Public Policy Students Reflect on Their Internships: Shaileshwori Sharma at Minority Rights Group International

September 17, 2015

Sharma spent summer 2015 interning at Minority Rights Group International, an international NGO that partners with organizations in more than 60 countries to promote the interests of disadvantaged minorities and indigenous peoples. During her internship in the London office, Sharma worked primarily on the four-country 'Walk into My Life' pilot project, helping to coordinate activities and reports from Hungary, Spain, Sweden, and UK. She also spent time with the Somali community in Tower Hamlets Borough in London, collecting testimonies using a unique research methodology. "The way it worked," explains Sharma, "is that participants were asked what home means to them, thus sparking an internal thought process of identity and belonging, which they verbalized."

One of the most valuable aspects of Sharma's summer experience took place before the internship began. As part of the OSIRG internship program, students participate in a two-week intensive seminar organized by Open Society Foundations at SPP. "This was a great chance to share ideas and experiences, both as students and as practitioners of human rights and governance," says Sharma.

It was especially valuable for Sharma to see the development of a specific Minority Rights Group International program from its inception. "Pilot programs can provide a lot of insights. When they incorporate a comparative aspect, they illustrate the need for different methodologies that take into account the diversity and hierarchy of the targeted community," she says. Another big lesson she learned this summer related to access. "I looked and was different from the Somalis I wanted to interview in London," says Sharma. "It took me substantial time as an outsider to gain the trust of members of the community."

The most interesting aspect of her OSIRG internship was the chance to use new qualitative methods with diaspora communities. "Interviewing women of different ages whose stories illustrated and – in some cases – contradicted what the literature says was interesting. I was also struck by the fact that although there are differences among diaspora communities, there are also similarities. For instance, Nepal has an increasingly big migrant/diaspora pool that constantly struggles with the question of returning back "home." This same theme came up in each of my interviews as women of different ages talked of going back to Somaliland or Somalia because they felt a need to 'give back'."

Sharma says that her summer internship provided a chance to combine two of her interests: the design of public spaces and work with returnee migrants. "I hope to use some of the skills I have learned to bring out powerful narratives of identity and belonging in Nepal, especially among the ethnic minorities, women, and young girls," she says. Sharma explains that these stories could spark a useful debate and dialogue on the design of public spaces – especially in the current context of Nepali politics.

Sharma didn't have a lot of free time this summer, but she made the most of her first visit to the UK to travel and explore places including Oxford, Cromwell, Yorkshire, and Portsmouth.