Liam Sullivan ’23

The BARKA Foundation, Burlington, ME

This summer I have enjoyed the opportunity to work as a Development Intern with the BARKA Foundation, a Non-Governmental Organization committed to improving access to water and sanitation, while promoting gender equality, in the West African nation of Burkina Faso. Working remotely from Bar Harbor, Maine, my role was to assist BARKA’s development team on a number of domestic fundraising initiatives.

At work.

During the first weeks of the summer, I conducted a census of BARKA’s donor community, identifying key analytics that characterize BARKA’s support base. One thing that became apparent during this initial census was that our retrospective donation data needed some serious hygiene. Important pieces of information such as the donor’s name, traffic source to BARKA, and whether a given donation was made as part of a larger campaign, were often missing. Incomplete data inhibits our ability to leverage it for future learning and prospecting for donations. And so, I began cleaning this data, tracking down absent information and augmenting our records with this information whenever possible.

I then conducted a philanthropic landscape survey of private donors in the United States. While previous groups from BARKA have compiled information about foundation funding for the organization’s various implementation areas, no one had undertaken a survey of private funding sources for those same causes. Working in close coordination with my supervisor, I compiled a report that offers a regional and state level breakdown of the funding landscape for NGOs working on health and sanitation within Africa. Additionally, this report explores current trends in the philanthropic landscape, and recommends best practices for BARKA’s own fundraising efforts accordingly.

Ahead of future summers, and ultimately a career, my time at BARKA has been immensely edifying and informative on both professional and personal fronts. I’ve confirmed that international development is a field of interest while realizing that I do not enjoy working with data on the back end—I’d much prefer to be working with people on the ground than be working to erect the scaffolding for those projects. On a more personal note, the enduring lesson of this summer has been that I am still developing as a professional. The rigors of Williams can tempt us to erect an edifice of competence, to embrace a certain arrogance about our readiness for the real world. I’ve been humbled at every juncture by the real world this summer, taught that I need to cultivate a skillset of professionalism that college cannot offer internally. This is why the Alumni Sponsored Internship Program is so crucial to the Williams Experience.

BARKA was introduced to me by a board member as “the little NGO that could,” a gesture to the organization’s expansive project portfolio and impact relative to its small size and budget. I realize that BARKA and I both have benefited immensely from the generosity of others. Thank you so much.