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Review for Foundation for Sustainable Development, Oakland, CA, USA

Rating: 2 stars  

I did a volunteer internship at the FSD Jinja site in 2010-2011. Although I had a very fulfilling and productive experience with the host organization that FSD placed me with (St. Francis Health Care Services), I was extremely dissatisfied with FSD as a whole.

First, the performance of the FSD site team in Jinja was unacceptable. After a helpful orientation week upon my arrival (which included preparation for cultural integration as well as training on needs assessments, work plans, and budgets), I felt increasingly isolated and forgotten by FSD as my internship progressed. The Program Director consistently failed to respond to my questions or concerns in a timely manner, and the Program Coordinator rarely showed interest in the interns or their projects. Eventually I contacted the FSD head office for assistance on writing a grant. The Program Director took offense to this and thereafter treated me in a vindictive and extremely unprofessional manner. She attacked my character and my work ethic and spoke poorly about me to my host family. In addition, there was another Program Coordinator who resigned halfway through my internship. This Program Coordinator was the seventh person in two years working in that position for the Program Director. However, despite frequent negative feedback from interns, the FSD office in San Francisco has failed to take adequate measures to address interns' concerns or the root cause of employee turnover.

In addition, the main office in San Francisco was inefficient and unaccountable with regards to my needs as an applicant and later as an intern. I applied for an internship in early January 2010. Despite assurances from FSD that I would hear a response within 14-30 days, and despite numerous inquiries, I did not learn of my status until May (four months after I applied). Upon my arrival in Uganda, I learned that all applicants get accepted—even those who did not undergo the interview process. This was very curious to me and made me seriously question why it took so long for FSD to process my application. Furthermore, FSD was fairly negligent with regards to my volunteer fee account. I had a $500 credit on my account in August, requested a refund check on August 31, sent a follow up email on November 17 (no response) and again on November 30, and did not receive the refund until late December.

Furthermore, I find that FSD’s use of the volunteer fee money lacks accountability and efficiency. I paid $7343 in volunteer fees for my 26-week internship. Of this money, $200 went to my project in Uganda and (to the best of my knowledge) less than $700 went to my host family. I questioned one of the staff members at the FSD San Francisco headquarters about the remaining balance. He said that it is difficult to tell exactly where all the volunteer fee money goes. He later sent me a pie chart with an extremely broad breakdown of fee money expenditures. Half of the money goes to what they call “Direct Community Investment.” This money includes the payment to host families and the $200 seed grant, as well payments for services that I did not receive (staff stipends for “24/7 in-country support”) or for expenses that would more appropriately be termed “overhead costs” (rent, supplies, and utilities for the local FSD offices).

After the conclusion of my internship, I visited the FSD headquarters in San Francisco to discuss my experience. However, I felt that the staff member there did not have much genuine concern for my issues. He largely wrote these issues off as a byproduct of the cultural challenges of working in a foreign country.

The experience I had with my host organization in Uganda (St. Francis) was highly valuable and rewarding, and I received beneficial development training from FSD during orientation week. As such, I have given FSD a rating of two stars instead of one. However, I came away from my experience being dismayed at the treatment I received from FSD. I rarely felt as if FSD prioritized their interns in the field, and I was not alone in this sentiment. In my experience, FSD absolutely did not uphold the values of transparency, efficiency, and accountability that made me choose them in the first place.

I've personally experienced the results of this organization in...

Their connections with admirable local organizations, such as St. Francis Health Care Services in Uganda, where FSD places interns. Many FSD Interns have done really valuable work and enjoyed their experience with St. Francis.

If I had to make changes to this organization, I would...

Demonstrate a commitment to transparency, accountability, efficiency, and respect. Reduce volunteer fees so as to increase access and eliminate scenarios in which there is one volunteer and two FSD staff members at one site. Reduce overhead costs by eliminating ineffective/unpopular sites and by cutting back on money given to personal connections of the site teams. Ensure that FSD values their interns on the ground, those who are actually initiating the "grassroots development" for which FSD stands.

Would you volunteer for this group again?


For the time you spent, how much of an impact did you feel your work or activity had?

A lot

Did the organization use your time wisely?

Somewhat badly

Would you recommend this group to a friend?


When was your last experience with this nonprofit?


Role:  Volunteer & Developed an anonymous Internet health forum, instituted a computer/Internet course for local youth, conducted health discussions/lessons with local youth, devised a plan for a youth computer lab.