place to start if you’d like to learn more about NGOs and their resources for sustainability students. You can identify NGOs that you’d like to work with, find sustainability studies to deepen your understanding of the subject and reference NGOs and their findings in your own research.
Search university libraries for sustainability studies to:
- Identify an NGO you’d like to work with or study.
- Learn from and reference research studies completed by NGOs.
- Find quotes from other students’ studies.
- Compare original theories about sustainability with current practices.
Research Sustainability NGOs Online
Research sustainability NGOs online to:
- Familiarize yourself with leading-edge sustainability work. NGOs usually envision solutions to problems before anyone else does.
- Find a thesis topic or enhance term papers with descriptions of NGO projects and results.
- Use your reaction to the purpose and work of each NGO to help you determine which sustainability degrees and career paths might be a good fit for you.
Volunteer at an NGO
Volunteer your time at an NGO to:
- Test theories being taught in school.
- Gain personal experience that allows you to add anecdotes to essays, theses or dissertations.
- Help you determine if you value sustainability work enough to switch to a sustainability major or to add a sustainability component to the major you’re already pursuing.
How could you invest your time at an NGO? Here’s just one example. In 2013, Namita Shete, an MBA student at Kent Business School in England, collaborated with the NGO Rare to conduct a market viability study to determine if a social media workshop could improve public support for this NGO’s conservation programs. Her studies showed that the organization’s staff both wanted and needed such a workshop, which Rare subsequently developed.
How to Get Involved with NGOs on and off Campus
Many universities do not have programs that allow students to work with NGOs, but most are open to suggestions. There may be a way to help your school set up a program if one does not already exist.
If your institution doesn’t have an NGO program yet, find a university that does have such a program and do some research. Or find a NGO you are particularly drawn to, ask if they work with university students and have them give you tips on how to approach your school. Here are some resources to help you.
- NGO Café: This online cafe lets you hang out with people working with NGOs and learn what it’s like. You can ask questions and may be able get tips on connecting your university with a NGO student program.
- University of Berkeley’s NGO Library: This extensive list of NGOs includes descriptions and contact information, and allows you to conduct custom searches.
Universities that have established programs include:
- Duke University (Durham, North Carolina) has a program called DukeEngage that gives undergraduates immerse summer service experiences in local, national and international NGOs. Projects include installing clean-burning stoves in Peru, working on environmental issues with grassroots NGOs in India or Jordan and working with women’s social justice and advocacy organizations in New York City.
- Northwestern University’s (Chicago, Illinois) Global Engagement Studies Institute sends students to work with the Foundation for Sustainable Development in Bolivia, India, Nicaragua and Uganda. Student receive training, then collaborate with an interdisciplinary team to design and implement a sustainable community development project. When they return, they take part in a reflection summit where they process their experiences.
- The University of Maryland’s (College Park, Maryland) Global Philanthropy Program connects students with the Grameen Foundation’s “Bankers Without Borders” projects, which help connect the poor in India to their potential.
Enhancing Your Education with NGOs
These suggestions and resources can help you get started on what could be one of the most valuable experiences of your life. NGOs tend to dominate the field of sustainability, so working with them can help you decide whether to continue with a sustainability major, or choose a different major with a sub-focus on sustainability. Either way, your exposure to NGOs will be worth the time you spend.