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Meet HBS Leadership Fellows: Verdell Walker, Sesame Workshop

By: Verdell Walker 18 Jan 2018

During the year, we’re connecting with some of our 2017-18 HBS Leadership Fellows, to hear about their backgrounds and their experiences in the Fellowship year. Read on to learn more about Verdell Walker’s (MBA ‘17) experience at Sesame Workshop.

Tell us about the organization and your role for the Fellowship year.

Sesame Workshop (SW) is the nonprofit educational organization behind Sesame Street and much more. SW’s mission is to help kids grow smarter, stronger, and kinder. Since I’ve been here, I’ve seen firsthand how that mission suffuses everyone’s work – I’ve never worked in an organization where every employee is truly united and motivated by a singular goal. SW combines fun media with enriching, meticulously crafted curriculum to address children’s critical developmental needs in the U.S. and across the world. My role for the Fellowship year is Director of Strategy – I sit on the strategic planning and venture capital team. I also support the work of the International Social Impact group, which produces early education content through mass media and targeted initiatives to address the needs of children from India to South Africa. 

What is your background pre-HBS?

Prior to HBS, I worked as an equity research analyst at Goldman Sachs and as a strategy analyst in the advertising sales division of The Wall Street Journal. My stint in finance helped me develop my analytical and research capabilities. Working at WSJ gave me a deep understanding of advertising, a key revenue driver of the media and entertainment industry. It was at WSJ that I first put the dots together on my passions and realized I wanted to pursue a career in media and entertainment.

What most excites you about the opportunity?

Sesame Workshop is a unique organization in that it has both commercial and social impact operations. I’m pursuing a career in entertainment, and Sesame Street is one of the most storied entertainment brands in the world. It’s a great opportunity to learn more about content development and monetization. I’ve also been afforded the chance to see how a nonprofit organization runs. It’s been eye-opening to see the work that goes into securing philanthropic funding, developing and implementing impact programs, and managing the operations of a nonprofit.   
Why is the Leadership Fellows Program different from other post-grad opportunities?
LFP is a unique opportunity in that it allows you to make an impact on your organization right away. The LFP nonprofit partners come to the program because they are looking for bright minds to help tackle some of their most pressing challenges. Because of this, we Fellows are given significant exposure and visibility to senior management. With the exception of startups, there really isn’t anything like this available to recent grads in terms of speed to impact.  
What do you hope to achieve during the year?
I’m fortunate to be working on several important projects that give me the opportunity to make a substantive impact on SW. One project I’m very excited about is developing a long-range business and content strategy for SW’s new office in South Africa, which will oversee the local edition of Sesame Street called Takalani Sesame as well as social impact work in the country. 

In one word, what is the Leadership Fellows Program to you

The HBS Leadership Fellows Program is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for a select group of graduating students to experience high-impact management positions in nonprofit and public sector organizations for one year at a competitive salary. Learn more about the HBS Leadership Fellows Program.