The consistent rattle of the spray paint can in her hands mimicked the ticking of her mind as Haley Burns ‘20 assessed the canvas in front of her. After hours of class, work, and event planning, she had rushed home to shrug off her suit jacket and wrap a bandana around her face. Now, squatting on the front porch of her apartment in Durham, the frustrations of the day dissipated alongside the hiss of paint clouding the air.
The art offers an escape, but it also fuels the long days, the hustle and the grit. For Burns, making art is the embodiment of her entrepreneurial spirit, and her hopes to make some small difference in the world. Business school might not seem like the natural choice for a creative type, but she couldn’t really imagine how her path could have evolved without it.
“Paul has given me an amazing foundation to feel confident in pursuing a creative career,” Burns said. “As I have grown and my interests have evolved, all of my business skills support my desire to be my own boss. My time here has made me comfortable to dream a different future for myself.”
When Burns stepped on campus as a first-year student in 2016, she had no inkling of where UNH would take her. She started off in the sales track, pursuing a somewhat traditional career path. But time abroad in Australia during the fall of her junior year, where graffiti is entwined with the culture of the streets, fundamentally changed her as a person. She found a sense of peace and happiness there that she knew she had to bring home.
“I feel like it’s kind of cliché, right, to say that your time abroad changed your life? But for me it honestly did,” she said. “It gave me time to think about what I really wanted to commit my life to. And I realized I wanted to start creating things more consistently and make an impact with my art. If I'm going to spend my life doing something, why not make that about bettering people's lives or our planet?”
On her return to Paul, Burns immediately switched her major to entrepreneurship, a program she believes is “made for rebels, for people who want to challenge the status quo and make their own paths in the world.” She quit her sales job and found a local composting company that needed graphic design work. Then, as part of a leadership course over the summer, she began organizing a local fundraiser for a Haitian social venture, 4BeezInternational.
4BeezInternational is focused on creating sustainable housing villages in Haiti that embrace beekeeping, organic gardening, and composting with the goal “to empower the impoverished, giving them homes and means to generate their own income, while making Haiti a more sustainable country.” Burns helped plan an event that combined musical performances with an art auction–with original pieces supplied by Burns–at the Stone Church Music Club in Newmarket. She also designed the event flyers.
Soon after, one of Burn’s friends approached her with an idea for another fundraiser focused on providing skateboarding gear to local children. The ‘Pana Be Real Project’ was subsequently born, and Burns helped organize another concert and art auction–this time with custom painted skateboard decks–at the Red Alert Skateboard Shop and Indoor Park in Rochester.
“It motivates me when something has a purpose behind it,” Burns said. “It's nice to help people by doing something I love.”
Throughout these fundraising events, Burns was still working her way through her senior year at Paul. As part of her entrepreneurship capstone class, students were challenged to pick up an unpaid internship during the semester. Seeing a Haitian social venture on the list of available companies felt like fate: and so, Burn’s work with V’ice Haiti began.
V’ice provides an innovative solution to two of Haiti's most overwhelming obstacles: massive unemployment affecting 70% of the population, and a nation-wide vitamin and protein deficiency impacting both children and adults. The company delivers affordable vitamin supplementation to the people who need it most through snow conesand protein bars, and employs Haitian youth and mothers as micro-franchisees to sell the product in Haiti.
Burns quickly fell in love with the company’s mission. For most people, the hours planning and organizing fundraisers, taking classes full time, and an international internship probably would have been enough to fill their days–and their stress quota. But Burns became inspired to add another opportunity to her plate, and entered V’ice into the NH Social Venture Innovation Challenge through the Center for Social Innovation and Enterprise.
Her efforts ultimately paid off when she took home first place in the competition’s community track, winning $5,000 for V’ice. Since graduating last spring, she has continued working for V’ice while seeking further opportunities to use her art for change.
“I feel like art, in itself, gives back. It inspires people and is designed to make people feel a certain way,” Burns said. “I love that the things I make have an influence on the way people move through the world.”