iOS app Android app

Linda Mason
Linda Mason is acclaimed humanitarian and entrepreneur. She co-founded Bright Horizons in 1986 and still chairs the company’s board. She became board chair of Mercy Corps, a worldwide international development and relief organization, in 2007, where she has helped organize aid efforts in crisis zones including Darfur, Congo and Haiti. An alumna from Cornell University with an M.B.A. from Yale University School of Management, Mason began working in international aid early in her career, overseeing a program serving malnourished children in Cambodian refugee camps in 1979 and serving as a co-country director for Save the Children’s work in Sudan during the 1980s before returning home to co-found Bright Horizons. The company, which was purchased by Bain Capital in 2008, is now the largest worldwide provider of worksite childcare and early education — it has been named one of the “100 Best Companies to Work For in America” by Fortune magazine for 15 years in a row. Mason has authored books on being a working mother (The Working Mother’s Guide to Life) and the Cambodian relief operation she oversaw (Rice, Rivalry, and Politics). She has received the Ron Brown Award for Corporate Leadership from President Bill Clinton, been named "National Entrepreneur of the Year” by Ernst & Young/USA Today in 1996, and listed as one of 1997’s “Best Entrepreneurs” by Business Week. She has also co-founded Horizons for Homeless Children (HHC), a Boston nonprofit serving homeless children in New England, and served as a founding member of the board of the Massachusetts State Department of Early Education and Care.

Mason is currently a Hauser Leader-in-Residence at Harvard’s Center for Public Leadership.

Entries by Linda Mason

Women Entrepreneurs Shaking Up the Start-up Scene in the Middle East

(0) Comments | Posted March 18, 2015 | 4:27 PM

Women are drivers of economic success. Bolstered by new research suggesting that training and education for women entrepreneurs directly correlates with increased revenues and job creation in emerging economies, Harvard Kennedy School partnered with Goldman Sachs Foundation and the U.S. Department of State to support female entrepreneurs in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) with an intensive leadership training program built on a core premise: economic opportunity for women is opportunity for all.


Photo credit: Russ Campbell

For two weeks in March, 29 entrepreneurs from across the MENA region sank their teeth into the 10,000 Women Entrepreneurship Program, a next-generation effort of Goldman Sach's 10,000 Women initiative focused on building elements for leadership success. Following networking and mentorship opportunities in NYC and DC, the participants landed in Cambridge for four days of intense learning. Harvard Kennedy School lecturer in public policy Nathalie Laidler-Kylander chaired the program designing sessions that allowed for equal parts strategy and reflection. Topics on the table in pilot course often traveled into tough territory, with frank conversations about entrepreneurial failure, negotiation and cultural bias. The women also shared stories of success, such as this one from Fatim-Zahra Biaz, founder and managing director of New Work Lab in Morocco, who launched her tech venture just 18 months ago:

I firmly believe that entrepreneurs will play a major role in catalyzing change in developing countries by adopting creative solutions to our local problems and creating jobs. Accelerating economic growth and access to technology creates opportunities for all.

Three years ago, after working for major consulting firms, I decided to start my own business in Casablanca, Morocco. At that time, the startup ecosystem was almost not existent: If couldn't find like-minded entrepreneurs or mentors in my community, I certainly couldn't find business classes, networking sessions or co-working spaces.

In 2013, I started New Work Lab, an innovative collaborative work space to incubate ideas by bringing together entrepreneurs who share skills, connect mentors with new entrepreneurs, and contribute to the growth of the startup scene in the region.

New Work Lab is today has connected over 1,000 people: entrepreneurs, students, experts and managers. We run more than 10 programs. We have organized more than 120 events that have led to the creation of more than 30 companies, countless jobs, and significant media exposure to the Moroccan startup scene.

As entrepreneurs in developing countries, we all share the same challenges. Participating in 10,000 Women gave me access to insight from other entrepreneurs, and a clearer understanding of the local challenges they face. I also had the opportunity to learn from the best practitioners and scholars in the U.S.: At Harvard Kennedy School, Goldman Sachs and the U.S. State Department. This has laid the groundwork for a fundamental shift in my career.

