It was on the 1st of September 2021 around 9:30, as I rang at the door with a palpable feeling of apprehension, that my four-months internship at Aam Digital began. I was moving to Berlin from France as a third-year student after having talked with the three co-founders running Aam Digital three months prior. While many of my friends were interning in large companies, newspapers, embassies, or simply continued with their studies, I chose to discover the start-up world. Granted, my experience at Aam Digital only showed me a very specific part of the start-up scene. Even more so considering the surprising, if not paradoxical situation – based on my assumptions as an economics student – that I found: a start-up working in the non-profit sector? Unusual! Yet a fantastic experience, full of discovery and camaraderie, that I will share with you in the following paragraphs.
Discovering the challenge of data in the NGO sector
The first time I heard about Aam Digital was from a mutual contact. I was told about “digital case management”, “data collection”, “impact monitoring”, and other tech-inspired terms that one silently nods to with at most a remote idea of what those could mean in practice. As a student from the social sciences, this was even more disconcerting. However, I realized very fast the practical value of what Aam Digital is working on.
Aam Digital is a software that allows NGOs to become more effective and transparent:
- First, the app lets social workers collect data from their beneficiaries very easily. The app offers an interface to record attendance, grades, health etc.
- Then, this data is automatically synchronised in a database shown in “case files” for each student, activity, or team. This way, social workers can clearly see the progress of each beneficiary and immediately see who needs particular help.
- And all of this precise data can then be reported to the donors and analysed internally to evaluate the program.
All of this is a huge gain of time for NGOs who were used to noting everything down on paper and then copying it to Excel. This method is almost unreadable, as the data is dispersed in different files (one sheet for attendance, one for grades, etc) and is therefore impossible to compare and analyse. With Aam Digital, one glance is enough to have a clear idea of how the program and each participant is doing, which helps those NGOs improve their impact. One of my biggest satisfactions at Aam Digital was therefore this clear sense of purpose that drove us: we had goals, milestones, sometimes doubts on how to achieve them, but at all times a common understanding of the value of our work on the ground.
Growing Aam Digital: Varied tasks and great team spirit
My tasks in this enterprise were varied: I had personal responsibility across different projects on the business and marketing side such as reaching out to other NGOs, designing our business presentations, translating Aam Digital in French, but I also had the very exciting opportunity to be part of the many team discussions we had on the different aspects of how to move Aam Digital forward.
Regarding this last point, this internship was particularly enriching for me thanks to this team mentality. I discovered first-hand how to concretely implement a project based on a common vision, with the share of uncertainty, difficult decision-making, but also exciting prospects that arise.
I spent those four months mainly with Moritz, Sebastian, and Simon, but also Malte and later Moiz. My colleagues were on one hand old enough to have a real experience of life and their personal skills from which I learnt immensely – I was especially impressed by their discipline and the clear procedures that they had established at work. But they were also young enough that I felt propelled by a wave of dynamism, enthusiasm, and great friendship all along.
The possibility of finding “purpose” as a young adult entering the professional world
This internship at Aam Digital really opened my eyes to the field of international development. It was fascinating to see Aam Digital being developed with this combination of concrete skills that would be very sought after in the traditional private sector, and the purpose which I saw in the work of Sebastian, Moritz, and Simon. While I had heard before of the “tech for good” movement, I had only heard of companies heavily sponsored by large development funders participating. It was therefore surprising for me to see that three motivated graduates with the necessary skills, could in fact create their own path based on their own vision of social impact.
This really put into perspective the usual dichotomy between competitive, profit-focused start-ups on the one hand, and the public-funded social impact sector on the other. This realization was important to me as a soon-to-be economics graduate, as the options presented such as finance, consulting, etc. are often seen by students as lacking real meaning. My internship at Aam Digital reassured me firstly that studying economics does give us later the choice to use this influence to do good, and secondly, that it was still possible to practice economics when choosing the path of international development.
My personal conclusion
Looking back at these last four months, I am convinced that the work I did with Aam Digital will translate into improved social sector practices and will have a concrete, positive effect on the lives of people. I am still very impressed by the diversity of the organisations and the sincerity of the people that we met, who are doing their best to improve conditions where they are. In this sense, I think that the ability of the team at Aam Digital to adapt themselves to different cultures and needs is remarkable. I learnt a lot regarding what it means to approach new people and rally them to your cause when building a project like this.
I currently plan on continuing my studies in a master’s degree, which I hope will build on this practical experience. I believe that this internship at a start-up like Aam Digital made me much better equipped for the implementation of noble visions into concrete projects in my future jobs, or if I want one day to build my own enterprise. I am therefore extremely satisfied with my internship in Berlin overall, and I deeply recommend this experience in the digital and social start-up sector!