Following Your Bliss Into Social Enterprises
by Melissa Lynch '06
Ever since experiencing the boredom of volunteering stuffing envelopes in high school, Kate Knight ’01 knew she wanted to do something socially beneficial but also intellectually engaging. A combination of geography, foreign language, urban planning, and economics courses at Dartmouth taught her that a business model could be used to do something helpful to people, a concept that led her to a career in microfinance.
Kate used her time at Dartmouth to the fullest, utilizing her extracurricular activities as opportunities to learn. She praises the DOC Trips program as a “smart way to get people comfortable in the outdoors,” and was deeply involved in the program, from leading a trip herself to participating on Hanover Croo and Climbing Croo. Kate also joined Dartmouth’s Nordic ski team, despite never having skied before college.
Kate spent a transfer term at Cornell University in Rome. There, she took the opportunity to talk with students at another institution about options after college, and learned about careers in the social enterprise sector. Frustrated by the corporate recruiting she saw at Dartmouth, Kate organized the school’s first social enterprise career fair to encourage students to “interact with alumni who were involved in non-traditional careers.” The career fair, still held annually, involves non-profit organizations that offer sustainable salaries to employees, which Kate felt was essential to attract and retain successful students to the non-profit world.
She also emphasized the importance of going abroad as part of a full Dartmouth education. “You have to get out of Hanover,” she said, “and love coming back.” Motivated by a desire to learn Spanish, she spent a term in Chile working with an environmental group with the aid of a grant from the John Sloan Dickey Center for International Understanding. Later, she also spent a term in Barcelona improving her Spanish and working for Spanish Professor Francine A’Ness
“What sets Dartmouth apart,” Kate said, “is the way it encourages you to take the reins of your education and shape your whole experience.”
A year after graduating, Kate was approached by the founders of DREAM, Mike and Jesse Foote ‘01 and Jon Potter ‘01, to aid them in the transition from a volunteer group to a sustainable non-profit organization. Kate helped the organization craft a business model and provided a foundation for DREAM to grow into the successful program it has become.
Although she had already signed to begin work with a strategy consulting firm after graduation, Kate first completed a three month summer internship at Unitus, a small start-up microfinance institution in Seattle. Microfinance, which involves providing financial services for low-income clients, combines both of Kate’s career goals—helping people to better their lives while utilizing an interesting and challenging business model. At the end of three months the company extended a full-time offer, which she accepted rather than going into strategy consulting.
Kate worked with Unitus until the summer of 2006, helping to develop the organization from a small start-up of six employees to one of the most successful microfinance institutions in the country. Unitus has won a number of awards recently, including the 2006 Ernst and Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award and the Fast Company Magazine Social Capitalist Award in 2006. During her tenure there, Kate also spent a year in Bangalore, India, establishing a Unitus branch there. Kate has now left Unitus to pursue an MBA from Columbia University in order to “round out her education.” No matter where her MBA takes her next, it seems likely that Kate Knight will always be using her education and passion for learning to make a difference in the world.
“Follow your bliss,” Kate says. “Find what you love to do and go do it.”