Shaping a change-maker: IFAD - U of G partnership prepares students to tackle development

Posted on Monday, August 23rd, 2021

Written by E'layna Baker

A screen capture of a virtual meeting that includes four people.
Carmina Marquez (top left), Talyn Dowdall (top right), Ariana Malik (bottom left), Louis Helps (bottom right)

The International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) is a specialized United Nations agency based in Rome. It is an international financial institution and the UN’s food and agriculture hub. IFAD is dedicated to eradicating rural poverty in developing countries globally. Canada and IFAD have a long-standing partnership to end poverty and hunger. Both are invested in inclusive and sustainable transformation, particularly for rural populations. Canada is a founding member of IFAD, a top donor to the fund, and is strongly engaged in IFAD’s governance.  

In Fall 2020, IFAD’s Americas Liaison Office (ALO) and the University of Guelph (U of G) successfully launched an internship program to give future Canadian change-makers hands-on experience with the work involved in international development. Participating students are able to network and establish new career connections in the field, as well as become official IFAD Ambassadors, bringing awareness to and advocating for pressing development topics like rural farming, gender equality, food and nutrition security, and climate change in their campus community and beyond. 

Dr. Ataharul Chowdhury, assistant professor in the School of Environmental Design and Rural Development (SEDRD), has been leading the U of G – IFAD collaboration effort. He is passionate about this partnership because of the many benefits it provides to students hopeful of pursuing a career in development. 

“An internship with a United Nations agency such as IFAD allows students to compare and apply their knowledge of international development in a practice environment,” says Chowdhury. “An experience such as this can enhance their confidence as a development practitioner and prepare them to step into a career in international development and related fields.”

Carmina Marquez of IFAD’s Americas Liaison Office in Washington, DC is the lead collaborator for the internship opportunity on the side of the agency and is also a partnership officer for engagement with the Canadian government. Marquez expresses that the aim is for the partnership with Guelph to be more than simply a collaboration effort. 

“We want our IFAD experts to add to the student’s lecture experience in their program,” says Marquez. 

Four U of G students were a part of the inaugural group of interns. This allowed students to get a better understanding of the organizational environment and working strategy of a UN organization. Their internship started in November 2020 and lasted for six months. During this time the interns were able to network both within IFAD and externally with its partners.

Students connected with field experts on topics like information and communications technologies for development (ICT4D), the intersection of gender and development, and even career pathways for working with the United Nations. 

A unique aspect of this partnership is that the student interns are the ones driving the impact. 

“I encourage them to think outside the box,” says Marquez. “Make use of your six months. Talk to experts in the field. Expand your network. I trust the creativity of the students more than I trust my own creativity. We try to incorporate what they feel will be beneficial to them, to other students and to the university as a whole.” 

Jamie Black, a capacity development and extension student, was a part of the first round of interns. During her internship, she was exposed to the role and goal of IFAD, the United Nations, and other international institutions and entities working in the field of rural and agricultural development.

“Student success is top priority at the University of Guelph,” says Rene Van Acker, dean of the Ontario Agricultural College. “These kinds of internship opportunities are really fundamental. In OAC we have a very long tradition of learning through experience and learning by doing, so we are always interested in opportunities for our students to be in the real world and apply what they’ve learned.”

Through her work, Black got the opportunity to learn about potential career opportunities in the fields of international development, food security, and international agriculture, as well as apply concepts learned in the classroom in a highly specialized policy setting.

Eager to get a feel for the type of work involved in real-life development roles, Black jumped at the opportunity to apply for an internship role with IFAD. 

“I thought this was a great opportunity for me because before this I haven’t had any practical experience with international development aside from my research,” explained Black, who completed her undergrad in international development at U of G. 

The six months spent interning with IFAD presented the students with many professional development opportunities where they were asking questions, networking, learning, and sharing. But Jamie and the other interns also made a remarkable accomplishment for the wider U of G student body during this time – one that would allow other students from diverse program areas to become more involved in international development work.

Together, the interns were able to start the first collegiate chapter of IFAD, the first of its kind in the agency’s history – The IFAD Guelph Student Club. Today, the club has over thirty-five members and it is still growing.

One of the club’s first events was an informative showcase of careers in the field of rural development. Hosted virtually back in February, the event was titled “IFAD at Guelph: Exploring Careers Paths in Rural Agriculture and Finance”. Attendees were able to ask questions and engage with development professionals about entering and maneuvering professionally in the field of development.

Apart from hosting events, the IFAD Guelph Student Club also acts as a liaison between the students at U of G and representatives from the IFAD ALO.

“We’ve had meetings where students have been able to meet the team and get to know them,” says Black. “They are welcomed to join in on staff meetings with IFAD professionals and share their ideas which is great for them to be able to experience.”

This June, IFAD welcomed three new interns, Louis Helps, Talyn Dowdall and Ariana Malik to the organization, all of whom are hopeful for an impactful six-month term with the agency. Ariana Malik is one of the new interns who is a recent graduate of OAC’s capacity development and extension program. 

“I have a strong finance background and I don’t have much experience with international development, but I am very grateful for this opportunity and I look forward to starting this internship to learn from the team and do what I can to further the U of G student chapter and help the growth of IFAD in Canada,” says Malik.

For many reasons, it is not uncommon for international development students to feel a sense of uncertainty as their knowledge deepens. 

“One may not expect an international development career to be a straightforward pathway; it deals with complex undertakings, nuanced and messy realities of development processes,” explains Chowdhury. “Yet, opportunities and rewards are endless. In the post-pandemic world, we will need more people to solve ever-increasing complex problems, such as climate change, food security and social justice.”

Marquez is hopeful that IFAD’s partnership with U of G will be a progressive one. 

“Eventually we want to have a network of university students in Canada involved in a United Nations agency such as IFAD, promoting food security, gender empowerment, youth development and other topics relevant to international development space.”

SEDRD successfully brings together important academic subjects concerned with the development of thriving communities in Canada and worldwide. The partnership with IFAD presents U of G with meaningful avenues of shaping the next generation of passionate, informed and engaged citizens – the change-makers of tomorrow.


Keep up with the IFAD Guelph Student Club via Twitter @IFADguelph.

Contact Prof. Ataharul Chowdhury (ataharul.chowdhury@uoguelph.ca) or Carmina Marquez of IFAD (c.marquez@ifad.org) for further information. 

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