Category Archives: Member Profiles

Spotlight on Kendra & PJ Hyett, Honorary Hosts of Spark’s Holiday Bash

Spark loves Millennials who are committed to philanthropy and actively making our world a more equitable place for all. Holiday Bash Honorary Hosts and Spark Members, Kendra & PJ Hyett epitomize our ideals. Kendra’s journey is one that encompasses all types of social impact, from volunteer to major philanthropist. Her husband PJ, Co-Founder of GitHub, is a role model philanthropist and ally for women and minority groups in the tech community. As an inspiration to us and the next generation of philanthropists, we wanted to learn more. We sat down with Kendra & PJ to learn more about their journey, passions, and Harry Potter floo powder.

What has led you on this journey of philanthropy and social impact? 

Both of our families have always been very dedicated to volunteering and giving back, so we were both instilled with the desire to give back how we could to our communities and the world around us. Once Kendra had the opportunity in her career path to shift to nonprofit work focused on grantwriting and grantmaking, we had the opportunity to apply that new knowledge of the nonprofit landscape plus new skills to more strategically plan our giving and desired social impact each year.

What causes are you most passionate about and why?

Women & girls empowerment, leadership training & access to quality education both locally and globally; access to quality healthcare; global human rights advocacy; tech training for underserved youth; entrepreneurship training; and animal adoption.

These causes are the near to our hearts due to either opportunities afforded to us, or issues we are passionate about and understand need development to provide steps towards deserved equality for underserved people (and animals who need homes like our own two dear rescue dogs).

What are next steps for you and PJ’s philanthropy? 

Expand our giving around leadership and tech training, economic empowerment, and access to reproductive healthcare in this crucial time for women, girls, and minority groups.

Where do you see yourselves in 5 years?

We recently had our first child, so life has, and will be, changing a lot! In reflection of that, we want the world to continue to grow into a more compassionate, equal, and beautiful place for our baby girl and more kids to come. We plan to stay closely tuned to the needs of our community and the nonprofits in it doing such important work, and focus our giving and volunteering where we see the strongest needs, and the strongest potential for meaningful and lasting impact.

What advice do you have for other millennials interested in making social impact? 

Find organizations like SparkSF, GiveWell, or giving circles that resonate with your areas of interest to help guide your philanthropy and social impact choices. Making informed, strategic decisions takes more time and research, but it’s well worth it to focus your impact and get to feel connected with it.

What do you both love about Spark? 
We both love the amazing learning and leadership opportunities Spark provides to young professionals. The membership fee and opportunities fit so well into the busy lives of young professionals who care about being involved in making the world around them a better place, as well as improving their own skills, and meeting like-minded people in a city full of transplants.

What talent (or superpower!) would you like to have?

PJ – Teleportation

Kendra – Harry Potter floo powder… so basically, also teleportation.

What is the quality you most like in a fellow human being?

PJ – Sense of humor

Kendra – Compassion

Who are your heroes in real life?

PJ – My parents

Kendra – My parents, Gloria Steinem, Malala Yousafzai

Spotlight on Caitlin Heising, Honorary Host of Spark’s Black & Pink Ball

Spark loves Millennials who are committed to philanthropy and actively making our world a more just and equitable place for all. Black & Pink Ball Honorary Host and Spark Member, Caitlin Heising epitomizes our ideals. Caitlin is actively committed to engaging young people in human rights and empowering women and girls. As an inspiration to us and the next generation of philanthropists, we wanted to learn more. We sat down with Caitlin to learn more about her journey and passions including starting the Young Professionals Network of Human Rights Watch, joining the board of her family’s foundation, and learning to fly.

Caitlin Heisign

Caitlin Heising – Honorary Host of Spark’s 10th Anniversary Black & Pink Ball

What has led you on this journey of philanthropy and social impact? 

