Perhaps not too surprisingly, the internship that Debolina Saha enjoyed the most was the one at a small NGO in Calcutta. Here, she was given a diverse set of tasks, and her work involved visiting police stations, courts, field research and much more. “It was a fair mix of diverse work”, she recalls, “and what I enjoyed the most [about the internship] was that I could see the difference I was making.”
It was an experience, and an ethos, that stuck with her through nearly two decades.
As a law student at NUJS, Debolina would work in the university’s legal aid society; as a corporate lawyer in Delhi, she volunteered at a school for the blind. Several years later, when she moved to London, she would spend time at a soup bank.
Clearly, helping others, mattered to her. It mattered deeply.
In the December of 2019, nearly thirteen years after getting a law degree, Debolina set up Internship Bank (IB), an online platform meant to help female law students secure internships. This initiative, as she has said in the past was largely borne out of two experiences: one, the lack of women in the legal profession, and two, the difficulties faced by bright students from lesser known law colleges.
The premise of IB is fairly simple – organisations (and individuals) can post their requirements for interns on the IB website. Female law students, from lesser known colleges or otherwise, can then indicate their interest in the internship. A preliminary screening and interview is conducted by IB, and then the profile is passed onto the organisation or individual offering the internship. In addition, there is also a mentorship element involved, whereby IB would either mentor the student or connect the student to a mentor.
Thus far, it has worked exceedingly well.
As things stand, Debolina and her team of four (all four work on a pro bono basis) have managed to secure one hundred and eighty-three internships for law students from across the country.
The IB website currently has a hundred live internship opportunities listed with nearly 12,000 followers on LinkedIn. At a personal level too, the IB has proved to be a source of great satisfaction.
“The thank you emails that I get are really heart-warming and touching,” she says, “the fact that we can make a difference is so encouraging.”
Of course, setting up and running IB has not been without its fair set of challenges. Perhaps one of the biggest hurdles is students accepting internships and then not following through. “[This] has put me in difficult positions,” she concedes. “Students need to realise that when they pull out of internships, this harms Internship Bank’s reputation as well as my own.”
Going forward, Debolina is looking to raise money through this fundraising drive. The money raised will not only meet IB’s administrative costs (thus far all expenses are being borne by Debolina) but will also allow IB to support, to some degree, the internship costs incurred by students.
As for the internships themselves, Debolina says that while internships do offer tremendous learnings, there is scope for improvement. For one, she advises students to focus on the quality of internships and not quantity.
“I see students wanting to do a lot of internships as opposed to a few focused ones. Don’t focus on just the big names. If you think an internship closer to your home will be more rewarding, then perhaps you can take that up.”
From an organisation’s point of view too, much can be changed. For one, organisations need to “look at every intern as a potential associate.” Advocating the benefits of a long-term perspective, Debolina says that there is far more value in training and grooming interns over a period of time as opposed to offering a large number of four or six-week internships.
In essence, there has to be more thought put into the design of the internship programme itself.
“I started doing this because, as women, we don’t always have people to look up to at a senior level. I wanted young girls to see other senior women at the office, to talk to and address problems. I never thought [IB] would go on to become the kind of platform that it has become.”
(The author is the co-founder of Amicus Partners)