Interview – Maggie McLoughlin, Communications and Outreach intern for the UN World Food Programme
Internships are one of the best ways to get a feel for whether humanitarian aid work is right for you, and to build your resume to help you get your first job. Maggie McLoughlin is the Communications and Outreach intern for the United Nations World Food Programme office in Washington, DC. She helps the Communications team develop interest in solving global hunger, especially among students and teachers. Here she talks about her role as an intern at the world’s largest humanitarian agency.
Nick: What is your background, and what got you interested in working in the humanitarian field?
Maggie: I come from a graphic design background but always had an interest in social justice issues. As a result, I focused on learning technical design skills in undergraduate school and gaining practical skills through internships in the social service area. I got interested in the humanitarian sector after working with refugees who were resettled in the U.S. Now I am interested in the root causes of some of the challenges they faced, including hunger. This has spurred me to my current internship at the World Food Programme (WFP), where I help people understand hunger issues and connect to those affected by hunger.
Nick: What does a typical day look like for you?
Maggie: I assist the communications team, helping them increase awareness of hunger and maintain a constant dialogue with our online communities. With a 24 hour news cycle, the WFP communications team is always working to stay connecting to our supporters, produce new content, and respond to breaking stories. As an intern, I support these efforts by drafting tweets and facebook posts, crafting web stories and coming up with effective ways to educate people about hunger. It’s exciting to be a part of the community, often of young individuals, who are interested in solving hunger. At the same time, it can be a challenge to find new ways to help people translate interest into action. Luckily, WFP has some great tools, like Freerice, our online game to fight hunger, that make it easy and fun for people to make a difference.
Nick: How did you get your first job (or internship) in this field?
Maggie: Sometimes working with international populations doesn’t require you going abroad. Before I had the ability to travel, I started in the field by interning with a refugee resettlement agency; helping refugees get the materials they need, including food, to rebuild their lives in the U.S. This was a powerful experience for me and started the process to where I am today. Eventually, I worked full-time in communications for a refugee resettlement agency. These experiences helped me understand where I wanted to be and what was required of different positions, such as World Food Programme field officers. As a result, I am now pursuing a graduate degree in Public Health and attending a program where I can travel abroad to improve my understanding of humanitarian issues. This helped me get my internship with WFP, where need to have to have both an organizational understanding of humanitarian operations and technical knowledge of food security.
The process to work in this sector can be a challenge, as there is no straight forward career path and internships are usually unpaid. I would encourage students to be flexible with details, but focused on the big picture. I had high expectations coming out of undergraduate school for a full time position with standard salary. However, my first full-time job at a resettlement agency was through AmeriCorps, not something that I anticipated, but nonetheless, an important experience. Also, pursue to as many support mechanisms as possible, including community service grants and internship stipends, if available. These benefits usually require time consuming online searches and applications, but are well worth the effort. Additionally, interested students shouldn’t hesitate to reach out to those individuals already working in the sector. As I have found at WFP, people are usually happy to extend advice and tell about relevant resources for getting started in the field.
Nick: What other advice do you have for anyone looking to get into this field?
Maggie: Languages! Take any opportunity to learn multiple languages, as this invariably will support you in international work. Also, try your best to stay connected to international issues. At WFP, my day usually starts with scanning the major newspapers for news about hunger issues. There is a constant stream of innovation as people are generating new ideas for tackling old issues. Some key resources, like WFP’s Hunger Feed, can help you stay up to date on what is working and what isn’t. This helps you come to the table with fresh ideas and an eye for collaborative processes. Another way you can stay competitive is by developing a relevant online social media profile. At WFP, we are always looking for interns that are engaging in hunger issues through Twitter and Facebook.