Life Lessons: A Reflection on my GreenLight Internship

Aug 24, 2021


By: Vivian Zhao, GreenLight Fund Boston Summer 2021 Intern

Since landing my internship in March, I have struggled with one thing above all else: how to explain my job to others. GreenLight’s approach to investing in nonprofits is unique and quite complex. We work to ensure that we’re not just investing in quality organizations, but that our organizations are the right fit for Boston at a specific moment in time. After listening in on general staff meetings and other sites’ selection advisory council (SAC) meetings during my internship, it became evident that the level of rigor in selecting investments is uniform across GreenLight’s sites. Each investment is taken extremely seriously.

Even after starting work, I had a hard time describing my job because I was doing so many different things. This was my first time working a regular nine-to-five, and I found there were always many balls in the air that we had to juggle. When I joined the team in early June, Boston was wrapping up its 13th investment, Working on Womanhood (WOW). There were engagement agreements to be hammered out and press conferences to schedule, and I was tasked with getting started on research for our 14th investment. The GreenLight approach combines Internet deep dives with community conversations to discover what each city needs the most. I used this approach to conduct a local landscape analysis aimed at discovering how COVID-19 had changed the needs of Boston residents, especially those experiencing poverty. As the summer went on, I compiled my findings into issue area briefs covering a variety of topics from Early Childhood to English Language Learners. I also worked on social media and event planning on the side, aiding in the Twitter announcement of the WOW investment and finding raffle donors for GreenLight Boston’s annual Golf Tournament.

I learned a lot this summer—so much I hardly know where to begin. My research was a unique opportunity to better understand relevant social topics, and it felt personal because it was Boston, the city where I attend college. I learned how to make better presentations more quickly, and how to effectively build up to an important announcement on social media. Every Friday morning, GreenLight hosted a learning session for all the interns and fellows. It was a cool opportunity to chat with the full-time staff about topics they were passionate about and their career trajectories, and hearing their stories helped me realize that nobody’s path is straight and narrow. In the other staff calls I joined, including my one-on-one check-ins with Daniela, I was caught off guard by how friendly everyone was. The team at GreenLight is incredibly genuine and supportive, and it impressed on me the importance of a workplace environment where people uplift one another and embrace diversity.

Coming into this internship, I didn’t know what I wanted out of my career, out of my life. I’m still unsure exactly what I want to do in the future, but each day at GreenLight has been both fun and educational, and I will carry the life lessons I learned here with me forever. For instance: “Good enough” is not good enough. It’s always worth going the extra mile, whether that means ensuring we receive input from community members to inform the issue areas we look at or emailing hundreds of businesses to try to make our Golf Tournament’s raffle prizes a little bit better. GreenLight is not afraid to expend any extra energy to make sure its investments will thrive in their new cities. Just as the popular saying goes “treat each day as though it’s your last,” GreenLight treats each selection cycle like it’s going to be its last.

A whirlwind of experiences later, I can hardly believe that as I write this, it is my last week. Although anyone who asks me about my job will still get an earful, instead of being because I’m confused, it will be because of how much I’ve learned about Boston, about working in the social sector, and about myself.