INSIGHT: “Libra Group Internships: celebrating five years of international opportunities”

The Libra Group Internship Program, established in 2011 with the first entrants coming through in 2012, is celebrating five years. What’s more, it is posting headline numbers: applications for the 2017 intake are showing an 89% increase in young people wanting to be a part of this international program which has quickly gained respect and acknowledgment from academia and employers alike.

Educational supporters such as the American College of Greece, which was one of the original participating institutions in the scheme, have reported its merits: the employment rate for alumni stands at 93% and the college has also been approached by a number of household-name organizations seeking to set up similar programs.

“Back in 2011, there was an economic crisis biting hard and this was truly noticeable in Greece where unemployment for young people was historically high,” says Carla Brillembourg-Clark, Libra Group Deputy Head of Social Responsibility and the person tasked with creating Libra Group Internships as its first Program Director. “The Libra Board has a business worldview and saw no reason why students in Greece, America or anywhere else should have limited opportunity because job prospects were so low. Internships are one way of giving these people hope and mentoring in a safe environment and so the Libra Internship Program came into being.”

From the outset, Libra’s interns have been paid for their work experience. This took away any barriers for people who might struggle to find their own travel or living costs. Next, the experience was designed to ensure that all participants gather together at the start in one city for an intensive week of introduction and bonding. At this point they are also presented with the overall shape and direction of the internship before setting off to start work. Interns are placed around the world in Libra Group businesses and divisions, often in a city they have not visited before. In addition, a support network is put in place. Weekly, each intern checks in with the Social Responsibility team based in New York City, and wherever they have been placed, mentor and buddy are also assigned – giving them a range of exposure, help and access which is not otherwise possible in just one team, office or business. During the course of the internship, collective training sessions are arranged for the interns, many joining by video-conference from their various destinations.

“This is a truly global program,” comments Program Director Siobhan Owens. “Libra is active in 35 countries across six continents and we offer opportunities throughout the business and in all our sectors. The applicant base is also highly diverse: the last application wave saw 53 different countries represented amongst the students looking to come into the business.”

Internationalism brings a further dimension. Dimitris Tsouroplis, Libra Group Head of Human Resources explains: “The Global Village is a concept that has been around for some time, but now we really see how it makes sense. Through social media and digital communications, you are in touch with people and events on the other side of the world in different time zones. You can see them and have an immediate connection in real time. This changes our understanding of the world around us and how we respond to what happens in it. Young people really get that – and they want to match their values and ideas with their career.

“Libra has origins in shipping which is intrinsically global and always moving, so as a business it is well positioned to demonstrate a natural understanding and sense of globalism – being somewhere, yes, but also being a part of that local environment and community. It’s striking how our interns have a sense of interest and responsibility about the world and the planet, and how they bring that to our business,”

Asked what makes the program so unique, Libra’s Head of Social Responsibility Jimmy Athanasopoulos identifies how it is “definitely holistic. The whole thing has been put together with personal development in mind. It’s geared to getting people into a good position for job interviews and setting career goals, and to help them gain that insight at their own pace. We’re also working with a number of organizations which touch on mentoring, entrepreneurship, social opportunity, community engagement. These are all important because they bring together a whole range of options and possibilities for the interns and show them how much potential there is for self-awareness and integration. This moves the conversation from ‘I can’t get a job’ to ‘What kind of job would I like?’ and that’s a breakthrough.”

Hundreds of young people have been through the program since it was set up and currently at a rate of 150 each year. According to Siobhan Owens, “they have become our best ambassadors. They go back to their colleges to complete study courses and talk about the experience they had. More than anything, this encourages others to have the confidence and curiosity to apply.”

Libra Group Internships are democratic and completely open to undergraduate students from anywhere provided they are enrolled with an accredited university, are 18 years of age or above, and fluent in English. Academic results and a pre-recorded video also form part of the comprehensive application process.

Program alumni speak positively of their internship. “One of the most enriching experiences of my life,” says one. Another adds: “it not only took my life and career a step ahead, but also offered me a first class experience that I will never forget.”

Time and again, intern feedback emphasises the interest shown in them and encouragement to make a contribution. “I never expected to be given such important tasks while still being an intern… I was pleasantly surprised to find myself working with the senior executive team that seemed to value my abilities and instincts,” comments a former intern. Another comments: “we are not only allowed to bring up ideas and suggestions, but we are encouraged to.” Recognition has come from elsewhere too. In February Libra Group featured on the Corporate Mentoring Challenge Honor Roll at the 2017 National Mentorship Summit, in Washington, D.C., for the second time. Launched by former First Lady Michelle Obama at the 2011 National Mentoring Summit, the Corporate Mentoring Challenge promotes and recognizes private-sector engagement and support of quality youth mentoring.

What next, for the program? “We’ve been careful to grow progressively,” concludes Siobhan Owens. “We want to ensure the experience continues to be a quality one that really makes a difference to a young person’s career – that’s important for us as a business and for what we want to communicate to the interns too.” The combination of strategy and opportunity is clear.

Interns winter 2017 photo ©Margarita Corporan

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