In Fall 2020, the Department of Business Law at the ZHAW School of Management and Law launched the International NGO Law and Policy Project (INLPP). Eleven students, working under the direction of Dr. Alexandra Dufresne, provided legal, policy, research, advocacy, fundraising and communications services to NGOs working in Switzerland, Europe, Africa and North America.
Clients included the Global Detention Project, Asylos, the Resilient Civic Design Collective, New Women Connectors, IRIS, and the HUMOCSM lab at ETH’s Chair of Logistics Management, among others. Clients work in a wide diversity of areas, from refugee services to international human rights to community and economic development.
NGO leaders have to be flexible, versatile, culturally competent, excellent at teamwork, and strong under pressure. The mix of work of the INLPP was designed to give students exposure to the wide range of skills necessary in NGO work. Their work ranged from intensive legal, policy and human rights research, to communications and fundraising research, to assistance with international conferences, training materials, board recruitment and website design. Students worked in small teams serving three clients each. They worked an average of 3-5 hours per week – independently, with the director, and directly with clients.
The INLPP was also designed to give students experience in a wide diversity of work cultures. Video conference technology made it easy to meet with clients across Europe and in the United States. Research was conducted in German, French, Italian and English, but all client communications and large group meetings were conducted in English. All-INLPP meetings gave students the chance to reflect on challenges, including time management and cultural differences in communication and problem solving.
Students reported that the INLPP work was intense – and sometimes difficult to balance with other work and study obligations – but absolutely worth it. Some comments:
“I enjoyed working with international organizations, which introduced me to a totally different area of law. We were obliged to think outside our typical ‘business law’ box and faced solutions, obstacles as well as successes which we probably wouldn’t have crossed in our careers.”
“Usually, all the work or cases we process are imaginary or precedents from the past, but in the INLPP, we could do actual work in the present. Working with real clients gave me extra motivation to finish my tasks and made it interesting and rewarding by seeing that somebody appreciates your input and work. “
“ The thing I enjoyed most was that we were able to work with real clients and get a little insight of the day-to-day work of a legal expert. It was a totally different learning atmosphere which I really enjoyed, since I learned much faster doing my research and preparing it for the clients than I would have with lectures. “
“By working independently or in small groups, I had to think outside
the box and to apply innovative approaches while working with NGO clients. INLPP has helped me to grow in my mindset. It further equipped and improved my flexibility skills, pragmatism, coordination and stress management. This experience has further helped me to foster my interdisciplinary and interpersonal skills around teamwork and leadership, which is indispensable for this module.
“The significant amount of gratitude, which our clients have shared with us for our work and contribution, makes me proud, fostered the willingness to go the extra mile, and fills me with humility. I could really feel that all our effort pays off. “
Deep appreciation for the students’ work
NGO clients, in turn, praised and expressed deep appreciation for the students’ work. Particularly during COVID-19, when many NGOs are under intense financial pressure and do not have the staff resources to achieve all of their goals, the INLPP’s clients expressed gratitude for the students’ excellent work. Several clients offered ZHAW students career advice and networking support in the future. In turn, the INLPP expresses its deep appreciation to the many clients who “took a chance” on working with a brand new project, and who were unfailingly generous and supportive of our students.
The INLPP is pleased to announce that many clients, old and new, have lined up for the INLPP in February 2021. If you are a ZHAW alumnus or alumna and you work at a NGO that is interested in working with the INLPP, please get in touch with Dr. Dufresne at firstname.lastname@example.org