Working at 4th Wheel: story of an internship in Covid-19 times

I arrived in Mumbai in February, ready for a 6-month internship at 4th Wheel and for a life in a city I had long wished to live in. One month after, on a Friday, a colleague bid his farewell with a regular “See you on Monday!” to which I replied with an ironic “Hopefully!”, coming from the news that was circulating on the increasing number of Covid-19 patients and the possibility of a lockdown. 

We both laughed, maybe we just did not want to believe that our life could be affected the way it was already happening in other parts of the world, especially in my native Italy. To our surprise, though, we indeed ended up not seeing each other, neither on that Monday, nor on the ones that followed: work from home had officially started and it would continue for months, making me live an…unexpected experience in the city.

Pros and cons of working from home have been thoroughly discussed during these months, and you probably already know where you stand; I would like to share with you the story of my internship at 4th Wheel and show you how I have turned adverse circumstances into a fruitful opportunity. As it turned out for me, doing an internship remotely for a consulting firm has some great sides one should take advantage of.

The Work at 4th Wheel  

4th Wheel Social Impact is a consulting firm that conducts impact assessments for institutions that operate in the social sector. I was enrolled in the third semester of MSc Economics when I applied for an internship, and during the 6 months with the company I was mainly involved in the evaluation of a skill building program for young people, for which I contributed with data analysis, the development of tools for the measurement of the impact, use of SurveyCTO for management of the data and report writing; I was also involved in one of the field visits for data collection, and more would have followed, had it not been for the outbreak of Covid-19. One of the challenges during the internship was indeed to deal with the unexpected repercussions of the pandemic, a confounding variable that had now to be taken into account in the evaluation process.

The tasks allowed me to develop skills on data analysis and visualization using Excel and R, and even more importantly I got closer to the world of evaluation and the real needs of clients, something which I had not explored yet in my academic career: I understood what it means to evaluate a program in a setting with resource and budget constraints, something that does not easily emerge in the literature we, Economics students, often get to read (where RCT is the norm); second, delivering results of your data analysis to clients forces you to create easy, practical, friendly visualizations of your findings, a creative process that is very hard to practice at university, where all that counts is the content rather than the way it’s presented. 

4th Wheel Culture 

I love Mumbai and I love Powai, the suburb where 4th Wheel office is located. On the Sunday before my first day of work, I spent the afternoon exploring the neighborhood and looking for the best food stalls and restaurants with full dedication. It was the time when I had a strange obsession for lachha paratha, and I had found a restaurant that used to make delicious ones. 

The office, located in one of the neoclassical-style buildings that distinguish that area of Mumbai, is infact a co-working space that brings together different companies; the informal set-up allows everyone to enjoy the hours of work and stimulates personal and professional growth; the environment is young and dynamic, such a good opportunity for interaction, building friendships, and exchange of ideas, and… Well, probably much more that I was not able to experience in the single month I spent in the office.

Finally, the team is structured in such a way that you never end up working alone on a project: communication with colleagues happens on a daily basis, and online team meetings – along with some fun game nights – are helpful to make you feel part of the company, even if physically far. 

Turning the crisis into an opportunity

Rethink your plan. As soon as work from home started, my enthusiasm stayed the same and was simply shifted onto the new things I could dedicate myself to: the time and energy spent to go to and stay in the office could now be used in some other way. This is the first advantage of interning from home while studying, especially when the commitment is part time rather than full time: you get to take an internship opportunity without having to delay your studies. In my case, work from home has meant being able to rethink my plan for graduation and submit my thesis one semester ahead of schedule. Because of this, I also had the time to look for a PhD program, apply for it and be selected, starting it one year before I had predicted. I also had the energy to learn the Hindi alphabet and Indian cooking (now I make my own lachha paratha), a beautiful way to feel closer to the country and the people where I had moved and that I wouldn’t have been able to master if I had to spend the day in the office.

Manage your time wisely. The shift to work from home, despite being sudden and unexpected, did not really break the workflow. Being in consultancy means having periodic tasks to accomplish within a set timeline: do it from wherever you want but do it right and deliver it in time. This brings flexibility to the daily schedule: study sessions, interaction with professors and exams are feasibly manageable because there is no one there dictating that you must work within a specified timeframe. Part time consultancy requires dedication and full commitment at the time of need, which may bring a higher workload than other jobs, but it allows you to relax when the job is done (until the next one comes!) and carry out other activities parallelly.  

Venture into something new! Tables have turned suddenly, but once I put together a new plan I could benefit from the new circumstances. With the Fall Semester 2020 still at stake – many universities across the world might still opt for virtual classes – my wish is that students have the energy and enthusiasm to take the challenge of embarking on something that would remain unexplored otherwise, be it new alphabets, new recipes, an internship in consulting for the social sector and whatever else gives you serenity and fulfillment.

  • Cristina Cibin

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