Karen grew up in Burlingame California, a fifth-generation Californian of Swedish and Canadian extraction. Her first foreign experience as a 16 year-old exchange student in Mexico City exposed her to fascinating new language, food, colors and customs. She also became deeply affected by seeing a level of poverty and struggle she had never seen before. She’s known ever since that Latin America and social change would play key roles in her future life and career.
After graduating with a joint B.S. in Business Administration and Spanish at California State University, Karen entered the working world. Although she greatly enjoyed her first role in business development, she felt something was lacking. While walking home from work, she spontaneously stopped by the Peace Corps Office and soon became a volunteer in their Small Business Program in Guatemala, where she had the privilege of working with women’s groups and female entrepreneurs for two years. She extended her Peace Corps volunteer work a third year and launched Peace Corps’ Small Business Program in Uruguay and Argentina. Through this experience, Karen realized that capital was necessary but not sufficient for successful entrepreneurs, and she highly values the fact that Namaste provides essential business training and mentorship along with capital.
Over the past two decades, Karen’s career has focused on accelerating the adoption of technology and growth of high-tech organizations in new markets. During her tenure at employers such as Vital Wave Consulting, Telcordia Technologies and Stanford University she managed initiatives in mature and emerging markets including in India, China and Latin America; created compelling go-to-market strategies; and improved the performance of 100+ social enterprises from around the world by creating specialized training courses, identifying and connecting entrepreneurs to critical resources, and providing one-on-one advice and mentoring. She now works as the Vice President of Strategy and Impact at TechSoup Global.
Latin America continues to play an important role in Karen’s life. She lived and worked in the region for almost 10 years, conducted her Master’s and Doctoral research with Tufts University in Mexico and her dearest friends live in the region. She is thrilled with the opportunity of more deeply engaging with women entrepreneurs in Guatemala through Namaste Direct.
Away from work, Karen and her husband Brian Schmidt enjoy exploring trails across the Bay Area and beyond. She loves to bicycle, hike, backpack and explore the great outdoors.