Interns Tackle 'World's Most Intractable Problems'

For longtime Bill Clinton admirers Pablo Zevallos '16 and Ben Callinder '16, the summer internship experience couldn't have been better. Both students spent 10 weeks inside the Clinton Foundation, helping former U.S. President Bill Clinton "positively impact the world's most intractable problems."


In practical terms, the organizational motto of "helping others live their best life story" guided the daily work of the 100 or so interns from all over the world who worked in the foundation's two New York City offices.


Zevallos was struck by the size and scope of the organization, describing the Foundation as "a machine, a very big enterprise." He worked with five other interns in the Harlem office, drafting replies to every incoming letter to the former President. "It was everything from ‘Congratulations on your 100th birthday' to ‘Thank you notes' to 20-year military veterans when they retired," he said.


His group also vetted requests for written messages from Clinton, and transcribed some of Clinton's speeches. It was important for interns to learn the Clinton writing style. "Over time, all of us could write like him," Zevallos said.


Created in 2001, the Clinton Foundation's most widely recognized work is organization of annual "Clinton Global Initiative" meetings. These gatherings convene leaders of businesses, philanthropies, NGOs and governments to commit to support the foundation's goals. Those are: improving global health and wellness; increasing opportunity for women and girls; reducing childhood obesity; creating economic opportunity and growth; and helping communities address the effects of climate change.


Being native New Yorkers, both Davidsonians were familiar with the geography of their internships, but the work experience was brand new. The two Davidson interns helped staff prepare for the 10th annual meeting. During its three days in September, the initiative members made 188 new "Commitments to Action" that are expected to impact nearly 4.9 million lives around the world when fully funded and implemented. To date, more than 3,100 commitments have been made, improving the lives of in excess of 430 million people in more than 180 countries. 

Callinder, a political science major currently studying abroad in Prague, worked in the foundation's finance office in the Time and Life Building in midtown Manhattan to learn more about the monetary policy of a large, global philanthropy.


A one-person shop, he worked for a supervisor on financial planning for the annual meeting. His opportunities included cataloguing invoices, coding vendors, attending budget meetings and learning the organization's Financial Edge computer program. He was impressed with the organization's budget management, accountability and transparency, noting, "One of their guiding principles is ‘Results you can measure are the only results that matter.' They had one intern who continually worked on nothing but metrics, so they were always able to measure the effectiveness of their projects."


Though he had other internship options, The Clinton Foundation internship was number one on Zevallos's wish list. He got help from several sources to secure one of the highly sought after positions, including practice interviews and resume writing guidance from the Center for Career Development.


Callinder also took advantage of the Center for Career Development services in his application, and credited the staff with his success. "I attended a number of career services workshops, and they gave me a lot of good tips on making myself look like a candidate who could come in and have an immediate impact," he said.


While most of their work was on Clinton's behalf rather than in his presence, all interns were invited to an "office day" event with Bill Clinton, and another with Hillary Clinton, during which the former First Couple talked about the challenges of governance and their hopes for the foundation.


"The whole experience was great for my personal development," said Zevallos, who holds a William H. Terry Scholarship and a James K. and Jean T. Batten Scholarship. "President Clinton is one of the biggest impact leaders in the world today. I got a sense of what it takes for a global icon to have to manage relationships on a massive scale."


Callinder said, "I've always admired Bill Clinton as a president, and this experience highlighted for me how well he runs the foundation. I feel like the whole Clinton family not only accomplishes goals, but does it efficiently."