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A Life-Changing Opportunity: Interning at Small Planet Institute

At Lesley University, students are required to do internships as part of their program of study.  Interning is an extremely beneficial experience, as it provides an outlet for us to apply our acquired knowledge. In Fall 2017, I was fortunate to intern with Small Planet Institute, a nonprofit research organization with roots in addressing the food crisis and other social issues. Centrally located in Harvard Square, Cambridge, Massachusetts, Small Planet Institute has a specific lens through which media, food policy, and overarching political institutions are analyzed for the benefit of civic discourse.

The Small Planet Institute functions as a sociopolitical think tank. The empirical data they gather is informative, and it is intended to inspire public conversation.  A common topic throughout my internships was human morality and its relation to democracy. The majority of the data is grounded in the assertion that humans are cerebral yet compassionate beings.  Founded by Frances Moore Lappé, the organization prides itself on finding new ways to solve the problems humans confront.  This is a central theme for Frances, who once said, “There is so much media voicing the issues, but where are the solutions?”

Using examples of small victories in local government, the organization works to change dissatisfaction at the federal level by publicly exercising civic discourse. Some examples of democratic initiative successes include Seattle’s voucher public finance program, The Carolina Charles’s Butler II protest for voting rights, the signature petition for the voting rights of ex-felons through the Florida State Department, and the ranked-choice voting and redistricting of Maine. These scenarios allowed The Small Planet team and I to formulate effective speeches and media to be used throughout the country.

Frances Moore Lappé, who also goes by Frankie, is the author of the best-selling book “Diet for a Small Planet,” as well as eighteen other books.  She transformed The Small Planet into the democratic think tank it currently functions as today. In 2001, Frankie and her daughter Anna traveled throughout 5 continents, observing and documenting the lives of agrarian people facing governmental ridicule for the betterment of the environment. Developing nations offered the duo a broader perspective of the planet’s global positionality on events such as world hunger and human rights, which became the foundations for the organization. To combat these problems, a democracy needs to be in place. Democracy is not necessarily what we have in place today, as a successful democracy is a government which protects the rights of the populous, unconditionally and fairly. As Frances depicts in the novel Daring Democracy, our government is operating ineffectively. This book proves that America’s current government needs to change.

Given the current political climate of the United States it felt like my civic duty to work in a political think tank; I wanted to develop innovative and useful ideas. In the age of Trump I worry people are losing their pragmatism to issues in politics, and forgetting that true power is in the hands of the majority. By working at Small Planet Institute I absorbed knowledge that can evoke change in my government. This experience has pushed me to really question the forms of democracy, and the methods by which I was taught. As an experiential learner, Small Planet Institute gave me space to interact with proposed concepts, and produce usable content for research, while receiving expert guidance from my instructors and other fellows.

My work at Small Planet varied greatly — media producing outlets must publish current literature. I was given a work email, which became the organization’s key outlet of communication. My instructor would send me an email every morning, highlighting my duties between 9 and 5 P.M. My responsibilities included but were not limited to: editing and revising articles for submission, using Wix or WordPress to update website information, updating the Fast Facts integrated site, aiding in speech preparation, and working with our partner organization, Democracy Initiative. Occasionally, I would make  phone calls to institutions such as the Florida State Department to gather current information on petitions regarding felon voting rights. I also had some fun projects such as updating the photos on the primary website. I also enjoyed working the field guide because my duty was to work with other interns to update the ‘about’ sections of affiliated organizations. Many involved organizations were concerned with the rights of disenfranchised minority groups, such as women and LGBTQ+ peoples.

I once joined Frances and Adam, her co-author, for a book event at the Harvard Ash Center. It was crucial to see the work I was doing presented. It made my experience feel more meaningful and tangible. Viewers’ feedback was also important, because such a thing is inaccessible when working in a closed off office. Overall, those who viewed the presentation enjoyed the pragmatic approach we aimed to maintain. This day solidified the validity of my experience.

This internship was relevant for multiple reasons. I was taught more than I could have been in a classroom. For example, I organized a page on a website which collaborated with many favorable organizations – a professional experience not accessible from a college classroom. The dozens of useful contacts I obtained were also crucial to my transition from student to career woman. Though I can’t speak on others’ internship experiences, I feel mine was rewarding, and will absolutely contribute to my success.

I continue to be thankful for Small Planet, the Small Planet team, correlative fellows, Adam Eichen, Ashley Higgs, and most importantly Frances Moore Lappé for giving me such a life changing opportunity. The inspiring and contagious energy of the office felt so rare in a professional environment. I found a new inspiration everyday, and learned something applicable every hour. All of the workers are a family of innovators, creating new ideas to inspire the next generation to change the course of United States government. On my last day Frankie said, “As long as you’re following your passion, while being courageous, you’ll create positive change. It’s inevitable that in some way you’ll create something positive, and make the world a better place.” I will continue recognizing that fundamental ideal, while serving myself in an endless search for future success.

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