Dream Job Status: Grant Writing in Montreal

women+in+citiesI walk into the historic stone building, complete with gargoyles carved over the doors and massive, sweeping windows, and run to catch the elevator door before it slides shut. Once I’ve made it to the office on the eighth floor there’s time to grab a mug of coffee from the breakroom before delving into emails.

“Are you getting in touch with the Global Fund today?” the woman beside me asks in a thick French accent.

“Yeah, but I have to wait until lunch – San Francisco is two hours behind,” I answer.

I’ve been CC’d into an email chain between our executive director and a man from the Centre on Governance at UOttawa. Did you get the email I sent you? He asks. Qatar’s deadline is at the end of the month. She responds, Yes, I’ve handed that off to my colleague Melissa. Let her know which sections of the proposal need development.

This isn’t a daydream. I’m not sitting in the back of class staring blankly out the window, imagining the glories of the Real World. This is an average morning at my volunteer job here in Montreal.

Before coming to Montreal I had hopes of finding a grant writing internship. My major, unlike programming or game art and animation, is pretty vague; “Professional Writing” covers a massive scope of careers and talents. Thus, a writing internship serves not only as a means of learning career skills, but also of determining whether one enjoys the field they’ve been thinking about entering. Doing my internship for credit at a newspaper taught me, contrary to what I had thought for the last five years, that I definitely didn’t want to sell my soul to be a journalist. My focus changed to grant writing, and Montreal seemed like the perfect chance to explore that field – a large metropolis full of nonprofit organizations. But my summer Craigslist searches yielded no results, and I gave up the hope.

On my first day at the Montreal campus the lovely administrators approached me and told me to let them know if I wanted any help finding a volunteer internship, as there aren’t many specific offerings for my major here. I told them that I hadn’t had much luck looking, and they told me not to worry about it. Within a week, Andrea had waved her magic wand and set me up with an interview at Women in Cities International, an international membership organization focused on promoting women’s participation in urban development and promoting women and girls’ right to the city.

What if they don’t like me, I thought as I biked into the old port my first morning. What if I have no idea what I’m doing. What if I’m stuck making coffee for the rest of the semester. But my fears were unfounded. The women of Women in Cities are all incredibly sharp and endlessly optimistic. “We all went through it, too,” they said when I thanked them for opening their office to a helpless college kid. And immediately they forwarded me a half-finished grant proposal for a million dollar project being executed in India, Vietnam, Egypt, Peru, and Uganda, joint with UN Habitat and PLAN International. I wrote the sections we were responsible for, and they came back with glowing reviews. I was in.

Since then, I’ve been able to propose program developments to the board of directors, edit modules written in English by non-native speaking coworkers, research new funding opportunities and evaluate the feasibility of others, and reach out to potential funders to discuss possible future collaborations. I’m currently contributing to a proposal asking the government of Qatar to fund a joint research study of socially equitable educational models in post-conflict cities of Sub-Saharan Africa, and I’ll be writing a module to train girls, of that first program I was assigned, on how to apply for grants for their own activism projects.

This volunteer position is more than I could ever have asked for. My only regret is that I don’t have more time to put towards it. I’m ecstatic to go into the office on the days I work, and know now definitively that this is the field I want to pursue post-grad.

– Melissa Nelson, Professionnel Writing Major, Fall 2014