Note: there are currently no open positions for interns through Summer '06.
Concept: Recent college graduates hoping for a career in environmental advocacy or marine conservation may apply for consideration as interns for the Hawaii-headquartered international conservation organization Earthtrust. There is limited availability. Internships are accepted on 6, 8, and 12-month terms, or longer by special arrangement.
The bad news: (1) These positions are unpaid and carry no benefits. (2) for those not already living in Hawaii, the costs of transportation to Hawaii and accommodations in Hawaii can be considerable, so this is not viable for everyone. (3) though treated with full respect, interns are not high in seniority and are more likely to get boring work than fun exciting work; that is, to be running the copying machine more often than pulling whales off the reef. (4) at any given time, there is a very limited number of openings.
The good news: (1) At least Earthtrust doesn't charge anything; other such programs often do. Earthtrust gets free labor in exchange for providing valuable experience, which seems like a pretty fair deal. (2) It IS in Hawaii. (3) Interns will directly interact with program managers and often take substantial part in the campaigns of the organization. (4) Those who do good work will get a personalized letter of reference from Earthtrust's president acknowledging their work and skills.
Discussion: In general, interns work a 40-hour week, though schedules can be designed flexibly. Earthtrust works in a number of issue areas, including field environmental research and enforcement on the whaling issue; research on trade in endangered species in Asia and elsewhere; electronic networking to track down "pirate" driftnet boats; works on the "Flipper Seal of Approval" international dolphin-safe certification program; dolphin awareness research as well as wild dolphin conservation research; educational programs and broadcast-quality video documentaries and briefing videos; and other (mostly marine-oriented) issue areas.
As a general caveat, it is usually extremely difficult to get paying work in the fields of environmental advocacy and conservation, and the pay is generally low when it is available. This should be borne in mind by anyone looking at this as a career choice. It can, however, be a choice that is high in terms of personal satisfaction if a person is motivated enough to take it. As for Earthtrust, it hires very few staff due to its policy of keeping overhead low. When it does hire, it almost always looks to past volunteers and interns as first candidates. (see "bootstrapping onto the ET staff")
Earthtrust's size, location, and varied activities have made this a positive experience for past interns as well as their parents, who are encouraged to be involved and often have stayed in touch long afterwards. In most cases they have looked at the expense involved as a worthwhile addition to the educational process. At some times in the past, interns who did not have the financial resources have been sponsored by other individuals or foundations, and Earthtrust remains open to this.
Earthtrust's headquarters is on the island of Oahu in the town of Kailua on the "windward side", near shopping, beaches, etc. About 25 minutes by highway from Honolulu. A car is handy, but not always necessary due to the very good bus system.
Earthtrust is in the business of conservation, and all training is done in the context of that work. For those not averse to hard work in a good cause, this can be a rewarding experience gaining real-world savvy in these issue areas. Strong personal feelings about the marine environment and species should be stated, and will be considered as an important factor.
Those who have recently left college and are interested in the program may email a brief (maximum 2 page) letter to Attn: Don White, President, Earthtrust; via email through the contact address on this website.
Dear Potential Intern:
You're obviously serious about the possibility of working for Earthtrust. That being the case, I'll try my best to scare you off to save your time and ours. On the off-chance you're NOT scared off, perhaps we'll have something to talk about.
The concept of living in Hawaii while working for one of the premier conservation groups in the world is compelling. However, like they say, if it was easy everyone would do it. For those whose souls are recharged by kayaking, diving, and enjoying good weather and natural beauty, Hawaii is a good place to be. It is also an expensive place to live, and most people here work more than one job to pay for the high cost of living. Moreover, Earthtrust works on some SERIOUS issues, requiring a high level of expertise and commitment, and very little of it resembles "Baywatch". The recharging of one's soul in this business is necessary - not a luxury. You spend a lot of your early career doing triage on environmental crises, sometimes losing important life-and-death battles for incredible wildlife who often have no other effective advocate, and this responsibility can drain you to the marrow. Of course, you'll win some of them; those victories must sustain you.
You'll be respected by those you work with, but not treated as though you're doing them a favor; since most of them are working for little or no money as well. Most of the work is done from a network of home offices - including your own - and not from any kind of campus.
In the recent past, almost all hires onto the ET staff have "bootstrapped" their way on, so I'll discuss this.
