Experience Interning at the Heights and Minds Foundation
Whitley Schamber RN BN
Master of Science in Global Health candidate, McMaster University (Hamilton, Canada)
Interning at the Heights and Minds Foundation (HMF) has been an excellent experience. From our initial meeting to the end of my internship, Claudia and Sigrid (my practicum supervisors) were beyond supportive and patient with my learning and accommodating to the University requirements.
My main goal entering this internship with HMF was to learn about the elements of an international foundation working in the global south and to discover the non-academic fundamentals required to succeed in this field. Sure enough, over the last ten weeks, the lessons I gained exceeded my learning objectives.
My first assignment to get to know the Foundation and fully understand the HMF concept, mission, and vision to aid my success in this role was to review the website and available documents while providing suggestions and feedback. This activity led to conversations that illuminated the minute aspects of development and critical thinking behind decision-making. In addition, it was rewarding to see that this assignment was also beneficial to the HMF.
Over the following weeks, my main focus was helping develop and enhance the e-learning modules for the MindUp Managers (MUMs). Through utilizing evidence-based research and following international guidelines, the modules came together. This exercise helped develop my cultural awareness, understand the interconnected challenges that underserved communities face, discover a plethora of international tools, and identify gaps in global resources.
Additionally, one of my goals was to learn the process of starting a new MindUp. To my luck, the stars aligned! On my first day, I got to join a new MindUp's first meeting. Then, over the next ten weeks, I followed their journey and learned the critical elements required for initiating a MindUp. Through this experience, my awareness and skills on international funding schemes and approaches grew. In addition, the importance of the finer details to consider with set-up and to find success were also highlighted (such as the importance of community engagement, trust-building, partnership, sustainability, and elements to consider with MindUp locations).
The importance of networking and building connections kept emerging throughout my practicum. Not only was it through networking that I heard of HMF, but throughout this internship, the kindness of the team helped me realize the importance networking has in global development. At all levels of the Foundation, building and utilizing the worldwide networks helped aid in the empowerment and success of the MindUp programs.
As a result of the pandemic, this practicum was solely virtual. The team was very accommodating with the time change difference (as I was in Canada and the Foundation was in the Netherlands). Although it would have been nice to meet the HMF and MindUp teams in person and gain hands-on field experience, what I gained from the virtual nature was not lacking in quality or lessons to be learned.
The highlight of my experience was participating in the virtual meetings with the HMF team and MindUps.
During my weekly meetings with Claudia and Sigrid, they were always present and engaged. I continuously felt valued and heard, as they would consult with me on new and emerging developments in the Foundation. It was exciting and rewarding to see my feedback get incorporated into the programming. In addition, if I ever asked for clarification or to verify the direction I had taken on assignments, they were always supportive to facilitate my understanding.
Furthermore, it was wonderful to partake in the international meetings with the MUMs and MindUp teams. The respect, kindness, and empowering nature of the virtual collaborations across the HMF global network were incredibly inspirational. Even when language was a barrier (and using a translator app), I never felt excluded. Every meeting, I had gained new insights into essential elements that influence the programming success and factors to consider in future collaborations.
Until I was behind the scenes as an intern, I did not appreciate the magnitude of labour and coordination it takes to create and maintain a foundation. I applaud the HMF team, Claudia, Sigrid, Hidde, Melissa, and everyone else, for creating such an empowering foundation while maintaining determination and will to see the Foundation's vision flourish. In addition, I must also applaud the frontline staff at the MindUps, who are supporting the vision to see the MindUp be a vital component to the community through empowering women and seeing children flourish. Your passion is inspiring.
Overall, this experience has not only allowed me to learn the sheer effort, coordination, and teamwork it takes to create a foundation but has also allowed me the opportunity to develop research, international development, and collaboration skills. The past ten weeks have been a fantastic learning opportunity.
To those who are considering an internship with HMF, I would highly recommend it. As shared above, the work environment is very positive and supportive. In addition, there are countless learning opportunities available – therefore, be open to learning to get the most out of your time and flexible with your learning objectives as interesting opportunities you may not foresee many emerge.
To those looking at investing in the HMF and the MindUps, please strongly consider it. The Heights and Minds Foundation values are honourable, and the determination to see it scale is inspiring! The stories of the impacts on families shared by the MUMs are enough to know this Foundation, and the MindUps are a necessary resource.
I look forward to following the expansion of HMF in the upcoming years, watching as more MindUps emerge globally, observing as women and caregivers get empowered, and monitoring the decline in malnutrition rates as children gain tools to reach their full potential.
Thank you for taking the chance on me and hosting a MSc of Global Health student intern.