Life of an intern in lockdown
In a year like no other, Mariem Ben Maallem tells us about her remote-working internship with EBRD, and the experiences she’s gained from it.
For the past four months, I have had the good fortune to be an intern with the EBRD’s SME Finance and Development Team. It’s been a wonderful opportunity to see first-hand how a large international financial institution like EBRD works, and a unique experience in more ways than one. I imagine I’m the only EBRD intern to have never seen the office, commuted to Liverpool Street Station, or topped-up my EBRD card to buy a delicious meal from Mozart! I wonder if my situation means I’ve become a guinea pig for new working practices in the bank by default?
My journey to EBRD began in 2019 when, as a Chevening Scholar, I began a MSc in Business Innovation with International Technology Management at Birkbeck College, London University. My background working in the Tunisian start-up scene, coupled with my new degree, made me a good candidate when EBRD advertised for a short-term position supporting its Star Venture Programme. The programme is the EBRD’s first advisory programme for high potential start-ups, supporting accelerators and bringing together VC funds and advisory to a host of new challenger enterprises in SEMED and the Western Balkans.
By the time I arrived in October, EBRD had instigated homeworking for the majority of its staff. While my new team in EBRD were already in the eighth month of remote working, it was a new experience for me. As a very social person I was saddened by the idea that remote working would prevent me from working directly, face to face with the team.
The new normal
I was relieved, therefore, that my new team compensated for this strange new set up. Every day at 09:30, we met for ‘coffee sessions’. These varied widely in content, but they allowed me to get to know the people that I work with every day, and better understand the other programmes and projects run by the organisation. The team was supportive and tried to make things easier for me as a newcomer – every effort was made to make me feel at home. In my first two weeks, I met people from different departments and even had one on one sessions with different directors. Remote working seemed to have opened doors for me that maybe would not have been opened before?
Working from home is becoming “normal” now, but even with that, I have been impressed by how hard the bank has worked to look after the individual needs of its employees – whether they’re struggling with kids at home, living and working on their own, or stuck in cramped flats with multiple zoom calls going on. It is providing specific training for this and has ensured that we know we can always turn to our line manager for support.
Working across continents
Working with such an international organisation is very beneficial, especially in terms of getting to know a diversity of cultures and values. It allows one to exchange and share ideas with different players and understand a range of perspectives. This was aligned with my Chevening experience, and meeting with people from across the world allows me to continue growing my network.
As I worked closely with the Star Venture Programme, which is currently operating in the SEMED and the Western Balkans, I gained an understanding of different countries and their enterprises. The programme, especially, gave me the opportunity to work and share with EBRD teams from Jordan, Egypt, Tunisia, Serbia, Kosovo, North Macedonia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro and Albania. Star Venture is dedicated to supporting start-ups, accelerators, and the local ecosystem. They aim to increase economic development, and expand opportunities for new jobs, income growth, and improvements in civil society.
I enjoyed working with this programme because it is initiating changes in countries to promote entrepreneurship and technologies. What I do like and appreciate about such a programme is primarily that it is constantly evolving and improving its support for start-ups across all countries in which Star Venture operates.
Learning and developing
The experience has developed, not only my knowledge of supporting enterprise as a tool of economic growth, but also my world view. I understand now more than ever how collaboration across different cultures and experiences increases synergy, growth, and impact.
What can I say as I close this chapter in the UK? I won the prestigious Chevening scholarship, I met with Cheveners from all over the world, I got my Master’s degree with distinction, and I have worked for a major development bank – without having ever seen it! Ultimately it has been the definitive learning experience. Thank you Chevening!