By Juliette O’Quinn
MIDP candidate and Fulbright Scholar Diana Ramírez Guzmán has one piece of advice for masters students looking to make the most out of their summer internships:
“Be to be open to anything. We all have goals in our lives and in our professional careers, but the time when you’re pursuing your masters degree, especially for international students, is the perfect time to be open to other work processes, other knowledge, other academic paths, and try to define what else could complement your professional career. Be open to anything, to everything, and then let that experience guide you.”
Diana came to Sanford from the Ministry of Defense in Colombia, working with veterans and their families. She fell in love with innovation and entrepreneurship, and she went on to join two initiatives from another ministry in charge of enabling innovation within the public sector. It was there that she learned that she had a passion for human-centered design. “I identified that as the best way to design better public policies and programs. At the end of the day, you’re providing a service or product to a citizen.”
Diana found both of her summer internships through Duke – the first was working with DCID Senior Fellow and Duke professor Matt Nash on the Duke-UNICEF accelerator of menstrual hygiene solutions for East Africa. “For the summer, I really wanted to intern in a place that had different initiatives in innovation and entrepreneurship. I’ve been talking to Professor Matt Nash since I came here, and he was the one that actually guided me towards these two programs.”
The Duke-UNICEF accelerator works with innovators from Kenya, Burundi and Tanzania who already have solutions towards improving menstrual hygiene. Diana’s role was to analyze research in order to understand the national innovation ecosystems in each country, and identify factors that allow innovators to scale up and strengthen their initiatives. It was unlike anything she had ever done before, but she describes it as challenging and rewarding, and exciting to see that level of freedom in her work, as well as her supervisors’ encouragement of her creativity.
“I looked into factors like government support of these initiatives and the existence or strength of intellectual property systems. I asked questions such as: ‘how is the law protecting new ventures new entrepreneurs? How is the relationship between Duke University, the government and the private sector?’ I evaluated the innovation ecosystems to see which country offered the best environment for entrepreneurs to create their solutions and implement them. I worked to define the big picture so innovators can create an alliance with universities within the countries or with the private entities in order to help them scale up their solutions and provide them with sustainable tools in order to keep implementing what they are doing.”
Diana’s second summer internship was with leadership in Open Design+, a program housed in the Duke Innovation and Entrepreneurship Initiative. Each summer a group of Duke undergraduates interested in solving real-life problems collaborate and learn to use design thinking tools, and qualitative research methods to address particular problems. Open Design+’s website describes the approach as “a deeply empathetic practice that leverages the power of experience to create disruptive solutions. It is a methodology of human-centered design that is derived from open source practices, which, like Open Design+, place emphasis on transparency and sharing information.”
In both internships Diana experienced a creative, supportive, and collaborative environment in which people from all levels of the group brought their own expertise and listened to the ideas and expertise of others, regardless of Rank. “Since I came here,” Diana says, “I started to think about and reconsider my professional goals, and I’m not sure yeti f I want to go back to the national government, but I still want to work with the national government.”
“These programs helped me to understand that there are better ways to design public policies.”
Diana says that the internships have also affected how she imagines the next steps in her career. “I will look for organizations that have a similar pattern to these processes of co-creation, of being open to relying on others’ knowledge and expertise, or I will create on my own,” she says.
“This co-creation process is a space where you leave your ego behind. Every individual has knowledge and has expertise. But it is more powerful when you sum up that expertise and knowledge with others. You may have one perspective but if you leave your ego behind and incorporate the ideas of others, that will give strength to your processes and that can lead to a result you could not design by yourself.”
Diana has one final recommendation for current and prospective MIDP fellows at Sanford, shaped by her experience: “I had preferred to work individually and take my time to find my own agenda. Nobody needed to rely on me and I didn’t need to rely on anybody else either. But the world runs on cooperation, persistence and teamwork. So if you find that there’s an option to work as part of a team, where you are going to have a voice, and you’re going to be respected for your ideas, but also learn from others? Go for it.”