Leiden University logo.

nl en

Internship story: Maartje’s contribution to installing a special UN rapporteur on Democracy

Maartje Mensink, a third-year International Studies student with a focus on East Asia and Mandarin, shares her journey into the world of global democracy advocacy. Maartje recounts her experience with the NGO Democracy Without Borders (DWB), an organization that seeks to make the United Nations (UN) more democratic and representative. It has offices all over the world, filled with over 100 volunteers, but its headquarters, where Maartje was engaged, are based in Berlin.

During the free space of her third year, Maartje fulfilled an internship at DWB where she worked on a project researching the need for of installing a UN Special Rapporteur on Democracy. She chose this topic because she wanted to work on something UN-related, of which no academic research has been done. Her work over the last semester focused on finding out how much potential installing a special rapporteur has exactly, in the case of a 'contentious' topic such as democracy. This meant performing research and conducting interviews with people within the UN, professors, ex-Special Rapporteurs, and NGOs. Her research culminated in a 25-page policy brief that outlines the proposal.

The most essential part of this was to establish the argument that the UN has over the decades been an adamant supporter of Democracy (even though they in technicality claim they are objective in relation to their member states' domestic political systems) which meant a lot of digging through UN archives of resolutions, and that democracy is a human right.

The project is now being finalized with an expert roundtable discussion that Maartje has had the privilege of organizing and moderating. Her policy brief has now been published on the DWB website and the campaign is being set up, as she continues to work for the organisation as an associate. Maartje's work over the last semester could result in something that can potentially shape global democracy advocacy.

Maartje is most proud of the fact that she was able to mean something for this small NGO, that the work she did really could make a change, and that it will be included in DWB's lobbying agenda. She is also extremely proud of the policy brief she wrote and the contribution she made to the academic field by summarising the knowledge of so many experts, adding in her own arguments and putting a new proposal out into the world, that had not been made before. 

Maartje's internship was mainly performed online, which meant she had to brush up on her time management skills. It was also the first time she was in contact with so many people in the field, which taught her a lot about how to conduct herself in the professional sphere. The editorial process of her policy brief was enlightening as everything had to be in line with the official stance of DWB. The most remarkable thing she learned was not necessarily a tangible skill but rather a newfound respect and understanding for the passion and effort that so many people, at DWB, and the NGOs she was in contact with, put into their work every day.

Maartje's regional knowledge of East Asia did not play a part in her internship, but the research and writing skills she gained in International Studies and the FGGA honours college were called on every single day and formed her final policy brief to be what it is.

Maartje found her internship through simply googling English speaking NGOs within Berlin, since she really wanted to move there, and found a Wikipedia page full of them showed up. DWB did not have any internship openings on their website, but she took a shot and emailed the Executive Director to ask something could be arranged, and that’s how it worked out. She really wanted to take this opportunity to work for a NGO, as it would be a very valuable professional experience. All volunteers of DWB are doing their work on a volunteer, and therefore unpaid, basis, and Maartje really admired that they are able to combine the NGO work with a full-time job. "I really wanted to take this opportunity now to learn something from a group of such committed and passionate people and help the organisation and their goals forward."

A final tip she wants to give everyone looking for an internship is to start looking early! And do not just limit yourself to official internship postings of organisations, take the initiative and reach out. Although smaller NGOs often do not have the capacity to post internship opportunities, they are more than happy to take someone on the team, and it is much more fun to get to know everyone! It gives you a lot more opportunities to work together with the leadership and get to know people better which creates an internship experience that you can really get something out of and grow as a researcher and as a person. More importantly, your contribution, even if it is only 3 - 6 months can help small organizations tremendously and therefore make a real impact! 

This website uses cookies.  More information.