"My graduate internship experience at Development Pathways Limited" - blog post by PhD student Gbenga A. Shadare
In early summer of 2017, Sociological Studies PhD student Gbenga A. Shadare was awarded a PREP (Postgraduate Researcher Experience Programme) Bursary by the University to undertake graduate internship at Developmental Pathways Limited (DPL). DPL is a leading international development consulting organisation headquartered in the UK. Their business operations are mostly in the developing countries of Africa, Latin America, Asia, Oceania and the Pacific, Australia and the Caribbean. They consult mainly for national governments on the design and implementation of social protection programmes and social policy projects and policies. The head office, based in Orpington, Kent, is headed by Dr Stephen Kidd and Mrs Talah Omran. The company has a technical operations office in Kenya, and also maintains research outposts in Uganda, Bangladesh and Fiji Islands.
In a new blog post below, Gbenga discusses the value of his time spent with Development Pathways Limited.
On my first day at DPL, I was warmly welcomed by all the staff. I felt at ease immediately and enjoyed a good rapport with everyone. DPL graciously provided me with a working laptop (which I was allowed to take home during the period of internship) and gave me some materials to read. I later had a chat with Stephen (Kidd) and Juliet (Attenborough) to agree on some deliverables. The first day was so exciting and exhilarating as I sat glued to my seat for over five hours reading and making notes. I was extremely elated. The atmosphere at DPL was truly and really great; I felt very much at home. My first assignment was to comment/respond to a publication titled: “Anti-Social Registries: How have they become so popular?” authored by Dr Kidd that was about to be published. I did a quick response that was adjudged very good. The blog was recently published.
During my internship I was mentored by the founder/Senior Social Policy Analyst (Dr Stephen Kidd), the Deputy CEO (Mrs Talah Omran) and the Senior Social Policy Analyst (Ms. Juliet Attenborough), who was my direct boss. Juliet also co-ordinates DPL’s projects in Fiji Islands and the Pacific. I worked twice a week on different days so I could have a varied experience. Occasionally, I worked three days in a week. Interestingly, I was assigned a few projects including an article titled: ‘Is Nigeria’s social protection on the cusp of transformation?’. The article is a 3-part piece that I wrote and of which the first part has been published. In addition, I was asked to develop a concept note and do a preliminary write-up on: ‘The role of social services/social work in social protection systems’. This paper is part of the new project DPL is embarking upon. I participated in DPL’s weekly technical briefings (which usually takes place on Thursdays) that brings the entire team together. The technical meeting is an informal colloquium through which staff present existing, or completed assignments to the entire DPL team. These meetings afford the opportunity to have a grasp of how DPL works. Staff are able to offer and contribute their ideas and these are then incorporated into the final output. Also, staff in remote locations are able to participate in these meetings via Skype. The technical meetings are good laboratories of ideas and insights on social policy. I learn a lot from these meetings, and I usually look forward to attending them. I also had an opportunity to make my presentation to the house (especially regarding my trip to Brussels and the work we are doing with Africa@Sheffield and AAPoRG); and, I got very useful feedback from most of the members of the team. Naturally, I also benefitted from presentations from other members of the team. In my paper on the role of social work in social protections systems, I proposed a typology/model of how the intersections of social work /social services and social protection systems (understood as informal welfare arrangements) operate in developing countries/underdeveloped welfare contexts. I also suggested a project titled “Interrogating social accountability in social protection”, where I had the opportunity to contribute to the preparatory work and the literature review that the company will publish later in the year.
My experience at DPL enabled me to understand the difference between the theory and practice of social protection and, importantly, how social protection policy works in practice. I have also come to understand how to prepare documentation for a bid and utilize terms of reference (TOR). Additionally, the internship gave me insights into the financial aspect of the international development consulting business and how financial costing are done for different aspects of a particular project with the goal of maximising returns on investment and keeping operational costs low. I observed how DPL conducts its business right from the moment ‘invitations to bid’ are received, right through the process of actively working on a particular bid, including how to strategise for specific projects once a bid has been won. This process continues throughout the year and the duration of specific projects also differs. For example, DPL have been working on some projects for seven years. During my internship, DPL was invited to submit a couple of new bids; but, I had the opportunity to support the in-house work on a particular bid (by the EU/DFID) on the implementation of Ghana’s National Social Protection Policy. The company is submitting a unified bid with another reputable firm. My specific task on this bid was: preparation of the situation analysis on Ghana. Some DPL’s senior policy analysts supported me throughout the process and this enabled me to experience in reality the complicated and challenging nature of completing a bid for a major project. I discovered that preparing a bid for an international consulting assignment is not as straightforward as it appears. The Terms of Reference (TOR) of every bid requires painstaking work, which entails detailed, strategic elements that must be broken down into specific parts in line with the TOR. DPL, to carry out its projects, maintains a database of external consultants from which they can pool professionals to work on specific projects. This ensures that every project is executed according to its specific requirements.
On a social side, DPL pulled a surprised birthday party for me. I was serenaded with gifts and cakes. We also had a few drinks. It was touching and I felt valued. I also attended a few social events that stood out for me: the first, was the Summer BBQ at Dr Kidd’s family home in Kent on a Sunday afternoon in August; which was very interesting. I met DPL staff from the Kenyan office and their families. The second: was a day trip to two wineries in Kent (see picture below) where we had opportunity to learn of the impressive growth of UK’s Winery sector and also saw how wines and ciders are brewed. We visited vineyards and heard of the fears of many companies about the implications of Brexit on temporary farm workers many of whom come from Europe. Finally, there was a wine tasting event that was organised at a couple of wineries around Kent. I had the opportunity of meeting two of DPL’s independent consultants and chatted with them on a range of illuminating topics. Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed my time at DPL and I felt like part of the DPL family. The company also sponsored an end-of-the-month lunch day out for all the staff in August to catch up with one another, especially those that work outside the UK.
Development Pathways Limited is a learning organisation, opened to contributions from other institutions, organisations and consultants. This culture allows them to cross-fertilise, share and broaden their horizons. I am convinced that this is what has made DPL a major contributor in the area of knowledge production particularly on social protection and social policy; they also have very rich resource and knowledge base. It is a very practical organisation when it comes production of new knowledge. This is perhaps due to the fact that their target audience are mostly policy makers and administrators and practitioners; this influences the nature and content of their publications and work. The highlight of my time at this company is to see how everyone at DPL is constantly on the cutting-edge of new ideas and are always learning, and improving themselves about emerging developments in the field of social protection/social policy. Judging by the volume of materials/articles that I was required to read during my time there, and, coupled with the work carried out on existing publications; I now find it easier and flexible to increase my work rate. I will rate DPL as a highly professional organisation; a thoroughbred learning organisation with a with an informal structure but one which suits them perfectly. DPL is a well-structured intellectual powerhouse that fosters creativity, imagination and excellence and I loved every bit of it!
I would recommend a period of internship in a suitable company to my fellow doctoral researchers at the University because it will give them practical insights that they otherwise cannot learn or receive in any other way. My experience also affirms the fact that personal development is an ongoing process that is not limited to the academic environment only. DPL is a highly professional organisation committed to learning and transformative development practice especially in developing countries; and, in the future I would love to work in a similar company that combines both academic/non-academic knowledge environment which engenders and nurture creative imagination and excellence.