The Nature Conservancy: My dream internship

by Kara Schnoes, MBA'12 (9/11/11)

Kara Schnoes, MBA'12

This challenge was the most rewarding career experience I’ve had to date. The path there was winding and Johnson made it possible.

I was raised by two wildlife biologists whose highest aspiration for their daughter was to work for The Nature Conservancy. The world’s largest (by revenue) and wealthiest (by assets) environmental non-profit, The Nature Conservancy (TNC) is the crème de la crème of land trusts and the leader in conservation innovation. This summer I fulfilled my parents’ (and my own) wildest dreams.

Every year my family receives the annual Nature Conservancy member report and when it came, back in high school, I would quickly flip to the back. Ignoring the breathtaking panoramas and flapping inserts asking for support, I’d find just what I was looking for: the profile of the organization’s president. At the time, his name was Steve McCormick, and although I knew next to nothing about the world of business, reading his story made one thing clear: I discovered at this young age that an MBA would likely be part of my future. Today, I know it has been a key step toward finding my “dream job”.

Muir Beach

 Photo: Three Johnson MBAs overlooking Muir Beach on a TNC preserve just 45 minutes north of San Francisco

Last fall at Johnson, I explored every option out there. I looked to my past in retail management and considered working for I thought about leveraging my experience in East Africa to work on Visa’s emerging markets strategy. And, I interviewed for a sustainability marketing role with a mainstream consumer goods company. But ultimately, I decided to pursue a position that wasn’t just with the organization of my childhood dreams, but one that was also willing to hand over an incredible summer project.

The Nature Conservancy has changed dramatically over its long history, re-inventing itself in the face of new challenges, scaling its work through innovative approaches to land conservation, and expanding to habitats and countries around the globe. This evolution continues today and my assignment was to help determine the organization’s path over the next five years.

Seated in the marketing department in downtown San Francisco, I drew heavily on Johnson’s marketing course work and my work in the Sustainable Global Enterprise Immersion. The Nature Conservancy had entrusted in me a significant challenge: Given the current trends toward urbanization and a more digital world, how should TNC work to broaden public support for conservation?

This issue gets to the core of their business. Traditionally focused on biodiversity and the environment, thinking seriously about shifting consumer trends and demographics is somewhat new for the organization. Was this a good use of their time? What impact could an environmental organization possibly have on consumer behavior and what should TNC specifically do about it?

My Canoe

Photo: My canoe paddling along one of the last remaining free-flowing rivers in California, a preserve The Nature Conservancy helped create over 30 years ago.

Nothing could have been more exciting to me than these questions, which got to the heart of TNC’s strategy and allowed me free reign to analyze a world of possibilities. Given the importance of the project, I had open access to many of the organization’s top leaders and spent much of my time interviewing some of the most inspiring professionals I’ve ever met. I talked to internal scientists, fundraisers, conservationists, and even human resource professionals. Externally, I chatted with leaders across California in the government and other outdoors or environmental non-profits. Coupled with weeks of research and analysis, I identified three target audiences for TNC’s influence, recommended ways to reach new supporters of conservation, and helped the organization determine the appropriate role they could play in shaping a conservation movement fit for the 21st century.

This challenge was the most rewarding career experience I’ve had to date. The path there was winding and Johnson made it possible. Taking the SGE immersion encouraged an open mind and a limitless career search, while the Career Management Center kept me grounded and focused. I ultimately chose what my high school self would have picked all along, it just took a few adventures to finally arrive.