Social Impact Voluntary Placement Scheme – making impact and living our values

Posted on: 20 September 2019

For the past eight years Student Hubs’s Social Impact Voluntary Placement Scheme (formerly known as the Social Impact Internship Scheme) has successfully matched innovative, enthusiastic students with equally innovative and impactful charities and social enterprises for summer placements. Every year we place around 70-90 students with around 60-80 organisations. We have learned a lot on our journey and this blog post is going to outline a few of those things, as well as why we’ve taken the hard decision to discontinue the scheme nationally.

Every year we are excited to hear the stories of the students we place and the organisations that get so much from working with them. Consistently, we get overwhelmingly positive feedback from both sides. We have no doubt that, for those taking part in the scheme it has been an impactful journey. 

However, we do know that there are many other students who cannot take part in the scheme because the placements are, for the most part, unpaid. We know that unpaid internships are a barrier to access as well as participation. We can see this ourselves, as one of our local Hubs which secured some funding to pay students has had both a diverse talent pool and an incredibly low dropout rate compared to our other Hubs.

We have urged hosts to pay students and have tried to recruit larger organisations who have the means to pay. All hosts must adhere to our Fair Internships policy, agreeing to cover travel and lunch costs, but we understand that many of the small organisations we work with simply don’t have the means to pay a salary. For the last two years at local and national level we have tried to secure sustainable funding to provide funded placements, but have not had success. 

If you have engaged with the scheme before this academic year, you will know it was called the Social Impact Internship Scheme. We took the decision this year to rebrand, to reflect more clearly the scheme’s unpaid nature, to the Social Impact Voluntary Placement Scheme. Still, less than a fifth of our host placements are paid opportunities. We have come to realise that our Fair Internships policy is not enough. With all this in mind, we cannot continue to run a programme that excludes some groups of students from participating.

To engage every student and to mainstream student social action, we must make sure all students are able to access our opportunities.

Our vision and mission as an organisation are clear:

When we began the internship scheme in 2012, it was the main Student Hubs programme through which students could gain work experience, develop their employability and get a taste of a career in the third sector. Since then, we have established our skilled placement programmes,
the Social Innovation Programme and Impact Labs, across the network. We have also introduced in-curriculum Service Learning at Kingston Hub.

Skilled placements and Service Learning provide the opportunity for students to work with a community partner on a real-life brief alongside their studies, developing key skills such as leadership, teamwork, client management, project management, data analysis, report writing and public speaking. With opportunities to gain key skills and experience alongside their studies (or within the curriculum, in the case of service learning), we couldn’t continue to justify offering a programme to students that is not inclusive.

We know that unpaid work is not the only barrier and that inclusion is an ongoing process. We have learned a lot over the past three years with our commitment to diversity and inclusion (D&I) as an organisation and will continue to learn. (You can learn more about our commitment to D&I in our blog post here.) 

Internally, we have been embedding D&I practices, auditing our programmes, interrogating our own impact as any charity should. We are a values-led organisation: we know that intention should never come before impact. After trying to make this programme as accessible as possible, unfortunately, we have not been able to bring equity to its core, and it’s for that reason we’ll be retiring the placements scheme as a national programme.

Local hubs may decide in the future to broker internships themselves, and to continue to put to use the expertise we have gained in recruiting and matching students and partners, as well as developing training for student interns. Our policy going forward is that they must all be paid placements.

Our network has met wonderful organisations and worked with incredible students every year because of this programme. We will continue to engage with our community partners through the breadth of programmes we offer, including skilled placements and Service Learning.

We want to take this opportunity to thank all the staff, students and hosts who participated in the scheme. We hope you enjoyed working with us. 

Want to find out other ways you can get involved with our work? Get in touch:

Sonia Kumari & Pippa Smith

Sonia was Student Hubs's Learning and Development Manager, leading on graduate training and support for Worthwhile, managing SIVP and leading Diversity & Inclusion until she moved to Leeds in July 2019.

Pippa has been CEO of Student Hubs since June 2019.

Tags: News, Social Action, Social Impact Careers, Third Sector

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