It takes a lot of courage to be a true entrepreneur in developing countries. As women entrepreneurs, we face the same challenges that all entrepreneurs face. And we happen to be women. It takes a lot of courage to jump in the entrepreneurial arena and build a startup in economies where the startup ecosystem is at its infancy. This training definitely helped me to gain perspective and see my business through a new lens.

I've also been empowered to build a network of cross-border business relationships. If I want to reach out to entrepreneurs in Jordan, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, or Egypt, I now know people there that can create new pathways for my company. And likewise, they can reach out to me. The networking and mentorship over the past two weeks has opened doors.

At Harvard Kennedy School, over 50% of our students hail from outside of North America. At the school's Center for Public Leadership we're educating rising leaders -- male and female -- hungry to pursue ventures in the entrepreneurship sphere. The success stories we see with 10,000 Women are powerful, and only serve to underscore our obligation to the next...

Read Post

Syrian Refugees in Lebanon Need Our Help

(0) Comments | Posted April 2, 2013 | 1:23 PM

Imagine the population of your town swelling with war refugees by 25 percent in one year - or even doubling or tripling in size. Imagine the competition for work, housing, and social and medical services.

On a recent trip to Lebanon, I found that this is the current reality...

Read Post

Building a New Libya From the Ground Up

(1) Comments | Posted May 1, 2012 | 1:48 PM

There is a feeling of intensity and anticipation in the air in Benghazi, a city in the northeast corner of Libya. There is enormous pride that last year's revolution started here; they were the first to stand up to Gaddafi. But people realize that there is much more work to...

Read Post

Healing Kids in NYC -- And Around the World

(0) Comments | Posted September 9, 2011 | 12:25 AM

It is difficult to imagine anything good resulting from the senseless and devastating September 11th terrorist attacks. But in the days and weeks after 9/11, I witnessed something positive and incredible: people coming together to heal the emotional wounds of kids in New York City, and taking that healing to...

Read Post

Mother's Day in Haiti: 'Hope Creates Life!'

(2) Comments | Posted May 8, 2011 | 11:08 AM

In the days leading up to this year's Mother's Day, I visited Haiti -- my third trip with the humanitarian agency Mercy Corps since the devastating January 2010 earthquake. I've spent much of my time in Haiti with mothers, and I've found that they share many of the...

Read Post

Can Cell Phones Rescue Haiti?

(2) Comments | Posted January 12, 2011 | 9:15 AM

When I visited Haiti in November, I saw one of the most effective weapons in the fight against poverty -- an intervention that may well be the key to Haiti's long-term recovery. It wasn't a doctor combating cholera, a new shelter for the homeless, or food being distributed to hungry...

Read Post

Unleashing the Haitian Enterprising Spirit

(0) Comments | Posted March 2, 2010 | 4:10 PM

On my recent trip to Haiti, I was filled first with despair and then hope. Despair for the overwhelming human and physical destruction. Hope because of the quiet strength, resilience, and determination of the Haitian people.

I spent my time in the sprawling tent camps in Port-au-Prince. It's estimated that...

Read Post

Book Club Activists Unite!

(1) Comments | Posted October 16, 2009 | 9:50 AM

Many Americans know about the inspiring book clubs of female media celebrities like Arianna Huffington and Oprah Winfrey. Most have not heard about unsung book club heroes like Rufi Natarajan.

Rufi is a mid-50s, Pakistani-American businesswoman who lives in Houston, TX. Her book club of smart, engaging women recently...

Read Post

Secretary Clinton Visits the Most Dangerous Place To Be a Woman

(2) Comments | Posted August 7, 2009 | 5:11 PM

While her husband's trip to North Korea to release two American women journalists has recently dominated headlines, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton takes on a mission that has the potential to save countless women's lives. As part of her seven nation tour of Africa, Mrs. Clinton travels on Tuesday to...

Read Post