"Bootstrapping" into an environmental advocacy career is not an easy way, but it is my recommended way. In my experience, people who are lucky enough to land a well-paying job in environmental advocacy right out of college are like some people who as children inherit huge sums of money... they seldom appreciate it properly for the rare situation it is. In fact, I have been almost universally unimpressed at the motivation level of the folks I've hired that way, when I've had to add staff in a hurry. The importance of the issues is to them is often a lesser concern than personal comfort, and after they work off their initial righteous anger in a year or two they drift off to something that pays a bit more and doesn't keep them thinking about important things when they're trying to sleep at night.
The thing to realize is that paid environmental jobs where a person actually has a chance to make an individual difference are scarce as hens' teeth. Federal and agencies muzzle the good intentions of employees more often than not, and funds for environmental enforcement are being slashed as I write this and will continue to be. A lot of good career wildlife officers are retiring or being fired now.
"Environmental Consulting" firms mostly exist to help firms comply with or circumvent environmental regulations... dull to weird.
Individual activists often have a hard time getting and staying credentialed unless they can carve out a unique niche which no one has thought of, and which is in demand.
Which leaves NGO's. Mostly conservation-oriented nonprofits. In general, only the topmost people in such groups get to go do anything interesting; and with most groups, they stuff even they get to do isn't all THAT interesting. After a growth surge in the '70's and a plateau in the '80's, most larger groups are now heavily downsized, and are thus left with the administrative people who were best able to hang onto their positions when the axe fell. Most smaller groups never COULD afford to hire people in the first place. So there are a lot of very experienced people looking for this sort of work, some with credentials that either are, or seem, impressive. Most end up selling cars or fixing computers.
Which leaves an option, for the truly environmentally-active and concerned individual, to work as a free volunteer for some group and take another job to make ends meet. This is not a bad model, and it has the advantage that you can do it almost anywhere as long as you can find a local group you like, the disadvantage is that you're always tired and may not rise high enough in such a group to actually affect any change in the world directly. (This may depend a lot on the group you work with, too).
That often points people to another option, which is heavily attempted and usually screwed up: starting one's own organization. It is the god-given right of any loyal American to start up a 501 (c) 3 organization and - within incredibly broad guidelines - do whatever it is they believe will help the world. If they can convince people to give them money, then presto - a career. In practice, the long-term survival rate of such groups is about like that of insect larvae. Either the person ignores the organization necessities and goes down in flames, or they pay attention to them and end up spending their first 2-3 years reinventing the wheel. Or some combination of these extremes. (I should note that this was the option I took.) There is also a big tendency to start feeling competitive pressures from other similarly-chartered organizations, which can end up stealing time from your effectiveness.
So, have I scared you off yet? I've been doing this work for 24 years, have been among the most successful, and have amassed a track record for the group which is so unbelievable that I tend not to mention more than a little of it when meeting new people lest they think I'm BS'ing. And yet even I had to take deferred salary or none during many years. This isn't a career for the faint-hearted.
So this belatedly brings us to what you asked about, now with the proper background for my answer. Earthtrust accepts a few people as interns, or as bootstrappers, sometimes a combination of these two. Generally the interns are folks who have just graduated, who can afford to move temporarily to Hawaii. We work them a 40-hour week without pay; in exchange for them soaking up by osmosis as much wisdom as they are able to perceive. Most of it is office work under a program director. Some universities give course credit. The attraction is (a) being involved in real advocacy work, and some of the more intelligent of such work going on; and (b) living in Hawaii and going surfing and having wild parties on the beach on their off-time, etc. Windward Oahu is a nice place.
The volunteer bootstrappers likewise need to have enough money to survive for as long as possible on windward oahu, and also get the intangible benefits of living in Hawaii, such as paying too much for groceries and rental space. If we judge them to be serious and non-flaky, we treat them pretty much as free labor for a time, until it seems they're well enough versed in reality to be let loose on the world. After that we STILL treat them as free labor - 40 hour week with no pay - BUT they get to spend half of that 40 hours (and as much of their free time as they want to use) putting together grant proposals or other fundraising ventures which, if granted to, will include a salary for them to be paid. This is somewhat restrictive: it has to be a paid position for something we actually want done, usually part of an existing campaign or one we've decided to do already. We have a lot of resources and a local grants library; there is no shortage of contact points.
So - what you have here is one possibility for an environmental career. It works. It is difficult. If a person is flaky or shallow we wash them out quickly. True dedication to the earth is highly valued and will get a person past being something of a jerk or a little slow on the uptake, but there are limits. True dedication plus competence means that there's a good chance it will all work.
Volunteers and prospective staff members are treated in a friendly manner but held to the standards of employees except without any seniority rights until they earn them. An opportunity to earn the respect of others is there.