Reflections of an Intern


Over a month ago, I officially joined PADF as the new climate change research intern, and since then, it’s been a whirlwind of activity. Exposure to new people, new cultures, and new ideas, coupled with a plethora of new projects to work on, along with a smorgasbord of new circumstances that I’m encountering for the very first time in this early part of my career.


Luckily, working in international development, especially in issues related to the environment and climate change, has been my professional aspiration ever since completing my master’s degree in international public policy in the summer of 2021. This internship so far has been an invigorating intellectual exercise in applying some of my already developed skills while learning new skills at the same time.  


Writing research reports was something I was already well-versed with, yet the working space I was immersed in for the past five or so odd years was entirely within the world of academia. Now that I’m here at a non-profit directly engaged in organizational policy development, I have found that this fundamental paradigm shift has challenged my previous worldview, and I now need to be more aware of the nitty gritty details and contextual bits that are unique to PADF as an organization. From where I stand now, looking at the world from this different angle, naturally, things are a lot more complicated than I previously thought.  


When I was still a student, my approach to identifying solutions for real world issues was based on what can be done, where it can be done, and why it should be done, with little consideration for how it should be done. For example, on a previous research project, I proposed that Canada currently has substantial room for growth in the renewable energy sector, and that such growth would be good for the economy and long-term sustainable development. What I didn’t consider was who to engage and how to mobilize the resources and manpower to achieve such a goal. At the time, such a research project didn’t require that level of technical depth, but with my experience with PADF, I’m now more aware of things such as the process of securing funding, the regulations involved, the multiple levels of oversight required from different organizations, and the minutiae of logistical inputs, capacities, and time commitments needed to even get a project off the ground.  


What it really boils down to is the intersection between lofty idealism and realistic pragmatism. There are a lot moving parts to be aware of within any organization engaged in international development, and this element of constant, dynamic change is what makes dealing with environmental issues, specifically, so rewarding. It satisfies my innate urge as an academic to learn more about the world, at the same time as trying to find solutions to complex problems.  And that’s been reflected in the contributions I’ve been able to make so far, with the diverse range of projects that I’ve been working on.  


The bulk of my work has been helping PADF develop their Climate Action Plan, ironing out the initiatives geared toward reducing the organization’s carbon footprint, as well as figuring out realistic timelines and goals based on emissions data recorded from previous years. Aside from that, I’ve been tackling smaller research projects on topics such as circular economy strategies in Latin America and the Caribbean, blockchain in the Brazilian cattle industry, and most recently, extractive resources and sustainable production. I’ve also had the chance to dabble in new business development by searching out opportunities for strategic alignment between other organizations and PADF, as well as contributed a fair share to public media like webpage content or, namely, blog posts.  


Overall, my experience with PADF as a research intern so far has certainly been enrichingly varied, and with this continually diverse range of projects that I’ve been involved with, it has kept me constantly stimulated and engaged. I can say that looking over my progress, working in a non-profit has met my expectations and then exceeded them. It’s a different world compared to high politics or academia, and in many ways, the actual impacts of my contributions have been more tangible and meaningful.  


The people I’ve spoken to and worked with at PADF have all been welcoming, and there’s a certain warmth that can be felt regardless of virtual spaces and physical distance, even as I work remotely from Canada, that I imagine can’t be found in a typical corporate environment. My first foray into the professional world has been more wholesome than I ever anticipated, and with PADF, what I’ve come away with is that everyone is deeply motivated to enact some real change in the world. And that is the most important lesson I’ve learned up to this point; what people say as opposed to what people do.  


Politics is about positioning issues to elevate them to a general consensus, whereas policy is about taking the resources and the people needed to deal with those issues. Broken down to the most practical scale, PADF, and the non-profit sector as a whole, are really on the front lines of international development. Change doesn’t happen overnight, of course, but with the organization’s resources, goals, and plans, change is slow and steady, which I think is the most realistic way to achieve success. Not by leaps and bounds, but in the little steps and the small victories. 


I certainly didn’t join PADF with the expectation that I could change the entire world, but I can say that I am doing my part, no matter how small, in making it a better place. 

Alexander Pham