Making change for the better

Nia Kamau ’22
Tower Scholar Nia Kamau ’22 in Washington, D.C.

Tower Scholar Nia Kamau ’22 spent the summer in Washington, D.C., where she interned with a nonprofit, studied economics and public policy and learned from innovative leaders helping trafficked and exploited people and communities recover and flourish. Kamau, a double major in human rights and international studies, talks about how those experiences inspire “thinking outside the box about solutions targeting the developing world” in this SMU Tower Center blog post.

Through the Hatton Sumners Fellowship, I traveled to Washington, D.C., this summer and interned with The Market Project (TMP), an NGO that supports the economic empowerment and trauma healing processes of victims of exploitation and trafficking. As the communications and development intern, I produced TMP’s 2020 annual report, two grant applications and six months of social media content. Working on these different projects allowed me to develop various skills. For example, TMP’s mission overlaps with several communities, from the business community to the development and policy communities, which each use specific definitions and worldviews. While working on various messaging projects, I learned how to bring these different worlds together using effective communications strategies. Drawing from my SMU research experiences with Voices of SMU, I conducted interviews with our local leaders in Uganda and wrote six stories for the communications team. TMP also provided me with experience navigating the complexities of expanding a young NGO. I specifically worked with TMP’s executive director to initiate relationships with 20 universities.

Nia Kamau ’22
Nia Kamau ’22 (second from left) enjoys downtime with other summer interns.

In addition to these tasks focused on operating a nonprofit, I also learned how to manage an international, community-focused business. TMP founded a business in Northern Uganda, an area decimated by years of civil war. The business intentionally employs survivors of trafficking, child soldiers and vulnerable youth. I interacted multiple times a week with the Ugandan managers and employees over Zoom. This experience was incredibly valuable because even though I was based in Washington, D.C., I learned how to navigate intercultural leadership and communication through these regular calls. I also learned how to manage a business focused on empowering its employees and community, rather than only creating profit.

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One of the most transformative parts of my internship with The Market Project was working directly with Executive Director Dorothy Taft. Taft intentionally mentored me and drew from her own experience of 17 years as a Congressional chief of staff and as a director for the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) to encourage my interests in policymaking. We discussed topics such as what it was like to be a foreign policy leader on the Hill during the Rwandan genocide. She offered practical advice on maintaining mental and emotional resilience in the human rights field. Learning from her life experiences has equipped me to feel more prepared to handle the trials and complexities of international human rights work.

In addition to The Market Project, I was also involved in an intern program called The Fund for American Studies (TFAS). I took two summer classes through George Mason University and TFAS, one on economics and public policy and the other on the history of U.S. foreign policy. These classes helped provide an intellectual foundation and historical understanding for my hands-on work with The Market Project. I also attended TFAS-organized career information sessions, where I met with USAID foreign service officers, United States Institute of Peace staff and a director for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. At the end of the summer, I was honored to be one of the student speakers at the closing TFAS ceremony.

Nia Kamau ’22
Nia Kamau ’22 in the Library of Congress.

One of my biggest takeaways from this internship class and networking experiences was how to analyze different theories of social change and the philosophies and assumptions behind them. TMP takes a unique approach to development. Their theory of change is that work gives people purpose, community, and financial security; therefore, having a healthy workspace is a necessary component of healing for survivors of trauma. They focus on creating business structures that can support a large number of employees and meet local market needs. This approach is different from other economic development strategies that focus on small businesses, microloans and teaching specific trades such as hairdressing and carpentry. My time with TMP encouraged me to follow their example in “thinking outside the box about solutions targeting the developing world.”

I am so grateful for the support of the Tower Center and the Hatton Sumners Foundation for making this experience possible.