Thomas Roberts Reflects on his summer internship experience as a royster lawton fellow
This summer, I used the Royster Lawton Fellowship support and network to intern with the Refugee Investment Network (RIN), a DC-based impact investing collaborative dedicated to creating durable solutions to global forced migration. By drawing on the principles of blended finance and refugee investing, the RIN forms networks of refugee entrepreneurs, refugee-supporting businesses, government institutions, and private investors in order to direct capital flows towards the long-term economic integration of refugees. At the RIN, I focused mainly on preparing the organization for its public launch earlier this summer, developing an investor training curriculum on refugee investing, and assisting the Managing Directors with a fund initiative in Mexico.
Working with issues in Central American forced migration was especially salient this summer, as real-time political decisions and consequences had tangible impact on our day to day project functions and objectives. Through the RIN’s partnership with the Mexican government, I worked on an initiative seeking to invest in refugee entrepreneurs and refugee-supporting businesses to help integrate the flows of displaced peoples from the Northern Triangle into southern Mexico. Since the project required a certain level of coordination to achieve success, I quickly learned the importance of aligning goals and methodologies across implementing partners and individuals.
The RIN’s size and startup culture allowed me to work across a variety of different areas, which opened my eyes to both the agility and intensity of working at a startup. As a small organization, the hierarchy was incredibly flat, allowing me to join and contribute to meetings about organizational strategy and potential partnerships. This access, unique to startups, came with a set of opportunities and challenges. Playing an active role in decision-making made me both more invested in and responsible for specific project successes. For example, as the only team member with video-editing experience, I was given a lot of autonomy to make creative decisions for promotional videos and to execute them independently from start to finish.
In addition to the professional experience, my summer in Washington D.C. gave me unparalleled access to conferences, talks, and decision-makers working on migration policy and international development issues. This ability to interact with social issues across a variety of positions and fields really opened my eyes to how frequently both public and private institutions are starting to turn to social entrepreneurship in order to maximize their impact while maintaining or improving fiscal sustainability. At the RIN’s official launch, I listened to organizations like the World Bank, OPIC, and other development finance institutions express their interested in utilizing impact investing and social entrepreneurship concepts for refugee integration and other pressing humanitarian concerns.
The combination of the internship and DC-specific experiences solidified my interest in impact investing and finance for social good, and, thanks to the Royster Lawton fellowship, gave me the first-hand practical experience necessary to open the doors to future opportunities in the field. As I begin a Master of Public Policy at the Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy, I am so grateful to have prior social entrepreneurship experience to contextualize my professional degree, apply my coursework, and, ultimately, to pursue a career in the field.