Week 3: Learning the Intricacies of Proposal Writing

     Going into my third week at IBJ, one thing is becoming clear: IBJ is very reliant on its interns.  Interns write most of the proposals for grants, complete research for new country programs, organize information for meetings, and are in charge of many more vital activities.  This is both good and bad.  On the positive side, this means that interns are very involved in the process and always have exciting and important tasks to complete.  It is great to know that the proposal you are writing or the research you are doing could have an immediate impact for volunteers in Burundi or lawyers in Cambodia.  This creates a sense of immediate gratification upon completion of a project because you know that you are actually making a difference, you feel connected to the projects you are working on. On the negative side, however, over the years this practice created an organizational nightmare.  Years and years of interns coming and going have left IBJ’s files a complete mess, with no real system of organization.  When looking on the office server for a past proposal or the latest statistics on a country program, you know the information is there but in order to find it you have to go on a thirty minute trek through disorganized folders and chaotic naming schemes.  This can be incredibly frustrating at times, especially for someone like me who likes everything to be organized in a very particular way.  In the end though, all of the pieces seem to fall together at just the right times and everything continues to operate smoothly.  IBJ has developed a very interesting balance between the appearance of chaos and the functioning of a well-oiled machine: a balance that has served IBJ well throughout the years.

     As the week began, I put the finishing touches on my proposals for India after speaking with Sanjee about potential edits that needed to be completed.  It is always fascinating to speak to Sanjee about how to best approach a certain project.  His vast experience from writing countless proposals and speaking with officials from all around the world has given him insight in how to frame certain projects so that they have the greatest chance of success.  Adding a word here, tweaking the sentence structure there: all of this comes together to create the perfect proposal that introduces IBJ’s work while at the same time, catering to the needs of the target organization.  As I continue to write new proposals I can tell that I am understanding the process better each time. Each proposal is an exercise of mental gymnastics.  You are trying to get inside the head of the organization you are writing to and find out exactly what they desire from an organization like IBJ.  You carefully bend and shape your ideas and proposals to fit this perceived desire, weaving together the narrative of the target organization with IBJ’s mission and in the end you try and stick the landing.  Proposal writing is a process that I am beginning to enjoy very much and I look forward to all of my future opportunities with this type of work.

     Later in the week I helped two other interns with a nomination letter for IBJ’s project manager in Cambodia, Ouk Vandeth. Ouk has an absolutely amazing life story.  He survived the trials and tribulations in the Khmer Rouge by hiding his educational background and working as a farmer for years in horrible conditions, he became both a police officer and member of the military where he experienced firsthand many human rights violations, and these experiences led him to become a lawyer and dedicate his life to the vulnerable people in Cambodia.  Ouk is not alone, however, all of IBJ’s project managers around the world are remarkable people with extraordinary life stories to tell.  With people like Ouk Vandeth on IBJ’s side, the goal to eliminate torture as the cheapest form of investigation will undoubtedly be realized.

     Towards the end of the week, I started to research potential funding targets for IBJ’s program in India.  I was given a list of about one hundred organizations and started visiting all of their websites to see if their mission lined up with IBJ’s.  After sifting through countless paragraphs of corporate jargon, I began to recognize two very troubling themes.  First, almost all of the organizations that I looked at did not seem to prioritize India in any way.  They viewed India as a democracy that did not need any help and as a country that only has limited human rights violations.  This, as I described in my last post, is absolutely false and it was frustrating to see so many good organizations simply write off a country entirely without looking further into the problem.  Second, and possibly more troubling, most of these organizations only focused on responding to cases of torture that have already happened, they were not at all interested in prevention, and in fact, several of the organizations flat out stated that they do not fund preventative measures.  I understand that prevention is something that is hard to quantify and it is not as “sexy” as a trial of someone responsible for human rights violations, but prevention is undoubtedly more important.  Playing catch-up should not be the goal of any organization dedicated to human rights.  While responding to past cases of violations is incredibly important, preventative actions such as education, early access to legal counsel, and rights awareness campaigns work to stop the problem before it happens.  Despite my frustrations with these themes, however, I did manage to find several promising opportunities, including a grant through LexisNexis (about time that I managed to find something useful on Lexis without having to turn to Westlaw first).

     After being given about ten new projects at the end of the day on Friday, including several new proposals to Cambodia and Africa, I know that next week will be very busy but I look forward to staring my research on Monday and diving into these new opportunities.  Every week so far has been filled with very interesting projects and gratifying experiences and I cannot wait to see what next week will offer.