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“Empowering Sustainable Development: My Internship Journey at the Environmental Defense Fund”

By Mai Nguyen (Duke MIDP ’24)

Summer 2023 AFE Blog Post Series


Embarking on my Rotary Peace Fellowship, I started a transformative journey to make a positive impact on the world. As a Natural Infrastructure Funding Intern within the Coasts Resilience and Watersheds department at the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) based in New York City, I have had the privilege of aligning my passion for the environment with the pursuit of peace and development. In this blog post, I will share my experiences during the first 2 weeks into the internship, highlighting the importance of community development and how my internship at EDF relates to promoting peace and sustainable development.

The Power of Natural Infrastructure

The Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) is a leading nonprofit organization dedicated to preserving the environment and finding sustainable solutions. As a Natural Infrastructure Funding Intern at EDF, my job is to build out a research project analyzing six different state programs focusing on innovative stormwater management and other forms of floodwater management that were newly funded in FY2022. All programs place a priority on nature-based solutions and were part of a larger state initiative built around the Flood Resiliency Blueprint, a concept that was inspired by EDF.

These projects can be practices installed on upland farms and forestry land to increase the landscape’s ability to retain water or to help to hold back water during a flood event to lessen impacts on downstream communities. Placing a high priority on funding these kinds of practices does not ensure that communities will choose or can choose these solutions. Many of our rural towns and counties do not have engineers on staff to assist and may not know the fiscal benefits of these types of practices, in that the practices cost less to maintain over time. Will towns and communities choose natural infrastructure, or will they choose gray / heavily engineered practices? Are all types of towns impacted by flooding able to access the programs and successfully move through the application, contracting, and permitting processes? This longitudinal study will inform EDF’s policy recommendations so that we lower barriers to application submittal, contracting and implementation.

Community Development and Environmental Stewardship

Before I became a Rotary Peace Fellow, my passion for community development led me to found my own NGO dedicated to fostering sustainable development practices. At EDF, I have had the opportunity to merge my passion for community development with environmental conservation. Collaborating with local communities, I witnessed firsthand the positive impact that community engagement and empowerment can have on environmental stewardship. EDF’s Community 2023 initiative served as an inspiring platform for knowledge-sharing, capacity building, and fostering collaborative partnerships. By engaging communities in decision-making processes and empowering them to take ownership of their natural resources, we contribute to inclusive and sustainable development. This participatory approach to environmental stewardship is crucial for building resilient communities, fostering peace, and promoting sustainable development.

Various non-work and summer activities for interns

It has only been two weeks since the start of my internship, but I have been able to participate in many events and activities at EDF, such as celebrating World Ocean Day, summer internship speaker series, conservation community cornhole 2023, development and fundraising events, and so on. It has been a remarkable opportunity to engage with experts, activists, and community leaders who share a common vision of protecting our environment.

New York City: Where Dreams Thrive

Interacting with New Yorkers from different walks of life has broadened my perspective and taught me the value of collaboration and adaptability. The fast-paced nature of the city has instilled in me a sense of urgency and a commitment to delivering high-quality results in a timely manner. Witnessing their determination and resilience has inspired me to push myself further in my work and seize every opportunity that comes my way.

Moreover, the city’s vibrant cultural scene and thriving industries have exposed me to a wealth of knowledge and experiences. Attending networking events and engaging with professionals in my field has provided invaluable insights and connections, enriching my internship experience.

The life-changing Rotary Peace Fellowship

No discussion of my internship and the impact I have been able to make would be complete without acknowledging the pivotal role played by the Rotary Foundation and Duke-UNC Rotary Peace Center. As a Rotary Peace Fellow, I am immensely grateful for the Rotary Foundation’s generous financial support and invaluable guidance from Duke-UNC Peace Center. Without their belief in my potential and their commitment to nurturing peacebuilders like myself, I would not be here today, making a tangible difference in the field of environmental conservation. The Rotary Foundation’s investment in my education and professional development has equipped me with the necessary skills, knowledge, and networks to contribute effectively to the work of organizations like EDF. Their dedication to promoting peace and supporting sustainable initiatives has been instrumental in shaping the trajectory of my career and empowering me to pursue my passion for community development and environmental stewardship.

The MIDP program at Duke

My master’s degree in International Development Policy from Duke University has also played a vital role in preparing me for my internship at EDF and shaping my future career aspirations. The comprehensive coursework and practical experiences provided by the program have equipped me with a deep understanding of the complex dynamics of global development, policy analysis, and sustainable practices. The interdisciplinary nature of the program has enabled me to approach environmental challenges through a holistic lens, incorporating social, economic, and political dimensions into my work. The rigorous academic environment at Duke, coupled with opportunities for field research and engagement with international development organizations, has sharpened my analytical and critical thinking skills. The invaluable education I received at Duke has not only prepared me for my internship at EDF but has also laid a strong foundation for my future career in promoting peace, sustainability, and community development at the intersection of environmental conservation and international development.

My internship at EDF has been a transformative experience. It has reinforced my commitment to environmental conservation, community development, and sustainable practices. By promoting natural infrastructure, engaging communities, and celebrating our oceans, I have witnessed firsthand how the pursuit of environmental sustainability intersects with peace and development. I am grateful to the Rotary Foundation for their unwavering support, as I could not have embarked on this journey without their generosity and guidance. Moving forward, I will leverage the knowledge and experiences gained during this internship to continue fostering sustainable development, advocating for environmental stewardship, and contributing to a more peaceful and sustainable world for all.

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