09/04/2012 12:11 pm ET Updated Nov 04, 2012

Learning to Create Lasting Social Change Online

It's a late summer day and I gather my things for the afternoon group intern meeting. Today our summer cohort members will facilitate the agenda, each sharing a skill, topic, or strategy with their peers from their summer projects and research. I log into Google+ to launch a Hangout, and a few moments later, their faces greet me across my computer screen. Over the next hour we will discuss everything from the results of focus group calls from our intern led consulting project with the American Diabetes Association, to managing controversial issue in their blog posts, and using Pinterest to raise awareness of a social problem. Each intern will have an opportunity to lead the discussion, passing on skills or knowledge gained over the last few months in our program.

Since 2011, each semester a cohort of college students from all over the world has joined the SISGI Group as part of our virtual internship program. They range from undergraduate to PhD Students at universities like Duke, Michigan, NYU, Hertie School of Governance, UC Berkeley and Rutgers. Their academic areas vary but include focuses on Policy, Anthropology, Economics, Conflict Resolution, International Relations, and Public Health. The common link for all our interns is their desire to better understand social issues and strategies for creating lasting change. The program is open to all college students with a specific focus on recruiting liberal arts students, as they have the highest likelihood of entering the nonprofit sector upon graduation and are the least likely to have an opportunity to gain practical work experience in their academic program.

In a, Hart Research Study employers stated the top- three skills desired in recent graduates were teamwork skills, critical thinking/reasoning and oral /written communication. Rather than spending a semester making copies, stuffing envelopes, or staring aimlessly from their desks, our interns develop a research area based upon their personal and professional interests, write 20-30 online critical research articles, learn to manage social media for social issues, lead online trainings, and gain skills in collaboration and communication across geographic boundaries. Leveraging cloud based technologies such as Google Apps, Podio, Dropbox, Skype and Mavenlink our interns receive feedback, mentoring, supervision and work with non-profit partners all online often from their dorms or homes. Participants have the same experience whether they are in Iowa, New York, Berlin or Accra creating a unique opportunity for students based in isolated communities, studying abroad, or in communities with limited job preparation opportunities for practical work experience.

This type of virtual model and comprehensive program also has the potential to address critical issues in career preparation especially for the majority of nonprofit organizations facing limited capacity and operating resources. Managing an internship program that provides a strong learning experience while also meeting a critical organizational need takes a great deal of time to manage and create. To address these issues our consulting group and foundation take on pro bono and grant funded capacity building projects, providing a nonprofit with project support in areas such as research, strategic planning, training and social media that can be managed virtually by a cohort of interns. We do the heavy lifting, providing the training, supervision, and support of the project and interns, allowing the nonprofit to benefit from the additional human capital on a specific task without straying from their mission or work. These capacity building projects are focused on strategic outcomes, that do not replace full time staff, but will lead to greater impact and effectiveness for the social sector. The interns also gain additional exposure and practical experience solving social issues and addressing problems facing nonprofits.

The students that have participated in our program understand ways to leverage low-cost and free technologies and have gained incredible skills in time and project management in a demanding environment. Technology and cloud based work spaces are essential in preparing students for fast paced global work environments and eliminate traditional barriers to the internship experience such as geography, accessibility, and transportation. The SISGI Group made a strategic decision to use technology to allow for the least amount of overhead and administrative costs, access to the most talented global staff and partners, regardless of geographic location, and to decrease our environmental footprint.

Alumni of our program have gone on to teach in urban schools, international graduate programs, consulting, research and program management within organizations working to make the world a better place. The critical analysis and strategy skills gained will help them throughout their careers as educators, nonprofit staff, board members and community leaders. The social sector has a growing need for talented, trained and strategic staff and leaders. We are tackling this need by helping to create the next group of social change leaders online every day.

To learn more about the ISC Internship program or to become a nonprofit or university partner visit us online at

SISGI Group is a pledge company of A Billion + Change, a national campaign to mobilize billions in pro bono and skills-based volunteer services from corporate America by 2013. To date, more than 200 companies around the country have committed an estimated $1.8 billion of time and talent to help build nonprofit capacity to meet community needs at home and around the world.