The Covid workplace has changed the way we think about office productivity. It is now clear that we have many of the tools at our disposal to manage large parts of our jobs remotely. So while Covid has all but halted the flow of international interns to our fair shores, many internship programs are experimenting with virtual models which enable student interns to work from across the globe.
What types of work can you expect from a virtual intern? Quite a lot, actually. Intern tasks can include, but are not limited to:
In other words, a virtual intern can do most tasks an in-person intern would normally do, except fieldwork. If they can do the work from a laptop, they can work for you.
Some NPOs may be hesitant to take on foreign nationals in internship positions for fear that they would be depriving a deserving young South African an employment opportunity that would offer them training and work experience. However, South African and foreign interns typically belong to very different kinds of programs, fulfilling different purposes and carrying different expectations. It is important that local interns receive a stipend so as not to privilege students who can afford to work for free. Even if they are working virtually and will not have to pay for transport, they will likely incur data and airtime costs to be able to do their work. Compensating them for their time and resources, while offering them mentorship and work experience, is an important step in helping alleviate the incredibly high unemployment rate experienced by young adults in South Africa.
With foreign interns, stipends or compensation is rarely expected, and complex visa requirements will make paying them nearly impossible. Instead, many American universities offer their students the opportunity to study or intern abroad as a way to earn university credit. Increasingly, this is becoming an expectation, if not a requirement, for their degree programs. These interns are likely being supervised and graded as part of their internship programme, which can incentivize a stronger commitment to the work.
Both models are worthy. One is about uplift; the other, about institutional collaboration. Your organisation needs to decide its priorities and needs. Consider a model where you pair a local intern with an international one, offering them the opportunity to work together on a task remotely. The cultural exchange can be beneficial to them both, while producing much-needed assistance to your NPO.