Growing up, I watched my mom spend time volunteering in my school and tutoring underserved children in our community. During high school and college, I also tutored and mentored children from refugee families who had recently resettled in the U.S. Meeting them and hearing their stories made the problems and conflicts I’d learn about in class seem much more real and human. In college, I tried to understand how best to empower (as opposed to simply aid) individuals and communities who had been dealt an unfair hand in the world. Also around that time, my parents started our family’s foundation, which intrigued me from the start. I knew one day I would want to be deeply involved in philanthropy and social impact because I could see the improvements it was making in our community at home. Over the years, we’ve had the opportunity to deepen our impact by exploring different strategies, including funding national policy work, and that’s the other element of this work that I love – you can always do and give better, and there is always more to learn.

Why did you decide to leave the corporate world to join the board of your family’s foundation (The Heising-Simons Foundation) and learn about philanthropy?

After working for a couple years in tech PR and corporate communications consulting, I felt like I had learned a lot and wanted to pivot to a career with more social impact. I had the opportunity to join the board of the foundation and build out grantmaking focused on human rights, and the timing felt right. I know I’m still young, but I also know it’s never too early to be making an impact on the world, and I felt like working with the foundation was my best opportunity to do that. It’s also been great to spend more time with my parents (who I have to say are awesome) and learn more about their values and vision for the future.

What causes are you most passionate about and why?

I’m passionate about human rights, especially here in the U.S. According to a national study, the average American citizen, journalist and politician is unaware that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights exists. The language of human rights simply isn’t widely known in our mainstream culture. We’re seeing the effects of this apathy and long-standing systemic inequities dangerously play out all the time lately with racial profiling, police misconduct, and other violent and unjust acts making front-page news every week. And with more than two million people in prisons and jails, the U.S. has the most imprisoned people in the world. As a country that espouses freedom and human rights internationally, we have the power to influence policies in other countries as well. For the U.S. to truly assume the mantle of human rights leadership, however, we will have to practice more thoroughly at home what we preach abroad.

I’m also passionate about empowering women and girls around the world. It’s scary to think about how much still needs to be done to improve health, education, and economic opportunities for women and girls, but it’s clear that these types of investments go a long way in improving lives and communities.

Tell us more about the Human Rights Watch Young Professionals Network you launched in March?  

My friend (and fellow Spark member) Erika Gomez and I started the group to support Human Rights Watch and engage young people in human rights. We’re now a dedicated group of volunteers in the Bay Area who support HRW through outreach, advocacy, and fundraising. We work to promote awareness of human rights issues through public education events and strategic advocacy campaigns, and also nurture the next generation of philanthropists by hosting events to generate support for the organization and its mission. We’re having our inaugural art auction and cocktail party, called A Night for Human Rights, on October 16th in San Francisco – you should come!

Where do you see yourself in 5 years?

I’d like for us to be continuing the human rights grantmaking at the foundation and I’d like to have completed an MBA program focused on social impact. I’d also like to be in a position to advise other young people and families on next gen and human rights-based philanthropy. I’m a California girl at heart, so I wouldn’t be surprised if I was still living in the Bay Area.

What advice do you have for other millennials interested in making social impact? 

Firstly, I’d commend their interest and passion! Then I would say to take time to reflect on your goals and study the issue you want to change. Meet everyone you can who is also working on that problem – including, most importantly, the people who are directly affected by it. There are a lot of trends and “shiny new things” vying for attention in the social sector. The challenge can be figuring out which approaches will have deep, lasting impact and which will only skim the surface.

What talent (or superpower!) would you like to have?


What is the quality you most like in a fellow human being?

Sense of humor and humility.

What is your favorite journey?

 This is a tough one. I love going to new places. Most recently I went to the fjords in Norway, which was absolutely beautiful. I also am nostalgic and love the drive to Tahoe for Christmas, which for many years we celebrated in my grandparents’ cabin in the woods.

Who are your heroes in real life?

I’m lucky to have three amazing grandmothers who are each very different, but all share the qualities of poise, purpose, and passion. For that and more, I aspire to live a life full of love and adventure like they have.

