My internship experience at InZone
by Alexandre Gosselin
My name is Alexandre Gosselin. I am a Dual Degree Candidate in the Master of Innovation, Human Development & Sustainability offered by the University of Geneva and the University of Tsinghua of Beijing China. As part of this academic program, students are required to complete an internship with an organization of the Geneva International community. The aim of the exercise is for students to get a chance to put into practice what they learned in their degrees in regard to sustainable human development. I did my internship with the InZone Center of the University of Geneva, under the supervision of Jose Luis Fernandez-Marquez, professor at the University of Geneva, and Thierry Agagliate, Executive Director at InZone. In the following lines, I will share my internship experience. I hope it will inspire other students to collaborate with InZone or to get involved in a similar professional experience.
January:Onboarding & introduction to the project
Over January, I was introduced to InZone and to the concep tof the project I would be working on over the upcoming months as a co-facilitator, the Uvumbuzi Tech Challenge. As you probably know, InZone is a research and project center operating under the auspices of the University of Geneva.The organization provides higher education resources incontext of low-resources environments, mainly refugee camps. At the moment, the organization is active in Kakuma Refugee Camp of Kenya and Azraq Refugee Camp of Jordan.
In January we launched the preparation of the Uvumbuzi Tech Challenge. In short, the project aims to develop a new engineering course offering for refugees in Kakuma and Kalobeyei based on the interests of these students. Over the course of a two-month program, beneficiaries identify and document problems in their community that could be solved through technological solutions, and through a process of innovation, design, and co-creation,they bring their project to life. At the same time, InZone is documenting the process and developing an engineering course according to the areas o finterest expressed by the participants of the challenge. It is important to mention that, as this is the first edition of theproject, most resources had to be created from scratch. Luckily, we benefit from a dynamic network of collaborators developed by InZone, internationally.
February: academic research
While we continued to develop the concept and structure of the project, I also used my time in February to conduct a literature review. To better understand the project and the work of InZone from an academic perspective, I tried to explore three different concepts that were closely related to my internship, namely the "paradox of permanent temporariness", higher education in refugee camps, and the benefits of bottom-up and problem-based education for our global aid system.
Refugee camps are defined as "places where people whohave escaped their own country can live, usually in badconditions and only expecting to stay for a limited time". This is not only a definition, but it is also a way to conceive our global aid system. As camps are supposed to be temporary, which is extremely far from the current reality of most camps around the world, it is hard to mobilize resources for programs with development-oriented objectives.
In 2019, 3.7 million refugee children were out of school. For the same year, the refugee enrollment rate in higher education was 3% compared to 37% globally. The literature shows that in refugee camps, the demand is way higher than the offer for higher education. In its Refugee Education 2030 plan, the UNHCR aims to increase refugees' enrollment in higher education to 15%. However, policies surrounding camps are imposing a vast range of technical challenges impeding the potential economic and social benefits of refugees.
The final point I researched concerns the benefits of bottom-up and problem-based education. In a nutshell, the innovative capacity of communities affected by conflict andcrisis is often overlooked. We struggle to engage in an aid system that emphasizes a bottom-up approach to aid ,which is why it's important to have programs like the Uvumbuzi Tech Challenge that focus on giving leadershipto affected communities.
March: The Uvumbuzi Tech Challenge Training Series
The month of March was dedicated to the Uvumbuzi TechChallenge Training Series. Knowing that the project requires refugees in Kakuma and Kalobeyei to collaborate with engineering students from Kenyan and French universities, it was essential to ensure that the refugees involved in the project mastered some basic skills related todesign thinking, the research process, and prototyping. So we held a series of four online webinars covering these topics in depth.
April: The selection project for the challenge & anunexpected COVID-19 outbreak
In early April, we launched the selection process for thesecond phase of the Uuvmbuzi Tech Challenge. Participants were given the opportunity to apply to one of the six challenge themes:
Therefore, we selected 32 participants from Kakuma and Kalobeyei and 15 from Kenyatta University and IEEE based on a holistic selection criteria grid emphasizing motivation and inclusiveness. In addition, in early April, Kenya was faced with an outbreak of COVID-19, which resulted in the suspension of all educational activities in Kakuma until May 10. We took this opportunity to further prepare our resources for this challenge.
May: The start of the challenge!
When we arrived on May 10, education services were able to restart in Kakuma, so we started the challenge. Week 0 was an onboarding week. During this first week, participants met their team, familiarized themselves with the challenge tools, and began to slowly discuss the problem they would be working on over the next two months. With the exception of a few connectivity issues due to bad weather in Kakuma, the challenge got off to a smooth and dynamic start. During the second week, participants began discussing theempathy phase, defining who is affected by their problemand preparing for the field interviews. In this second week,we saw the participants from Kakuma and Kalobeyei comeout of their shells and become more confident to expressand share their ideas.
Looking back at this internship:
While activities going beyond the first two weeks of the Uvumbuzi Tech Challenge are not yet documented, it is interesting to reflect on the challenges faced and lessons learned through these first few months of internship.
Of course, some challenges encountered throughout the project are not unique to the Uvumbuzi Tech Challenge, nor to InZone's work in Kakuma, but are faced by a plurality of factors working in such a context. For example, transportation to the InZone Hub in Kakuma was an issue for many participants coming from far away in the camps to attend trainings. In addition, the issue of connectivity was a challenge. These challenges are not new, but our organization needs to think about how best to mitigate them.
In my analysis, another challenge we faced was assessing the academic level of the participants. Indeed, it is important to fully understand the initial skills of the participants and to track their learning throughout the project in order to 1) provide an educational offering that isacademically appropriate and 2) to best track their learningcurve. Unfortunately, we struggled to assess participants'skills and abilities before and during the challenge, so we were somewhat in the dark about what they know and what they are learning. Another challenge we faced was the language barrier. We realized that some of the participants who attended the Uvumbuzi Tech Challenge trainings did not speak a word of English, even though all our trainings were conducted exclusively in English. We tried to mitigate this problem by emphasizing during the selection process that the project would be conducted in English, but the problem remained. This challenge wa smainly mitigated by strong cooperation among the participants, where some participants acted as translators for others.
I would like to reiterate that I am very grateful to InZone fo rtrusting me in my capacity to participate in the development of this project. Especially in light of the critical challenges currently facing the communities of Kakuma and Kalobeyei, I believe that collaboration on such projects can bring positive results. Therefore, I will continue to work with the organization in the coming months to implement a project that I consider fully sustainable.