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The Power of Productive Internships: Okongo Kinyanjui ’14’s TED Journey

Okong’o Kinyanjui has a true passion for TED and the TED Fellows program. Originally from Kenya and currently in his final year of studies at Quest University in Canada, he first interned with TED in 2017. As a Bezos Scholar, and thanks to the partnership between the Bezos Family Foundation and African Leadership Academy, Okong’o was selected to intern at the TED Global conference that took place in Arusha, Tanzania in 2017. 

Okongó at the TEDX QuestU

Back at school in Canada, Okong’o continued to stay involved, organizing the TEDx events at Quest University in both 2017 and 2018. Most Bezos Scholars that have the opportunity to intern with TED do so either for several weeks at a TED Conference or for four months in the main TED office. However, Okong’o’s work at the 2017 conference clearly stood out, as he was later one of the applicants selected for the official position as well, allowing him to experience not one, but rather both internships. From August – December, Okong’o worked at TED’s headquarters in New York City as a TED Fellows Intern. During this time, he assisted with the TED Fellow application and selection process, helping to assemble the new cohort of TED Fellows. He also facilitated and created content for TED Fellows’ social media platforms and helped schedule and welcome various Fellows and TED speakers as they came through the office. 

Okong’o greatly enjoyed the experience and says that his experience was pivotal in his professional development. He says, “My supervisor would ask me what skills I wanted to learn and then they would organize certain avenues for me to develop those skills.” Picking up on his interest in social media and graphic design, they connected him to the TED-Ed team. There, Okong’o was able to work with and learn from an animation team that produces TED-Ed’s educational videos.   

Okong’o says that the highlight of his internship was also when he realized just how vast the TED network is. One weekend, he visited New York’s famous Metropolitan Museum of Art to see an exhibit by Kenyan sculptor Wangechi Mutu. The next day, when his boss asked what he had done over the weekend, Okong’o mentioned the exhibit and his love for the artist. His boss’s response? “She was just ‘Ohh you want to meet Wangechi?… I’ll set up a drink date.’ And I just sat and had a drink with Wangechi Mutu within the next week or so, it just happened that quickly.” 

Okongó and Wangechi Mutu

Okong’o’s work ethic and ability to handle multiple projects at once quickly earned him a stellar reputation amongst TED staff. Reflecting on his string of successful internships with TED, Okong’o says, “ALA helped a lot, especially the ability to run your own initiative as a student… Just understanding how to organize finances and how to plan for events, ALA definitely allowed me to do that and at the same time excel in my classes.”  With such notable skills, it wasn’t long before he was offered a third internship. This time, Okong’o has been selected for the TED Fellows Senior Internship during the TED2020 Conference in April. His responsibilities will include mentoring younger Bezos Scholars and supporting event production and PR. However, he will also receive an entry pass to experience TED2020 as a full attendee and get to have lunch with a TED Fellow of his choosing. Needless to say, Okong’o is quite excited about the coming conference. Upon graduating from Quest later this year, Okong’o hopes to attend graduate school to continue studying Sociology.     

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