Reflections: Spark’s Philanthropic Mentorship Series Launch

Reflections by Spark Member, David Scatterday

It was a distinct pleasure to participate in the inaugural installment of Spark’s Philanthropic Mentorship Series. Worthy of a truly notable launch, we were joined by philanthropic innovators Yann Borgstedt and Antonela Notari Vischer from the Womanity Foundation.


Auspiciously, everything about the launch event of such a promising series was seamless.

First, a little about our guests: Womanity is an entrepreneurial foundation that thinks creatively to find solutions to today’s women’s empowerment challenges. Key topical areas of action include giving women and girls a voice, advancing education and opportunities, providing fellowships to emerging female social entrepreneurs.  As a man, Womanity’s founder Yann Borgstedt does not fit the traditional model of a woman’s empowerment pioneer. However, Yann understands that solving for women’s issues is a key part of solving every development issue around the globe.

Back to our scene: we were hosted in the headquarters of the Cordes Foundation, whose work is focused on alleviating global poverty and empowering women and girls to fully participate in the development of their communities.

In my mind, the event crystallized everything that is so great about Spark.

First, reinforcing its mission of empowering tomorrow’s philanthropic leaders, the event was custom-designed to engage millennials in real dialogue with real practitioners. Speaking with leading social entrepreneurs in the field triggered valuable dialogue about real solutions to pain points encountered by the aspiring millennial philanthropists and activists in the room.

Second, the event was infused by a deep sense of shared mission. While Spark and Womanity take relatively different approaches to programming and fundraising for women’s issues – it was very evident the two organizations share a deeply held common cause of empowering women around the world. This shared sense of mission added a tangible sense of relevance and urgency to the entire session’s dialogue.

Finally, over several years of involvement with Spark, I’ve realized that solving for women’s issues requires an ‘all-hands’ approach. In our increasingly globalized and resource-constrained world, every pressing social issue is a woman’s issue. Whether climate change, health care access or hunger, women are disproportionately impacted. Bringing about real change will require large-scale collective action – women and men working together to solve truly global problems.  Both Womanity and Spark are organizations that understand this and practice a large-tent approach to addressing social problems every day.

Last week’s mentorship session made me prouder than ever to be an active male, millennial philanthropist and Spark member, confirming that I, and everyone at Spark, are taking the right steps to meaningfully improve the welfare of women in this generation – and the next.

SparkSF Member Profile: Leo Garver

Leo Garver graduated from Pomona College with a degree in Chemistry. He has Spark Member: Leo Garverdone early-stage research for treatments of HIV, Hepatitis C and Cancer. He has recently shifted from using his talents in analytical chemistry to data analytics. He now does analytics and business intelligence consulting for a variety of bay area startups and non-profits (like Spark!). He is also an avid singer and ballroom dancer.

Leo’s Spark Story:
A former classmate introduced to me to Spark, and I was immediately intrigued with Spark’s mission and methodology. I joined the digital strategy committee and started going to Spark events. I was so impressed with both the people I met and the causes that Spark supports that I had to get more involved!

Who is your favorite grantee?
Uganda Women’s Water Initiative.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?
A beach vacation with a good book and good friends.

What talent (or superpower!) would you like to have?
The ability to play any song on any musical instrument.

What is your most marked characteristic?
A Thirst for Knowledge. Unfortunately, this sometimes leads me to become a fountain of useless trivia.

If you were to die and come back as a person or thing, what do you think it would be?
An Eagle. Gracefully flying around clear blue skies sounds like a pretty excellent second life.

What is the quality you most like in a fellow human being?

What is your favorite journey?
 I spent a semester living and going to school in South Africa.

Who are your heroes in real life?
Nelson Mandela and Paul Wellstone.

SparkNYC Member Profile: Kanwal Jehan

Kanwal Jehan works as a Litigation Paralegal at Cooley LLP – an Spark Member: Kanwal Jehaninternational law firm that represents clients across a number of industry sectors including technology, life sciences, clean tech, real estate, financial services, retail, and energy. Kanwal graduated from St. John’s University in 2011 with a Bachelors degree in Legal Studies and a minor in Criminal Justice.

