Scholarship Series: Daniel’s recap of his foreign policy internship
For my experience with The Intern Group, I completed a foreign policy internship with a data analysis company called Northraine in Richmond, Melbourne. My mentor was Martin Kemka, the company’s co-founder, as well as the co-founder of WeTeachMe, a startup which links professionals with learners in locally organized classes teaching a variety of different courses. During the six weeks I spent at Northraine, I focused on a topical subject in British politics: cutting the foreign aid budget in order to plug the gap in healthcare funding.
Daily tasks at my internship abroad
I collected a wide range of data, as well as taking into account the ethical, technical and political implications of cutting foreign aid. I’ve also spoken to a few key actors in the debate during my research. I had a number of private sessions with Martin where he kindly pointed me in the right direction on the reliability of certain datasets, as well as showing me some of the modelling techniques he has used in his own projects for Northraine e.g. image classification models.
New insights that I gained about foreign aid through my foreign policy internship abroad
While I started off completely opposed to the idea of cutting foreign aid, there were many aspects which arose during the course of my research that had not occurred to me before. I will be putting my work online shortly, but there are a number of key points that I’ll outline here.
1. The first is the inherent difficulties contained within any analysis on the effectiveness of foreign aid. Even with the help of public enquiries commissioned by Parliamentary Select Committees, as well as investigations conducted by independent organizations such as the ICAI, whether aid ‘works’ is still highly contested, even in its most fundamental objectives.
2. My second major realization was just how complicated the structure of aid, or ‘overseas development assistance’, actually is. In recent years funding has been redirected towards departments with aims oriented towards promoting the ‘national interest’ as opposed to the more straightforward aim of poverty relief – e.g. towards the Foreign Commonwealth Office and Ministry of Defence, and away from DfID (Department for International Development), which still takes the majority of the overall share.
3. Third, and related to this, is just how few of the nuances in the foreign aid debate are making it through to general public discourse. This point has been highlighted by a number of Parliamentary Select Committees in particular on international development, which have strongly suggested that DfID has had somewhat of a PR problem, and is often damagingly sensitive to sensationalist headlines in some of its decisions to cut funding to certain projects.
The NHS faces clear and obvious challenges in funding for the next twenty years, in mental health, social care, cancer research, recruitment and geographical inequalities of service. But ultimately, the dichotomy of Foreign Aid Vs NHS set up by a number of key politicians, journalists and commentators on the right of British politics is a misleading one: it is not a zero-sum game. If we are to look abroad for an example, Sweden spends significantly more in both areas than the UK as a proportion of its Gross National Income.
It can’t be overlooked too that many who have put forward the argument to cut foreign aid as a quick-fix solution to the NHS funding crisis have tended to be those who harbour fundamental criticisms of universal healthcare provision anyway. Where all these arguments tie in with data analysis is that in both cases the collection of reliable data has proved very difficult. Quantifying the funding needs for mental health is an obvious example, while the areas in which foreign aid is most needed around the world tend to be the places with less developed infrastructure and less means for monitoring effective aid use. The most prominent critics of state funded foreign aid (e.g. Martin Foreman, Dambisa Moyo and William Easterly) have also submitted strong challenges to statistics meriting ODA as a key factor in economic growth in developing countries – citing aid instead as having an incidental, or even detrimental, contribution.
I’ll be putting my work online in the near future, and overall it’s been an amazing experience working with Martin and the team at Northraine and WeTeachMe for my foreign policy internship abroad.
Interested in enhancing your resume with a foreign policy internship abroad? Apply now for an international government internship.
Photo 1. by Daniel Coleman
Photo 2. by Daniel Coleman