Kelly Behrend, '10, a student of peace and conflict studies while at the University of Richmond, intentionally pursued an education that would prepare her for a life of purpose. Now she is living that life.

Behrend has made a name for herself as a leader of sustainability and social impact strategy by working for a social justice foundation, a global sustainable development nonprofit, and two social impact tech start-ups in the carpooling and news media industries. She also co-founded a startup focused on promoting remote work for social change.

Currently, Behrend works with a social impact agency called Effect, while also serving as a freelance social impact consultant. Her work with clients spans a variety of social justice topics including sustainable cosmetics, vegan advocacy, donation technology, and green utilities management. As a freelancer, Behrend has helped more than a dozen organizations in the US, Australia, Latin America, and Europe increase their social and environmental impact.

She never interviewed for these or any other jobs she’s had since college, she said.

"I only recently realized that every single gig I've had I’ve gotten from public speaking of some kind," Behrend said. "If you want to find opportunities, you have to make them."

Behrend built her passion and capacity for social-impact work on years of unflagging study and service, commitments solidified during her time at the University of Richmond. 

"My experience at Richmond has had a huge impact on who I am," Behrend said. "On graduation day I felt compelled to walk into Boatwright Library one last time. I had such a connection with the library – a place where I’d spent countless quiet mornings and late nights expanding my mind and my spirit, learning about cultures and perspectives across space and time."

Behrend also highlighted her time as a Bonner Scholar with the Bonner Center for Civic Engagement. "The Bonner Program profoundly shaped my perspective and career,” she said, noting how the program propelled her to accumulate over 2,000 hours of community service working for nonprofits in four different countries by the time she graduated.

"The direct community service taught me a lot about efficacy, justice, and compassion," Behrend said. "But perhaps more importantly, the intentional reflection opportunities with my fellow Bonners working across different social justice areas gave me perspective, motivation, and a deep sense of empathy."

For current Spiders, Behrend offered some words of advice. "Try it all," she urged, as she railed against the societal pressure for 18-year-olds to "know who they are and what they want."

Instead of treating a singular academic path as an imperative, Behrend broke it down: "This whole journey of self-discovery never stops. Don’t box yourself in. Liberal arts institutions give you an amazing opportunity to explore subjects, classes, clubs, hobbies that you’ve never even considered. So, explore!"

Behrend recommended a different type of exploration to seniors: "No matter what field you’re going into, try to find a job that gets you out into the world and not locked into a cubicle. 

"Negotiate continuing education with your hiring manager – this can be in the form of annual conference stipends, online courses, or other industry trainings," said Behrend, who has an MA in Sustainable Development & Corporate Responsibility from Escuela de Organizacion Industrial in Spain and is also a graduate of Colombia University’s Executive Program for Environmental Peacebuilding. "This is because in the professional world, it’s often about who you know. So, start building your network immediately. Meet people with similar interests. Find new mentors. Shake hands and stir hearts."

Behrend is no stranger to stirring hearts herself. Fully immersed in the world of social impact, she has challenged and inspired countless others to be forces for positive change and empathy in their own communities.

Behrend looks towards the future with confident optimism. "My generation and younger generations are intensely compassionate," Behrend said. "We care about the environment, about justice.

"Social media has intensified this and expanded our horizons. We have empathy and connection with people around the world we would have otherwise never met. We witness human creativity unfolding every time we refresh our news feed. We’re capturing and celebrating our experiences. We’re curating our moments of joy and experimenting with bravery in expressing our pain.

"We're processing life – together. It’s powerful stuff. That collective resonance, collective empathy, can only continue to expand."