What are social internships and why they matter

With Srijan, UPES has taken yet another step towards making its students socially conscious by offering them a full-time summer internship program in the social sector 

UPES is one of the few universities in India that offer social internships in first year to all students, irrespective of their field of study. While UPES has conducted social internships in the past, what makes Srijan unique is that it is a mandatory six-week-long social internship. It firmly puts the ‘social’ at the centre of learning for university students. It drives home the point that the core purpose of education is to better the lives of others and the community as a whole. And what better time to introduce students to ‘social purpose’ than when they are in their first year of university education.

Why is social work important for students? 

One of the roles of education, and thereby of educational institutions such as UPES, is to nurture an individual who is capable of leading a productive and meaningful life. The other is to instil the right kind of values. Social internships check both boxes – they introduce students to the society and its challenges and create value systems of service, giving, empathy and respect for those who are less fortunate.

Students are young and full of energy. They are more open to new things and ideas. They are like unmolded clay. This is also the time when the students begin to think about what to do in life and at this stage an exposure to social work can be transformative. They can acquaint themselves with the social sector, the problems, challenges and opportunities and form their own ideas on how to ‘make a difference’. Once the ideas begin to germinate in their minds, they have two to three years to work on them while they are still at the university. 

Internships, in general, are great for learning. However, social internships are special because they bring students in touch with the grassroot realities and afford them a chance to look at social issues up close and personal. They get to understand the ways in which privilege, oppression, marginalisation, and powerlessness contribute to systematic inequalities. They learn why tap water is a luxury afforded by few; why ‘roti, kapda and makaan’ is a constant struggle for the disadvantaged sections of society.

Social internships are special because they bring students in touch with the grassroot realities

The Srijan model of social internships

Srijan social internships will close the gap between knowing something and having a first-hand experience. When students see and experience things for themselves, it stays with them. They become curious as to why things are the way they are. They question them. They build empathy and that is the first step on the road to making a difference and building leadership skills in the process. 

Organising social internships is quite a bit of work and it is unlikely students will do this on their own later in their lives. That makes the internships organised by UPES a great opportunity for students.  

For many students, this is the first time they will be working in a formal environment. That itself is full of learning. They will get to learn what organisations are, how they work, how they are structured, what they are trying to achieve and how. Meeting a diverse range of people, be it colleagues or people for whom the organisation is working, will bring in lots of learning. 

Going to social internships is one part of the learning. The other two important pieces are what happens before and after. All the models of social internships at UPES have been designed to make sure that learning is happening at all times through action and reflection. 

Students will be prepared before they go for social internships. There is a pre-internship course designed to make students aware of the social issues. Masterclasses with eminent professionals in the social sector will be organised to bring practical experiences to the fore. The Career Services team at UPES will be running Spring Board Sessions on social internships to clarify students’ doubts.  

Action and Reflection 

Action is the ‘social internship’. During the internship, students will be assigned a project and a mentor within a non-profit organisation. UPES team will also be guiding students with interesting readings and assignments that will add to the internship experience.  

Reflection will happen through experiences such as writing blogs and e-portfolios that students will prepare to share what they are going through, how the experience is changing them and what are they thinking, to name a few. 

When students come back from their internships, a campus-wide social fair will be organised so that they can share their learning and experience with everyone.  

Young people have the potential to shape a better world. They have the energy and the will to deep dive into problems and look for solutions. Introducing them to the social sector right in the beginning of their higher education journey through social internships will create future change makers, social entrepreneurs, compassionate leaders and problem solvers that our country needs.  

(The writer is Deputy Director- Academic Strategy at GUS)


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