The First-Person Project

Lindsay Durst ’11

Somerville, MA

Social Enterprise Initiative Coordinator, Harvard Business School, Cambridge, MA

Major: Environmental Studies

When I was a kid, I had a lot of different thoughts about careers. One of the only consistent things in my life is that I’m always finding new interests and ideas to explore and learn about. I always envied people who were clear about what they liked or what they wanted to do, but I never was. I did think I wanted to be a teacher, which was one of the reasons that I ended up at Keene State. But after being in a classroom for a while, I decided that that maybe wasn’t quite right for me.

I grew up on New Hampshire’s seacoast, so Keene was only a couple hours from home, and in-state tuition seemed like a smart move. The campus was beautiful, and it just felt like a good choice. I had a really great experience, between Keene State and the Keene community and some of the jobs that I had when I was in school.

I played sports in high school, and I tried rugby out while I was at Keene, and that was a lot of fun. I worked part time at the Keene Parks and Rec Department, which was an amazing job; I really, really loved that job. I did a little bit of everything. We ran afterschool programs, youth sports, Special Olympics, a ton of different things. It was a great experience to get involved with the community, to work with kids, and to see how local government works. It was a good first step into the world of nonprofits and government.

I was also a member of a sorority, Delta Phi Epsilon. You did a little bit of everything in the sorority; obviously there are the great friendships and social experiences, but you also learn how to be part of a team and how an organization is run. We also did a lot of community service and philanthropy.

After I realized that teaching probably wasn’t a good fit for me, I thought about the outdoor leadership course I took in high school, sailing in the Sea of Cortez for 22 days. The course had components of science, environmentalism, and stewardship of the earth. Looking at the Keene State course catalog and the requirements for various majors, environmental science seemed like a great option. I didn’t have to limit myself to just biology or just chemistry or just geology. Environmental science provided a lot of opportunity to explore across disciplines.

When I graduated, the economy wasn’t great, and neither was the job market. One of my sorority sisters had done Americorps VISTA, and it seemed like a perfect fit for me, too, because not only would I be giving back to the community, I’d be learning new skills. With Americorps, you’re a volunteer – VISTA stands for Volunteers in Service to America. I applied, and was selected to work as development coordinator for a group called Teen Voices in Boston. I had done some fundraising through the sorority and the Parks and Rec Department, but I had no formal grant writing experience or donor relations experience. So it was awesome to get that kind of training. I loved Teen Voices, which was an after-school journalism, mentoring, and leadership program for high-school girls. We would hire a group of girls, and their job was to write the articles for a magazine that was published and distributed world-wide. They were partnered with college-aged mentors, who would walk the girls through the research and writing process. At the end they would get their articles published, on topics ranging from people who were interested in sneakers to serious issues like mental health or women’s health.

Every day after school, around 3 o’clock, the girls would start showing up. And the whole energy, the whole vibe of the office would change. The music would come on, there’d be laughing, and it was so re-energizing. To be around young people who were talented and driven – it was really inspiring. Not only did I learn a lot about development work, but I learned a lot about people, and people from different backgrounds than me, people with different interests than me, people going different places than me.

After my Americorps year was up, I got one job teaching yoga and another as a paraprofessional in the Brookline Public Schools. I mainly worked one-on-one with an eighth-grade boy who had cerebral palsy. It was a great year, I enjoyed it a lot, but I then knew that I really didn’t want to be in a classroom. But I am interested in public schools and how they work, though more from the administrative side.

By then I had worked with elementary students at the Parks and Rec Department, middle-school students in the Brookline schools, and high school students at Teen Voices, so I decided to try higher ed.

I was hired as an information services assistant at Harvard Extension School. I was the primary contact for people who were interested in taking courses or who were taking a course or two but weren’t enrolled in a degree program. So anyone who had questions would call or email my office. While I was in that job I was promoted to team lead, meaning I was supervising other people, doing some training, and handling customer service problems that needed to be defused.

That led to the job I have now at Harvard Business School. When I saw the posting for the Social Enterprise Initiative coordinator, it really resonated with me. I have a strong connection to mission-driven work and community-driven work. The Social Enterprise Initiative is about applying innovative business practices and managerial disciplines to drive high-impact social change. That falls really nicely into the mission of the Business School as well, which is to inspire, educate, and support leaders across all sectors who make a difference in the world. Being able to support students who want to use their incredible intellectual capacity to do good things is something that I can do.

The Social Enterprise Initiative is a hub for students to connect with each other and with faculty and alumni who share similar interests. We just finished a round of summer fellowships, and I managed the application process, sat on the selection committee, and coordinated the funding process. The fellowship supplements the incomes of students who want to do social enterprise work over the summer, so they can have a meaningful summer work experience without sacrificing their ability to earn an income.

We also run a new venture competition with the Rock Center for Entrepreneurship, which is a huge event every year. It’s really cool. Students submit a business plan, one that they’re actively working on or an idea that they want to develop, and they go through some rounds of judging, and at the end there’s a big culminating event where they get on stage and pitch their idea to an audience. The winners can use the prize money to start the venture that they pitched, or they can use it to start another venture.

This is by far the most challenging job I’ve had. It’s very rewarding, and it’s really awesome to be here. The culture is great. Everyone works really hard – the students, the faculty, the staff. I’m proud of what I do. I’m proud of the students I work with. They are exceptional people. Not only are they getting their MBAs from Harvard Business School, they’re traveling to all parts of the world. There are students who are helping to make dialysis more affordable in parts of Africa, and there are students who are helping to install power grids, and there are students who are working for the UN and humanitarian organizations. There are also students starting their own ventures. It’s such a wide range of ideas and projects and passions.

Outside of work, I like to be outdoors, I like to go camping, I like to do yoga. I love to try new food; I think that’s one of best things about living in the city. I grew up in a beautiful place, but Boston is very diverse, and there’s so much to do and see and experience here. It’s a wonderful place to be as a young person.

When I was working at the Extension School, there was a running joke in my office. My coworkers kept a list, and every time I would say, “I think I know what I’m going to be when I grow up,” they would write it down. Every now and then we’d go over the list, and it’d be everything from a welder to anything you could think of, because I’d say, “Oh, wouldn’t it be cool to know how to do this, or know how to do that?” In higher education, I don’t have to focus on one particular subject, and I have the ability to support other people while they’re learning what they love to do. So who knows? I don’t think I’ll be a welder, but what if one day I was working for one of these social enterprises that a student was starting here? You never know.