She serves on the Investment Committee for SparkNYC and Advisory Board for Turning Point for Women and Families. In her free time, she enjoys attending Zumba classes and reading fiction books. She talks to us about how she got involved with Spark, Europe and time travel.

Kanwal’s Spark Story:
My former officemate introduced me to SparkNYC and invited me to their Cocktails for a Cause event. After having a great time at the event, I met with one of the board members to learn more about Spark’s history and mission. Since then, I have fallen in love with the organization. Spark has given me the opportunity to grow as a leader and connect with amazing people. I love being a part of an organization that truly wants to help bring change for women in United States and around the world.

Who is your favorite grantee?
Women LEAD, the first and only leadership development organization for young women in Nepal.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?
A happy family.

What talent (or superpower!) would you like to have?
If I could time travel, that would be great. I would love to go back in time to see my childhood and spend more time with my Dad.

What is your most marked characteristic?
Determination. No matter how difficult it gets, I never give up and keep moving forward.

If you were to die and come back as a person or thing, what do you think it would be?
A cure for all diseases.

What is the quality you most like in a fellow human being?

What is your favorite journey?
In 2009, I studied abroad for a semester in Paris, Dublin and Rome. I had never been to Europe and this was the first time I had ever traveled on my own. I am grateful that I was able to make this trip; it taught me important life lessons that I wouldn’t have otherwise learned.

Who are your heroes in real life?
My Dad, Mom and Aunts, Martin Luther King, Hillary Clinton and Paulo Coelho.

SparkSF Member Profile: Toni Alejandria

Toni Alejandria works as the website coordinator for the California Institute of Integral Studies and consults in design, marketing, and event planning for start-ups. She majored in Dance and Global and International Studies at UC Davis. In her free time, you can find Toni doing dance performances and fundraising for causes. She is a campaign manager for HackCancer and a Champion mentor for Groundwork Opportunities. She talks to us about how she got involved with Spark, flying planes, and Bear Grylls.SparkSF Member: Toni Alejandira

Toni’s Spark Story:
One of my friends introduced me to Spark and was convinced I would fall in love with the organization. After attending my first Spark mixer, she was right. It’s amazing connecting with so many people who have a passion for empowering women and supporting women’s initiatives around the world. I’m always impressed with the Spark members I meet and love being involved with their fundraising and event efforts.

Who is your favorite grantee?
Uganda Women’s Water Initiative, an organization that provides clean water training to women in rural communities of Uganda.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?
Traveling around the world photographing people and collecting art.

What talent (or superpower!) would you like to have?
Flying planes. (It’s on my bucket list.)

What is your most marked characteristic?
Making friends wherever I go. It’s no secret, I love meeting people!

If you were to die and come back as a person or thing, what do you think it would be?
The female equivalent of Bear Grylls.

What is the quality you most like in a fellow human being?
Ability to hold a conversation with a complete stranger.

What is your favorite journey?
Giving up everything to do an apprenticeship with a famous dance company in Israel. I never made it out there due to an injury, but during physical therapy, I learned so much about perseverance, dedication, and faith. It was the hardest year I’ve ever experienced, but I came out stronger is so many ways. That experience alone changed the course of my life and set me on the journey to where I am today.

Who are your heroes in real life?
Sheryl Sandberg, Lisa Bevere, Scott Harrison, and Bartlomiej Jan Skorupa.

SparkNYC Member Profile: Megan Lynch

Megan Lynch is a program coordinator at the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR)— an independent, nonpartisan membership organization, think tank, and publisher—where she manages corporate relationships for the Council’s Corporate Program. Megan graduated from New York University in 2010 with a Masters degree in Politics and a concentration in International Relations. She M Lynch Photoserves on the Membership Committee for Women in Development and the Investment Committee for SparkNYC. She talks to us about how she got involved with Spark, penguins, and a wrong turn in Europe.

