I am Qi Hang, TAI’s Student Fellow for Spring 2018. Having just finished 10 weeks of internship with TAI, I reflect on my journey in this farewell blog.
To me, this was an extra special experience because of how small and intimate the team is! The TAI’s lean and nimble team is composed of Michael (Director), Alison (Senior Learning Officer), Lauren (Program Officer) and Ava (Communications Fellow). Because of the team’s size, everyone has a huge part to play, and does really meaningful and substantial work to advance the collaborative’s goals. By working with each member of the team, I was really exposed to a comprehensive view of TAI’s work at large. Each team member’s work is related to each other, but also really independent of each other. I really enjoyed the dynamics of the team and its work.
I also really appreciated TAI’s unique role within the larger discourse on transparency and accountability issues. TAI is a donor collaborative of the biggest funders in transparency, accountability and participation global programming (Ford Foundation, William + Flora Hewlett Foundation, Open Society Foundations, Omidyar Network, MacArthur Foundation and DFID). In particular, I found TAI’s unique model to be particularly effective at engendering meaningful change. First, it has four distinct (but also interrelated) work streams – “civic space”, “data transparency”, “tax accountability” and “learning” – that cover a diverse and multi-faceted set of issues within the transparency and accountability sphere. Second, its goal of promoting collective action through donor collaboration is important and something that is talked about or practiced enough in strategic philanthropies. When big foundations with huge resources come together, they can find common ground, goals and target outcomes, so that the whole is more than the sum of its parts. Third, I find TAI’s role – a thought leader – to be unique and essential to the success of the donor collaborative.
Lastly, I had a really great time partly also because I joined the team during an exciting phase – the implementation of its new strategy. During my time here at TAI, I witnessed the team defining and refining their unique voice within the transparency and accountability, and strategic grant-making spheres. TAI formulated its exciting new work plan, with highly interesting foci, such as data transparency and civic engagement in Nigeria, finding ways to streamline collective grant-making and more. In particular, I really enjoyed working on the new tax site, helping to communicate why TAI cares about tax transparency and accountability issues, why TAI’s method of visualizing the “tax ecosystem” is an innovative and effective way to think about these issues, why TAI established the site, and why should other people care about the site and the issues it presents. I also helped work on the upcoming donor toolkit – a compendium of knowledge, strategies, tools and resources for both grant-makers and grantees to respond to shrinking civic space. Finally, I helped generate more content for the TAI website with topical research and writing, specifically with regards to corruption scandals and their relations to rising authoritarianism-populism, as well as China’s role in the transparency and accountability space. All in all, it was an exciting time of change and focus to be part of a team whose work is evolving.
This has been one of the best internship experiences I’ve had, and I hope that this blog will help students who are passionate about civic space, tax governance and strategic philanthropy to join TAI’s student fellowship program, available in Spring, Summer and Fall cycles!
Qi Hang Chen is an exchange student at American University, Washington DC from Yale-NUS College, Singapore