How to land an Internship at the International Labour Organisation

The International Labour Organisation (ILO) was created in 1919 and serves as the leading U.N. agency dealing with labour issues. The headquarters of the ILO is located in Switzerland employing some 2,700 officials from over 150 nations at its headquarters in Geneva and in around 40 field offices around the world.

Among these officials, 900 work in technical cooperation programmes and projects.

Here’s what you need to know

The internship program requires you to be enrolled in or have completed a Masters Degree. The work of the ILO is really diverse, so your specialization does not need to be in labour or international policy etc. Take a look at the different departments to see where your interest could lay.

The duration of the internship can be between 3 to 6 months. This usually depends on matters such as funding or whether you will be working on a particular project. It is definitely better to apply for the full 6 months, if you get three months there is an opportunity for extension of your contract.

Brush up your language skills, the main language spoken in Geneva is French and with the three working languages of the ILO being Spanish, French, and English. Having a primary or proficient knowledge of two out of the three will be a great way to get around and will boost your chances of an internship.

We all know that most internships are unpaid, leading a lot of young graduates into debt and dire living circumstances. Fortunately, the ILO pays its interns a stipend which is enough to live in Geneva, subject to a nice and tight budget).

Geneva is one of the most expensive cities to live in but don’t let that be a deterrent. It is doable, despite the fact that everyone loves to remind you how expensive it is. But you are a Motherland mogul, you know how to budget!

Applying for the internship

You can apply for the internship through the ILO generic internship roster, which is published several times per year.The roster will be made available to all departments within the Office. Find the right department! Read up on the different departments and their work to see where your interest lies.

This will help you hone your application to the actual department, the internship experience is considered a learning experience rather than a work experience. You want to be able to get the most out of it so you can build your professional skills in your field.

You can apply to the internship roster and wait to be contacted by a department when an internship position opens up.

Getting there

I hope you got your savings right because of the cost of travel, insurance, and accommodation, as well as living expenses, are your responsibility, as an intern. You gotta pay your own way girl.

Moving can be extremely costly so be prepared to bear those costs. If you can get sponsorship that would be amazing. You really have to think about whether it is worth it and how feasible it actually is.

So Motherland Mogul, is it worth it?

Internships really do have their costs and benefits. And considering moving to another continent is a bigger battle on its own. So, as with all things you do, you have to think about whether it is what you want.

The risk is definitely worth the reward. Currently, internships are the best way to get your foot in the door and build your career at international organizations such as the ILO.

One of the lines you will constantly hear is that the internship program is not intended to lead to a career in the ILO. This is true, there is no guarantee of a position after your internship so you have to put your networking skills to use and your resourcefulness to further your career either at the ILO or any of the other organizations in Geneva.

You will be exposed to the structure of the United Nations and its specialized agencies. The work environment is multicultural and multi-faceted, and the networking opportunities are endless as you will meet not only your colleagues but people from around the world who attend conferences and meetings at the ILO.

This exposure is unbelievable, you just have to know how to make the best of the internship.


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Navigating cross-cultural relationships in the workplace

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After years living in France and the United States, Aminatou, an experienced business development consultant, arrived in Abidjan to work for a local social enterprise. Despite the logistical hiccups of working on the continent, she didn’t think the transition would be that much of a problem. After all, she grew up in Saint-Louis, Senegal, and spoke fluent French. She’d worked across Africa for leading multinationals and smaller start-ups for the better part of a decade. But after a few months, she was struggling with her team and considering returning to her job in Paris. What was the problem?

Cross-cultural training isn’t just for the West. As many young African professionals contemplate moving back to the continent —to their home country or somewhere else in the region, they can suffer from the shock of navigating cross-cultural dynamics in the workplace. It’s no secret that business leaders need to understand the cultural nuances of the different regions where their business operates. Yet, aspiring Motherland Moguls returning home might underestimate the need to orient themselves to the minutiae of workplace dynamics across Africa, especially as the continent rapidly transforms. The Ghana, Kenya, or Zimbabwe of 2008 doesn’t look the same in 2016.

Avoid clichés

Clichés and stereotypes can lead to faulty assumptions. While generalizations can be useful, culture is complicated and can’t be measured by one or two factors. Individual people might not fit these generalizations. Even as we advocate for pan-Africanism, we should recognize that each country or region is unique.

For example, there is a prevailing stereotype that Africa is a sexist place and that men will be condescending to women in the workplace. This is not always the case. Assume best intent until proven otherwise, and ask questions to immediately clear up miscommunication. Overemphasizing stereotypes can have a real cost — misplaced fear of encountering workplace sexism may scare talented female professionals from taking positions in Africa.

As you enter the workplace, you might encounter differences along these four major areas:

1. Different Communication Styles

Across cultures, people communicate differently when it comes to verbal and non-verbal communication. Messages aren’t always explicit — more often than not, you’ll have to read between the lines.

Words and phrases that are common in one place might leave people looking at you in confusion in another. In some countries, there might be more of an emphasis on hierarchy than in others. In Francophone Africa, for example, there is more of an emphasis on formality than in Anglophone parts of the continent.

2. Different Conflict Resolution Styles

Not everyone always gets along. Some cultures approach conflict directly while in other cultures differences are worked out quietly. Feedback might be frank or more diplomatic.

3. Different Approaches to Time Management

Some countries, like Germany and Switzerland, are famous for their strict adherence to clocks. However, in most non-Western cultures, time is better viewed as a polite suggestion. Nevertheless, time management views can defer depending on the situation. People tend to have short-term or long-term orientation when comes to time. In parts of Southern Africa, for example, some people differentiate regarding the urgency of a project by saying “now” (sometime soon) vs. “now now” (right this minute).

4. Different Decision-Making Styles

A cultural frame of reference often shapes expectations about how to make a decision. Does what the boss says go? Is there room for dialogue? The roles individuals play in decision-making can depend on the egalitarian or hierarchical nature of a culture. This determines whether or not decisions are made unilaterally or by consensus.

To successfully navigate cultural differences, follow the three L’s:

  • Listen actively and empathetically to assume best intent,
  • Learn from generalizations, but supplement these with your own observations and,
  • Look at the situation from both the insider and outsider perspectives.

Arm yourself with these tools, and you’ll avoid misunderstandings and conflicts that can cost your team profits or productivity.