Megan’s Spark Story:

A friend invited me to attend a SparkNYC membership mixer, and I immediately felt like I connected with the organization’s mission and community. I’ve long had an interest in women’s empowerment, international development, and effective philanthropy, and SparkNYC allows me to invest in all these areas alongside an incredible group of young professionals. Spark has provided me with a unique opportunity to learn about the grant-making process and to think about philanthropy from a funder’s perspective. I’m continually inspired by the innovative grassroots organizations that we support and by Spark’s energetic and committed members.

Who is your favorite grantee?

The Komera Project, a leadership incubator in rural Rwanda that facilitates educational opportunities for young women.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

A good book, cinnamon scone, coffee, and an unscheduled afternoon.

What talent (or superpower!) would you like to have?

Flying would be fun, but I think the power to teleport might be even better. It would definitely cut down on my commute.

What is your most marked characteristic?

Curiosity. I grew up pestering my parents with questions, and I still have that eagerness to learn and understand.

If you were to die and come back as a person or thing, what do you think it would be?

A penguin?

What is the quality you most like in a fellow human being?


What is your favorite journey?

Last summer, I traveled through Europe for two weeks with my three sisters. One of my favorite unplanned moments of the trip was when we took a wrong turn on the highway from Basel to Munich and ended up in Liechtenstein. Despite being lost, it made for great sister bonding. Plus, we got to see a tiny yet stunningly beautiful alpine country.

Who are your heroes in real life?

I have a long list of heroes, but some that come to mind include my mom, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Madeleine Albright, Aung San Suu Kyi, and Fyodor Dostoevsky.

Member Profile – Ellen Goldwasser

Ellen Goldwasser is a counselor with an NYC organization called Esperanza, an alternative to incarceration program dedicated to youth, families, and communities. Esperanza began as a demonstration project of the Vera Institute of Justice, and now works to find ways to reduce reliance on out-of-home placement for youth who are adjudicated delinquent in the family court system. Ellen provides therapeutic services to youth and their families, including assessments, intensive family and individual counseling, and crisis intervention.

Ellen’s Spark Story

Before moving to NYC to complete her master’s in social work at Columbia University, Ellen worked at Minami Tamaki, LLP, in San Francisco. One day she was chatting with her co-worker (Steve Ngo) about her interest in women’s rights organizations and he told her she needed to get involved in Spark. Ellen reached out to Spark’s Executive Director, Shannon, and over the next couple of years she joined the investment committee, the Black and Pink Ball committee, and the Spark Champions. When Jenn Wilcox and Ellen moved out to New York around the same time, they were thrilled that there was so much interest in creating a Spark affiliate in NYC.

Favorite Grantee?

YWCHAC – Spark’s first New York grantee. Ellen particularly likes the WE SPEAK program (Women Empowered Support Protect Educate Advocate and Know), which holds weekly events and teaches young women in New York City the skills to empower themselves and to advocate for better sex education programs in New York City Schools.

Why Spark?

Ellen believes that Spark does critical work, both by partnering with and awarding small grants to women’s organizations that might otherwise be overlooked, and also by creating awareness about important issues that impact women locally and globally. She loves the fact that Spark is so democratic and that the leadership is very open to new ideas.

Questions by Proust – Answers by Ellen

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Being super busy, surrounded by people I love.

What do you consider your greatest achievement?

Training my puppy – although it never quite ends, the early stage is the biggest test of patience.

What talent (or superpower!) would you like to have?

Oh man, if I could fly…

What is your most marked characteristic?

Aside from my interpretive hearing, I’m very adventurous – I’m always up for anything.

If you were to die and come back as a person or thing, what do you think it would be?

A giraffe – they’re so tall and stoic AND they barely require any sleep!

What is the quality you most like in a fellow human being?

Reliability and trustworthiness. Humor is a great plus, but it’s most important to me to be able to count on someone.

