PKG Social Impact Internships: Alvin Zhu (’21)

My name is Alvin Zhu and I am a senior here at MIT. I am studying Computer Science,  Economics, and Data Science (6-14) with a minor in East Asian Studies. Inspired by the National  Geographic Kids magazines of old, I have always wanted to play a part in making our world more green and more sustainable. Thus, as the work opportunity at the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) was released, I immediately jumped at the chance to intern with such a well-known and influential non-profit. Even more than that, however, I would be able to use my data science skills towards a good cause! 

During this internship, what took me by surprise is just how large of an issue sustainability is. It is not something that you or I can tackle alone—it requires a truly global effort of reducing, reusing, and recycle (to say the least). There needs to be cooperation between all nations of the world and all aspects of life and society. Thus, it would not work if we were to antagonize and shame some people and companies behind policies that are not sustainable.  Rather, we want them to get on board with the ongoing commitment to a greener, cleaner world. The magnitude of this effort to make our world more sustainable is truly sublime; my work with the WWF can only give me a taste of what it requires! 

Working with my wonderful manager Julia, I am tasked to identify connections between  WWF board members and the c-suite (ex: CEO, COO, CCO, etc.) of large companies around the world. The goal behind this is to create a warm introduction for which WWF board members can then work with the c-suite of other companies to help make their company more environmentally friendly. For example, if WWF board member Alice is on the board of KPMG, and Bob, the CCO of PepsiCo, is also on the board of KPMG, Alice can then work with Bob to make PepsiCo more sustainable. The hope is that because both Alice and Bob are a part of KPMG, Bob is more receptive towards Alice. What is so inspiring about this effort is that we are not limiting ourselves to just one industry. Rather, we are ambitiously targeting the largest companies in a variety of industries, be it agriculture, seafood, manufacturing, distribution, grocery, clothing, and more. This fittingly loops back to my point about how large the issue of sustainability is. It is not enough to just target one specific company or even one specific industry. By casting a wide net, we can cover more grounds and create significant change. Moreover, hopefully, companies within the industries can also follow each other’s leads to become more sustainable!

With such a gargantuan task, it is also fitting that Julia has introduced me to a countless number of WWF employees from a wide array of teams! Hearing from them was incredibly insightful because not only was I able to contextualize why the work I did was important, but I  learned how I can tailor my work to best fit their needs. Every team has a slightly different need, so to ensure that my work will continue even past my time with the WWF, I need to ensure that I  take all suggestions into consideration. 

All in all, I believe that the importance of interpersonal relationships is the largest thing that I have learned by working with Julia thus far. This importance is not only reflected in my task of connecting WWF board members to the c-suite of large companies, but also in how I was able to talk to a lot of WWF employees to ask questions and get feedback. This need for cooperation between a multitude of people just iterates how we all must work together to make our world more sustainable! The timing of this lesson also comes at the perfect time. Due to  Zoom and the new norm of virtual learning/working, we are perhaps the most individualized we have ever been. It has been more than a year since online school and work started so working in silos now almost seems natural to us. However, as I have come to truly appreciate, solving difficult and important problems takes more than one individual to do. We need the help and support of different people to find the error of our current ways and to grow. Moreover, we need someone to pass our work on to such that it can continue staying relevant and useful. Ultimately,  teamwork and cooperation are vital for a better tomorrow.

Interested in doing a Social Impact Internship? Learn more about how to apply by clicking here!

Tags: Climate, Climate Change, Social Impact Internships, Social Impact Internships Spring 2021

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