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  • Writer's pictureTeam iKapa

Emily Essi's iKapa experience

Updated: Mar 26, 2021

As part of the past intern interviews, we caught up with impact-focused Emily Essi. Read what she had to say about her time as an intern in Cape Town.

4 fun-fact questions:

1. Favourite South African food/snack?

  • Granny’s scones with cheese and jam for the prayer breakfasts at the organization I interned at

  • or homemade pizza at my host family

  • or literally any of the savoury pies I found at the markets

2. Most memorable “tourist activity” you experienced while in SA?

This is such a tough question! Diving with great white sharks in Gansbaai or all the beautiful wine tours!

3. Funniest/quirkiest/most interesting South African saying or slang word that you came across?

“Lekker!” or “slops” for flip-flops!

4. Describe your internship experience in South Africa using only 3 words…

Oh gosh, this is hard too!

Life-changing -- Invaluable -- Beautiful

Interview Questions:

Could you tell us a little bit about yourself?

My name is Emily and I am from Syracuse, NY! I studied BA International Development at McGill and later did an MPA at Syracuse University, where I met wonderful Dee, founder of iKapa Impact. I am currently working as a Development Associate at Harlem Children’s Zone in NYC.

What first inspired you/first sparked the thought to want to go to South Africa?

I met the founder of iKapa while studying at Maxwell in Syracuse, NY. We were in the same course – Non-profit Management - and I was so impressed by her wealth of knowledge and experience. The way she spoke about her work in Cape Town was extremely inspiring. A year after we graduated, I really wanted to gain international experience, so I reached out and we began talking and made a plan!

What was the deciding factor in choosing to go to South Africa for your internship?

I was really intrigued by the work being done through Connect Network in Cape Town. I knew it would be a really unique experience to learn and grow in the field of international development. South Africa’s political landscape has always been intriguing to me as well, and I wanted to dive deeper and learn more.

Tell us about the project that you worked on while doing your internship.

I primarily co-facilitated a research project sourcing a wide range of information on early childhood development in the Western Cape. We interviewed over 30 practitioners through on-site and telephonic meetings, creating survey questions and analyzing the responses. After a successful completion of our report, I was tasked with planning a seminar to present and discuss the findings with our stakeholders. We were able to create a situational landscape of ECD services and subsequently presented our findings to inform stakeholders and affiliates moving forward in the field.

In addition to that, I focused on digital communications and email marketing, and helped create a foundation for a digital strategy. I also really loved sitting in on the Theory of Change meetings and going on site visits!

How would you describe the team you worked with? In terms of team dynamics, diversity, difference in culture etc. The pros and the cons.

My team during the internship was one of the best I’ve ever worked with. It was so beautiful to be part of such a diverse group of women and I always felt supported. It felt like a family. Of course, all teams have their own ups and downs, and each individual always has their own work style, but this team had one underlying foundational component that ensured success: respect. Everyone respected each other and there was no “I” or selfishness; we all wanted success for the organization and the network of children and families we served.

What was your experience of connecting with people in Cape Town and making friends?

I was really lucky to have a connection in Cape Town, he was a “friend of a friend” and was incredibly welcoming. He introduced me to a few of his friends and we met a few new people and created our own little group! Once I got over my fear of driving to the city it was quite easy to join him there and be social.

Everyone I met in Cape Town was SO warm and welcoming. At first, I had a wall up and was nervous but I realized quickly how genuine it was. I enjoyed having weekend adventures and exploring Cape Town with my little group.

Aside from that, I spent a lot of time with the family I was staying with and really enjoyed touring around the Western Cape through their lens. I especially valued the long drives on the weekends, stopping for ice cream and croissants, or taking walks around the beautiful neighborhood. It was really a dream.

Did your internship influence your career path in any way?

It definitely helped me realize how much I value working for a non-profit and made me want to continue working in community development!

What was the all-time highlight of your time in South Africa?

This is a really tough question! ...But I’ll never forget the way the team I worked with and how the family I was staying with celebrated my birthday. The outpouring of love made me feel incredibly special. Flowers, cakes, celebrations, the whole thing. You’re not just an intern, you are part of it. The team and the family make sure that you really get to experience it and be there. That, to me, was really important because it helped me feel that my presence was valued.

What piece of advice would you give to new interns thinking about applying to do an internship through iKapa Impact?

Don’t hesitate! If you get this opportunity, take it! This was a once in a lifetime opportunity and the wisdom/knowledge/life experience I gained in such a short time was so incredible. Once you get there, don’t be shy. Try your hand wherever the team needs you. This is an opportunity to grow professionally in so many ways and you will have a support system to help you along the way.


Did Emily's story inspire you to look into this yourself? We invite you to to apply and we'll look to match you with a project where you can make a real impact.

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