Alumna-inspired global health internship scheme

Alumna-inspired global health internship scheme

  • Cambridge interns
    Clockwise from left: Cambridge interns meeting with the Director General of the WHO; Ruth Blackshaw (Newnham 2009) at an UN-wide strategic planning meeting; 2016 cohort at the networking reception hosted by a Cambridge alumnus.

The Cambridge Global Health Internship Scheme began nine years ago as a joint venture between the University Careers Service and alumna, Gini Arnold (Girton 1993).

These internships get the student on the inside of international organisations allowing them to see how they work and where they might fit, as well as banking some vital work experience.

The aim was to create opportunities for students to gain practical experience of working in global health organisations. Originally partnering with the World Health Organisation (WHO) in Geneva, the scheme now also offers placements with UN Women in New York, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights in Geneva and EMRO (the WHO Regional Office for the Eastern Mediterranean) in Cairo.

Since the scheme began it has gone from strength to strength, and today almost 300 students have taken part in the initiative, with many going on to hold senior positions in the fields of global health, human rights and international development.

We spoke to alumna Gini Arnold and careers adviser Amanda Norman to find out how it all began.

Gini Arnold

"I have worked at the WHO for 16 years. After Cambridge University and graduate school, I joined as a junior staff member in 2000, and was made a UN diplomat in 2004. I went back to Cambridge in 2009 to do an MBA at the Judge Business School. At the WHO, I have worked on a number of programmes – tuberculosis, tobacco control, drug access, digital health and political affairs."

"Before my undergraduate degree at Cambridge, I spent a gap year living in Nepal. It was there that I became aware of the major global development and health challenges facing low income countries. At Cambridge I was inspired by my professors in anthropology and I focused my undergraduate dissertation on global health. I spent a short time in the city after Cambridge, and after a Masters in International Development, working in banking, but I quickly realised that my real interests were in global health and development."

"After Cambridge I was fortunate to be selected to do a UN internship. I spent a summer working at the UN secretariat in New York. It was through my connections in Nepal and New York that I was made aware of a new partnership on tuberculosis that was being set up in the WHO in Geneva. They were looking for young staff to join the team."

"My internship with the UN Secretariat in New York revealed to me the struggle that recent graduates have in accessing opportunities at the UN. This may be due to cost, networks or knowledge about the opportunities available. Other countries support Junior Professional Officer (JPO) programmes as a way for young professionals to get a foot into the UN system. Unfortunately, the UK has not had a programme for many years."

"I was inspired to start the scheme as a way to encourage young Cambridge graduates to consider a career at the WHO and global health institutions in Geneva. It was important to me that the scheme would have some funding available to participants in order to ensure broader access as this can be one of the main barriers to completing an internship here."

"It was also important to me to involve Cambridge graduates who were already in the UN system as mentors to the incoming interns. This was a way to transfer knowledge of opportunities and to support the University."

"Some interns can have a lonely or relatively unstructured experience considering the huge size of the UN. I believed it was important to create a programme that offered a structured series of seminars that would allow interns to learn about areas of work across the organisation and to build a network of interns that can support each other."

"It was also important to me that adequate time went into matching interns with supervisors and projects, to ensure a correct skills match, and to properly preparing the interns for the experience. These are all crucial elements of the Cambridge Global Health Internship Scheme."

  • Ruth Blackshaw pictured immediately following the agreement of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development by all 193 UN Member
    Ruth Blackshaw (Newnham 2009) pictured immediately following the agreement of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development by all 193 UN Member States, August 2015, New York City.

Amanda Norman

"The scheme began 9 years ago supposedly offering 10 placements, but there was so much interest from students that we sent 15 the first year. Over time the scheme has grown and flourished by word of mouth. This year we had 140 students apply, interviewed 60 and are expecting about 35 students to be offered placements."

"These internships get the student on the inside of international organisations allowing them to see how they work and where they might fit, as well as banking some vital work experience."

"The aim is that the scheme is open to everyone regardless of their financial background. Many participants have received funding from the Careers Service Summer Bursary Scheme and College travel grants."

"The valuable contacts from the scheme also allow us to help PhD students with placements directly related to their area of study, for example those undertaking research into Alzheimer’s disease or malaria. This year one PhD student (who was offered a job as a result of her internship) is offering an internship herself!"

Many former interns have gone on to work for other UN organisations, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO), the Department for International Development (DFID) or development consultancies such as Dalberg. For example Ruth Blackshaw (Newnham 2009) was offered a job at UNAIDs, then a position in New York and is now back at UNAIDs in Geneva."

Cambridge Global Health Internship Scheme alumni

This summer a brand new cohort of interns will take their first steps in the fields of global health, human rights and international development. But what do alumni of the scheme say and where are they now? 

“I would not be where I am today, if it weren't for the opportunity and literal 'foot in the door' that the scheme gave me.”
Grant Manager, FIND, Geneva

“The internship was a crucial step in building my career in international development.”
Research Officer, Water Policy Programme of the Overseas Development Institute (ODI)

“The Cambridge Global Health Internship Scheme provides a fast track to a career in international development.”
International partnerships adviser, Ebola Crisis Unit, Department for International Development

“It was the turning point that defined my future career directions.”
Graduate-entry medicine course, University of Oxford

“The Cambridge Global Health Internship Scheme enabled me to go on to work for UNAIDS and the European Commission and to build up the required work experience to secure a staff position at UNAIDS in New York.”
Technical Officer, UNAIDS, New York

“I can't overstate how valuable my internship on the Cambridge Global Health Internship Scheme was to securing my current position - the Careers Service was instrumental in encouraging me to attempt a career in global health despite my initial lack of clinical and scientific experience….couldn't be more thankful that I applied to the scheme.”
Project & Advocacy Officer, World Heart Federation

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