For Nikki Mason, Rachael Henley, and their team at Actis, it was never a matter of if they should continue their Global Summer Associate Programme in 2020, but how they would do it well.

The Actis Internship Program

Actis is a global emerging markets private capital investment firm. It has a growing portfolio of investments across Asia, Africa, and Latin America with employees around the world. So while the team at Actis was no stranger to having staff working in various locations, the 10 week Summer Associate Programme had historically been held in-person across their 17 global offices.

When COVID-19 shut the doors of businesses around the world, it quickly became clear that the in-person internship experience would need to shift to remote. For both Mason and Henley, cancelling the program wasn’t even a consideration. The quick shift to a remote internship program was a need because it is Actis’ pipeline of high-potential and diverse talent into the firm. As Henley noted, “We look to hire people who will build a career at Actis and hope that the Summer Associates will be the future leaders of the firm. Our Associates are exposed to live deal situations, investment strategies and new projects early on which is also a consistent feature for all other Actis employees.” In fact, Harvard Business School alum, Michael Harrington (GMP 25), is now a Partner at Actis and champion of the internship program after having participated in it himself during business school.

With this commitment to bringing on talented Summer Associates who could contribute to the firm now and in the future, the team pressed on with a ‘how’ mindset as they worked to create an engaging and impactful summer internship experience.

Putting People First

As Mason and Henley first began thinking about how to onboard 17 Summer Associates around the globe, they focused on engaging their current Actis employees in the process. In a typical year, each Summer Associate would be assigned a line manager and team buddy who could assist with questions throughout the day. To supplement that process, team buddy roles became more formalized with norms for daily check-ins that eventually became weekly check-ins as Summer Associates became more settled into the program.

Introducing an HR buddy system was a new addition to offer more opportunities for interns to engage and get their questions answered. “Usually interns could stop by HR with a question,” said Henley, “but it’s quite different when we’re working remotely. So now, Nikki and I have weekly check-in calls with the Associates.”

In addition to the formal buddy programs, water cooler chats were scheduled for Summer Associates with all members of their team in the first week, and employees from across the business volunteered to hold 10-15 minute video conference chats. “With most employees working remotely, we knew they were eager to engage with others so we were proactive in encouraging them to connect with the Summer Associates,” said Henley. Exposure and relationships were important pieces of the puzzle for Actis so that Summer Associates could be evaluated for full-time roles, and would have ample opportunity to evaluate if Actis was the right fit for them long term.

New Opportunities for Learning and Increased Engagement

Beyond 1:1 interactions, the team at Actis also put structure around how Summer Associates would build new skills, network, and learn about the firm’s core values of accountability, teamwork, transparency and responsible investing while working remotely.

First, the team focused on written plans and resources including personalized work plans for each Summer Associate and an employee handbook. Formalized plans gave the Summer Associates high level objectives for their summer so they could better understand expectations and goals. The handbook compiled information from many different sources so that they knew exactly where to look to find answers on HR policies, training schedules, and contact information. Looking ahead to 2021, Mason and Henley agree that personalized work plans and the employee handbook are features from the remote experience that they would like to see institutionalized.

Another key element of the Global Summer Associate Programme is Actis Investment Essentials, a two day seminar usually held in London during which Summer Associates hear from various senior colleagues and learn more about the Actis investment strategy and processes. In response to COVID-19, this seminar became a program of two to three-hour Zoom calls over a period of four weeks so that information could be shared in digestible chunks. “What was really lovely about this switch is that we were able to recruit more people from around Actis to engage with the summer Associates, which created a fuller program than in years past,” said Henley. Mason added, “We hope to be in-person next year, but will likely plan to have shorter Actis Investment Essentials sessions during the in-person seminar and then add trainings on Zoom to help the Summer Associates retain information and learn from more of our team.”

In addition, to replace the Partner dinners that the Summer Associates would normally engage in, the team set up virtual dinners during which Summer Associates ordered in takeout and engaged in Zoom calls with each of the Partners. The Partners had the opportunity to craft their session in any way they chose so there was great variety between fireside chats, Q&As, videos, and “multimedia extravaganzas.” Face time with senior leaders in locations around the globe was significantly increased with the addition of these sessions and it is a part of the program Mason and Henley would like to retain for future years.

Keeping Momentum into 2021

As Torbjorn Caesar, Senior Partner at Actis has stated throughout 2020, everything at the company has been “business as usual, but in a different way.” By embracing this philosophy, the team at Actis put together a virtual internship program filled with unexpected wins.

“We wouldn’t choose to make the program virtual because of the value of face-to-face trainings and engagement, but now we have a degree of flexibility we can work with,” said Mason. “Summer Associates were working around the world and across time zones, and the teams have made it work. Knowing this is possible will make it easier for the firm to consider how they can engage with students remotely should it be necessary due to individual circumstances. Limits on bringing in the best talent have been diminished, which is an exciting opportunity for candidates and Actis”.

Henley adds, “The Summer Associate Program is growing and iterating, and this year has been an accelerator in many ways. We have proven we can create a robust program, virtual or in-person, and we look forward to continuing forward with many of our new initiatives to create a best in class program.”