In my last year in university, I prayed for two things, one that my father who is a farmer, and the sole breadwinner in our house could raise the 135$ that my school needed for me to clear. I also prayed vehemently for an internship, one where I would be paid for my service and skillset and in this #metoo era, a safe space where I’d work without being preyed on. My first interview happened to be for a local Digital Marketing firm in the city and the lady who interview was in her mid-twenties told me without batting an eyelid that interns should not be paid. She informed me that for the 3–6 months that I would be working in the said firm, we would have an apprentice master relationship meaning that I was never going to be paid during the paid.I’m I glad that I missed that bullet, forever indebted for being ghosted by the said “professionals”.I’m grateful that my vision became a reality, I not only scored a good job at a non-profit in the capital but I was also paid for the little I brought on the table. To top it all, I got free mentorship from time to time. Allow me to brag about the God I serve.

The renowned coffee and bakery cafe wanted to pay interns with free coffee

Since time immemorial, stories about campus or colleague graduates working or interning for free has been a debated topic. One that in my opinion is usually debated by non-members of the said cohort. Old or privileged fellows will be seen on TV either gushing on the importance if exposure or giving an account of their lives which ooze of exposure-related stories. The same individuals will be the first to ask media houses to pay them for an interview. Talk of irony! Having suffered in campus and daily as a Gen Z stuck in a Millenial space I can confidently say that the least anyone can offer me is a stipend when interning. Interns should be paid, in Kenyan shillings or the respective currency. I might have dogged the bullet but most of my classmates and friends did not. Life is still the same and most of them had to slave for hours on end in the name of unpaid internships. They were the first people who were let go from their organisations when COVID-19 hit.

This conversation made it to the twitter streets yesterday. The debate coalesced around Artcaffe a renowned cafe in the city which ran an advertisement calling for Artcaffe invited artists willing to take part in the competition to come up with a creative design for their take-away coffee cups and at the same time ‘win big.’ The restaurant asked creatives to submit a design that is “beautiful, funky, inspiring, stylish, stunning, striking, capturing or illustrating what Nairobi means to you.”In return, the high-end restaurant chain stated it would reward the artist who designs the best piece of art with free daily coffee for a year. You read that right…! Free daily coffee for a year. Kenyans on Twitter who did not buy into the company’s advertisement did not shy away from calling out on what they termed as modern-day slavery.KOT as robust as usual ripped the whole ad apart by tweeting in droves on the importance of paying interns.

With Artcaffe as a top trend and a myriad of suggestions on the thread, you’d think that the campaign would have been redone to fit both the restaurant and the intern’s interest, instead, another ad was put up which promised the winner of the competition exposure! I was disappointed and utterly shaken that a restaurant which makes millions annually can afford to pay in exposure knowing too well that this is not a form of currency. Does exposure open doors? yes, it does for some people, Can it be an arena for networking and gaining experience? Yes, it can but we cannot use this a benchmark when it comes to services rendered especially intellectual property. Life in Nairobi is hard as it is hence we all cannot afford to work for free all in the name of experience. Individuals who gravitate to the idea of free internship hail from an exorbitant amount of privilege and they only needed resume padding. So, even if an unpaid internship is useful for an individual, many see the system as a whole as putting up barriers to the underprivileged.

A three-year survey of graduating college students conducted in 2013 found that students who had taken paid internships were nearly twice as likely to receive a full-time job offer as those who had taken unpaid internships. Unpaid interns had almost no statistical advantage over students who had no internships at all. The survey also found that students who had taken an unpaid internship were actually paid less on average in their first full-time job than those who had taken no internship at all.

The clearest lessons from the Twitter debate involve how unpaid internships are perceived. Companies should be aware that many smart candidates are likely to be highly sceptical of unpaid internships. Though the practice is somewhat more accepted in certain sectors, including fashion, journalism, and nonprofits, the positions may be genuinely inaccessible to some talented candidates, which could contribute to Africa’s decreased economic mobility.



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