Unpaid internships are discriminatory and should be ended

I want my job to be my vocation, something that is in line with my core interests. I hope never to have a to do a job only for practical/financial reasons. In order to achieve this, I have aimed to build experience in my field of interest over the years. Often this has involved doing unpaid internships. I have been lucky enough to have friends who have taken me in when I couldn’t afford to pay the rent as I was doing an unpaid internship, supplemented by other jobs (tutoring, babysitting etc. to earn enough to feed myself at the same time).

It is the time of the year when we are coming to the end of the academic session and the university careers office is bombarding us with internship opportunities over the summer. Almost all of these (except the ones in the financial services sector) are unpaid. Many of these internships are abroad in other European capital cities. I honestly do not understand how they expect young people just coming out of education (with huge debts) to be able to work full time for free, pay for their flights, accomodation and daily sustenance. These organisations either assume that everyone is rich or they are turning a blind eye to the plight of the disadvantaged and financially less well-off in society, thereby entrenching social inequalities. I remember feeling absolutely scandalised and disgusted when the head of a UN organisation who had come to give a careers talk at our university early on in the year, when asked about the culture of unpaid internships in the organistion, replied in a blasse manner that ‘we expect your parents to pay’. Okay, so he was at the LSE where a significant number of the postgraduate community includes members of the  international elite. But there were also people like me whose parents CANNOT pay for them. This reeks of hypocrisy especially when the same organisation is claiming to fight poverty and social injustice across the world. So, whilst my colleagues were doing internships in Brussels and the Hague over the Easter break thanks to the bank of mum and dad, others like myself were denied these same opportunities by being inadvertently excluded through the unpaid internship schemes run by many governmental, intergovernmental and non-governmental organisations.

In my experience therefore, one of the biggest roadblocks I have faced in looking for a job is the pervasiveness (and the unacceptable acceptance) of unpaid internships. This is because internships often provide an important entry point into a career.

And I don’t understand why!

Idilm, I can really see your point of view. I really don’t understand the logic of unpaid internships in international organizations. If you read through Edgeryders mission reports and comments, the single most quoted government policy is Erasmus, and it is quoted almost always in a vastly positive sense. Broadening young people’s horizons is cheap and very effective in terms of social inclusion and promotion of their social mobility. By sacrificing one Edgeryders-sized project a year, you could pay 30 interns a little money, to help them with the accomodation, and therefore get much more diversity in the applications.

I have theories as to how that might happen, but no hard fact. It is still a mistery to me. And, not knowing why it happens, I find it hard to propose a solution.

The OFQJ respectful approach

(When I was younger), I got a grant from the Office Franco-Québécois pour la jeunesse. The grant money covered the costs of a 3-month internship in France. Travel costs were paid, and I had to pair with a French government agency, who had to welcome me at its premises and include me in its team. I picked a regional government, Région Rhône-Alpes. I succeeded also in getting a small contract from a Quebec organization, which sent me on a mission to France to do a bit of field research.

This allowed me to tour municipalities of the Rhône-Alpes territory, to meet in person with dozens of government decision makers in several cities, and to compare experiences and approaches of these municipal governments, as well as the regional level.

I could never have done this experience, without the financial support of the Francophone organization OFQJ.

At the end of this internship, I received an ‘Award of Excellence from OFQJ — more money — and a sort of ‘diploma’ that goes with it (looks good, if framed) for the quality of my project, and also because I had managed to get an official commitment of one million Euros from Région Rhône-Alpes, to facilitate cultural exchanges between this government and the Greater Montreal regional government (in Quebec).

Well, of course, will you be surprised if I tell you that the Quebekers did not put the money out of their wallet? My efforts led to a dead-end, because the Région Rhone-Alpes engagement was conditional to half the funding being forwarded by a Quebec agency. Quebec did not follow this opening of opportunities, and all was forgotten. But it gave me an internship experience abroad.