What is your favorite journey?

The summer after I finished college, my sister and I traveled around Africa and Europe for four months, sightseeing and visiting friends. It was one of my favorite experiences and allowed for a lot of sister-bonding time!

Who are your heroes in real life?

Two of the most incredible women I have ever met: Maya Angelou and my grandmother, Lizie Goldwasser.

Member Profile – Jenn Wilcox

This is Jenn.

Jenn Wilcox works for Summit Rock Advisors, an NYC-based investment management firm that provides financial advice and portfolio management to US-based charitable institutions and wealthy, philanthropic families.

Prior to joining Summit Rock in 2010, Jenn spent two years in San Francisco as an investment banker at Goldman Sachs, working with public sector entities and municipalities. She graduated from Pomona College in 2008. Jenn has been a board member since 2010, and she founded SparkNYC in 2010 when she moved from San Francisco to New York. Jenn also serves on the Board of Trustees for Pomona College, and on the Social Investment Council for Echoing Green.

Jenn’s Spark Story

After reading an article in the New York Times Magazine about wealthy women directing their philanthropic dollars to issues affecting women and girls, Jenn was inspired. After a few Google searches, Jenn found Women’s Funding Network, a collaborative philanthropic network that connects and strengthens organizations that fund women’s solutions across the globe. In their member directory, Jenn found Spark. She showed up to Spark event, and the rest was history!

Favorite grantee?

Young Women of Color HIV/Aids Coalition (YWCHAC), Spark’s first New York-based grantee

Why Spark?

Spark, to Jenn, represents a thoughtful community of people that she likes, respects, and admires, with whom she can discuss serious issues in the world. As a result of her time with Spark, Jenn has gained an incredible amount of knowledge and insight on women’s issues. Additionally, she’s gained a sense of responsibility and leadership, and a genuine, first-hand belief in Spark’s model.

Oh, and she met her fiancé at Spark event!

Questions by Proust – Answers by Jenn

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Sleeping in with nothing on my schedule

Which talent would you most like to have?

The power to stop time

What do you consider your greatest achievement?

Maintaining interest and curiosity in the world, even when I am busy and tired

What is your most marked characteristic?

I am incredibly energetic. Some say I can compete with the Energizer Bunny.

What is the quality you most like in a man?


What is the quality you most like in a woman?

Empathy. Why would they be different?

What do you most value in your friends?

Sincerity and forgiveness

What are you favorite writers?

Dave Eggers, Jonathan Safran Foer, David Foster Wallace

What is it that you most dislike?

Being clad in anything with buttons, Velcro, elastic, or a zipper from the waist down and disorganization

Member Profile – Jack Berglund

ImageThis is Jack.

Jack was working for Thomson Reuters as a Product Manager in New York, and recently left the city after 8 years to cultivate his yodeling skills in Switzerland. He has been attending SparkNYC Investment Committee meetings for the last 18 months.

Jack’s Spark Story

Jack knew Ellen Goldwasser, Chair of the SparkNYC Investment Committee, through a mutual friend in San Francisco, and she convinced him to go to an Investment Committee meeting. He was duly impressed by Spark’s mission and loved the approach to finding innovative charities both locally and worldwide.

Favorite grantee?

Young Women of Color HIV/Aids Coalition (YWCHAC), Spark’s first New York-based grantee

Why Spark?

From Spark, Jack gained a true appreciation of many issues facing women worldwide, and a sense of satisfaction from playing a small part in addressing some of those issues. Also, the inclusive atmosphere, and enthusiastic and dynamic people

Favorite Muffin?


What Jack will miss most?

The people

A Note From Jack

A huge thank you to everyone at Spark for making me feel so welcome. I’ll miss you all! I’ll make sure to say Hi whenever I’m back in New York. Look me up if you’re ever in Europe or need a place to stay in Switzerland. I’ll be following the progress of the grantees from afar. Keep up the good work. Spark, you’re awesome!