Game Plan

Rachel Henderson ’06, senior communications officer for Nothing But Nets, the United
Nations Foundation’s grassroots campaign to raise awareness and funding to fight
malaria, visits with children at Nakivale Refuge Settlement in Uganda.

by Andrew Wickenden ’09

With nearly 10 years of experience in corporate and non-profit communications, Rachel Henderson ’06 advises HWS students interested in the field to have a game plan.

“Every good job is going to be highly competitive,” she says. “From everything I’ve seen, and from what my mentors tell me, there are several hundred applicants for any one communications opening. Students have to demonstrate some pretty unique work and life experiences just to be considered for an internship or entry-level position.”

To that end, Henderson says, “Don’t waste any time if you want to be competitive in your field,” though she also underscores the importance of pursuing a cause “[you] are truly passionate about — you spend way too many hours at work to not do something you love and find rewarding.”

Around the time Henderson graduated with a B.A. in media and society and Spanish and Hispanic studies, the United Nations Foundation’s global grassroots campaign, Nothing But Nets, began raising awareness and funding to fight malaria, a leading cause of death among children in Africa. Nothing But Nets works with UN partners like UNICEF, the UN Refugee Agency, and the World Health Organization to purchase nets and distribute them to families in sub-Saharan African countries, typically as part of wider public health efforts coordinated by the nations’ Ministries of Health, the UN, and other local and international organizations.

Now, as the campaign’s senior communications officer, Henderson is “responsible for ensuring we tell the best, tangible story about who we are and the work we do so that even more people feel inspired to help us save lives,” she says.

In her role as the campaign’s “chief storyteller,” as Henderson puts it, she works to share the “powerful stories about the refugees, mothers, fathers and children who we work tirelessly to protect from malaria. I’ve seen mothers lose their babies from malaria — it’s absolutely devastating that a child dies every minute from this disease that’s 100 percent preventable.”

In managing the campaign’s press and maintaining the consistency of its brand, offering strategic direction and choosing opportunities to reach new audiences, Henderson strives to connect with and convince Americans “who don’t know what it’s like to suffer from this disease, to help families on another continent,” she says. “They need to know how much these families rely on their generosity.”

Henderson worked for several years after graduation with Ogilvy Public Relations in Washington, D.C., where she was a vice president. At Ogilvy, her career outlook changed significantly, she recalls, when “I helped my client, LIVESTRONG, start its first Global Cancer Campaign. I knew then I wanted my communications expertise to be a channel for an important cause. I’ve always wanted to have an impact on the world and to help people. Nothing But Nets is my dream job because it does both.”

Her transition into the non-profit sector came during the 2013 sequester, when Henderson was laid off in what was, “in some ways, the best worst thing to happen to me,” she says. “I knew I wanted to make a shift anyway. I saw an opening with Nothing But Nets and applied right away.”

The move from a public relations firm to a non-profit prompted Henderson to reflect on “what drives the culture” of each type of organization and where she saw herself contributing.

“I wasn’t interested in helping a company and my clients make money or advance a business agenda,” she says. “Good business is important, but I wanted to work at a place that wants to change the world. And at the United Nations Foundation, everyone is here with that purpose. Everyone strives for global impact.”

And the job, Henderson adds, “can also be really fun. We work with a lot of sports industry partners like NBA Cares, MLS WORKS, and Athletes for Hope to engage athletes, teams, and their fans in the cause.” She and the NBA’s MVP Stephen Curry know each other well, as he’s the campaign’s most dedicated spokesperson. “But my absolute favorite part of my job is hearing stories from those who we’ve helped save from malaria. It’s life changing.”

At Ogilvy and now at the United Nations Foundation, Henderson looks for opportunities to share her passion and experience by mentoring HWS students. Over the past several years she has participated in the annual Day on the Hill program and job shadowing opportunities, in part, she says, because during her time at HWS, Henderson “was really fortunate to have many alums mentor me and help make connections. Students and alums should never underestimate the power of building connections and relationships. You never know when you might need to make a call, make a change, or even start over in your career. Our community is powerful and it can help you go far.”


Preparing Students to Lead Lives of Consequence.