I thought that the OFQJ had a good healthy approach towards youth, with many efforts deployed to respect and encourage young people to grow in their own direction. The fact that they valued those who atteined distinguished results created incentives for excellence.

Unfortunately, there were no booby prize — prix citron — awarded to governments that do not take into account the ideas and solutions brought on the table by the young participants. Damn!

Professional interns?

What you write is so much true and to the point that I already see the majority in our community (and further!) endorsing your claim 100%.

I did an unpaid internship once and although I raised most of the money to support myself from my university scholarship,  i couldnt have done it without my parents backing me up. I’ve seen young people making sacrifices to be there and heavily lobbying to their supervisors to get a job afterwards, because they actually didn’t have any other opportunities and resource afterwards… graduates who didn’t plan to go back to their country where apparently they had limited opportunities, but didn’t know where they were going to live when the internship would be over.So for such people it is indeed a huuge investment, it really is the unique chance to start a career.

But on the other hand I’ve met rich young people who were at their n-th such experience - some had been just returning from another of pretty much the same type only to apply to the next… and continue their collection. asking around why organizations would even take them if they already did similar jobs, I got what IMO is an appaling answer: because orgs actually get a better deal picking people who already have experience interning. Which is serious because we’re talking of “professional interns”, and this contradicts the so-called goal of offering internships, to give a  career start and a chance to accumulate working experience, when there is none. Then you could say, from the orgs point of view, that this justifies not paying for work, or that it might be a win-win situation (of course hardly because for the less priviledged this is a no win from the start).

But perpetuating this idea of a career in internships is really vicious, beyond my understanding. What can we do to change things? I’ve seen there’s a lot of buzz already online, which makes me think the situation can’t last for too long and things should change, but I’m not sure if legal initiatives have been created, do you know of any, Ildim?

In my university, in social sciences dpts, doing an unpaid internship can get you credits and it’s sometimes compulsory - they even enroll you in a programme, so there’s no unfair competition involved. But then you don’t intern for the big guys, and the experience is not likely to constitute a jump start in your career…


I am one of those (and I


I am one of those (and I guess there are a lot) who have done not only one but several unpaid internships.

The first one was during my university degree when I contacted an advertising agency in Athens for an internship, at the beginning I thought that OBVIOUSLY it is going to be something unpaid as I dont have any experience so I would do it more for practical experience. So was it.

The second one was more a training in London, they were covering some expenses (as transportation tickets) but that’s all. And I was thinking “ok, i m still in the entry level so its normal”.

And then I finished my Masters and it was obligatory to have an internship, my mind was telling me “of course unpaid, as you dont have any previous working experience” and then I realised when I was at work that people with less qualifications than me were very well paid…

So, I m wondering is it something wrong with our expectations? Is it normal to expect that our internships will be unpaid? and WHY?! I think the system created such a mindset… no?

Contribute to the transition handbook for better policy?

Hi rockk, welcome to Edgeryders :slight_smile:

Yup, there seems to be a pretty viral movement about unpaid internships, I remember seeing a petition to the UN for that. and I signed it…

We here in the community are trying to devise policy recommendations starting from how young people today gain their existence and live in career uncertainty, fostered, among other things, by such internships… If you feel like wanting to contribute, come help improve the draft.


I read the article on teaching you references, thanks! and for dotting the i when it comes to online learning (I myself am just taking a course on coursera.org, although a short module).  You also might want to get in touch with Gelada, he’s a mathematician and interested in pedagogy, and wrote a beautiful post.

How tiresome…

Lured by the promise of change I came here to the bay area Hub to work an unpaid internship with SoCap…luckily my initiative and self motivation is in tact, otherwise, making wordpress posts and arranging expenses lists in preparation for the conference in October would be somethi of a drag…feeling a bit like a minion here, when I came to express genuine ability and work towards making the connective links neccesary to the change occuring…Yunus says ‘do not become an employee’ … I feel

as though my belief that not being paid means I am not being coerced is showing me as an inadvertent fool now…making it easier for rich white men to get richer…

Plan B…

So sorry to hear this

Were you not given space to build what you had intended to, or is it a matter of resources or something else?

What what what?

Tell us more about this. Which Bay? San Francisco? Galway? And which Hub, and what is SoCap? I am missing a lot of important information.


The Hub itself is the Bay Area Hub on mission street in San Francisco. The founders of the hub are Kevin Jones and His wife Rosa Lee, they founded the space and housed their new venture, SoCap, at the Socap office there. SoCap stands for ‘social capital markets’ and the work is put forth as an attempt to build the social capital markets by attracting impact investors to viable social enterpreneurs and their startups.

The Hub in itself is exemplary of this process and houses all involved from the B Corp offices to management for visionaries to impact investors, accountants, philanthropists, acceclerator programs, tech startups, social venture funds, crowdfund platforms…all sorts.

The building itself is the San Francisco Chronicle building on mission st. , we are in one section, downstairs is the SF ‘intersection for the arts’ office. And in the hub there are various add-on events from Yoga through meditation, public speaking workshops, media management classes, breathwork, dance, biomimicry meetups, cheese tasting and all kinds of extra curricular activities.

The internship was seeded as a result of a twitter conversation with Kevin Jones, followed by my learning about the conferences, volunteering for and attending SoCap europe in Malmo last May and then, after being invited to teach at a firefestival in California, a visit to the Hub gave rise to a meeting with Kathy whom had been my director at the conference and the offer of a placement in preperation for the SoCap12 conference in Fort Mason SF.

The conference will recieve just shy of 2000 attendees with people from the Gates foundation, Google, the Rockefeller foundation, Bamboo finance, Kiva, Grameen aswell as social entrepreneurs, students and changemakers, techies and professionals of, again, all sorts!

Objectively, this is the situation, my personal place in it will need some reflection, I just got back from the burning man and witnessed quite strongly there, both sides, the ill and the good, of that festival, which is a very potent cultural expression in America. I am missing the love of my life, and am having to kick hard to keep the head up in a way that makes sense to my own ethic. I came here for a reason, nd yet I feel as a stranger in the house, not being acknowwledged, let alone welcomed, by its owner. I crossed the threshold in an inspired state, I refuse to reside as a quiet chambermaid, silent polite and dumb in response to injustice.

A tweet went out today: Hub Bay Area are hiring…

But follow the link and you’ll find they are ‘hiring’ another intern…

Stories reveal truth

Yes, I ve done an unpaid internship, but it was for the first time and it happenened because of my need to learn more about the management consulting field and what really can I achieve after all.

Well I have done a tonne of things, the office was a very nice and creative place, at the end I.ve received a very good evaluation, but this was the thing that only feed my hope to be employed.

I think as well as a big part of you, that unpaid internships at fancy and important companies or NGO.s are for kids with powerfull (ready to spend money) parents. After 3 months there, I spent 1 month taking pills and throwing lots of money on them. Surely it was challenging to do that, but that.s not the type of challenge that we should seek and for sure we should make aware other students that are eager to choose an unpaid internship, bcause there are lots of hidden things that some do not know before starting it.

One of the reason the companies or NGOs are doing the internships is that governments are promoting the reduction of the taxation(for companies), some governments are offering them the opportunity to receive incentives for every internship done. Another reason is linked to the need of replacing the employed personel that is in vacation and so the new one could, lets say learn more and help more in the office.

So, to stop this prevailing issue, we have to make aware governments about this problem (maybe they know about it) but being more public and heard by the right persons, in time it should change something.

Why the pills?

Did you get extenuated whilst working there or am I misunderstanding?

Thanks for sharing Georgel.


Not quite extenuated, but my immunity (health) was affected because of the big amount of work and lack of vitamins that I should get then.

Thank you for asking, Noemi :slight_smile: