Tag Archives: education

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.

In solidarity we trust. Spark News Digest

Maternal Mortality in Malawi & Texas,  Tabloids & the Men who Write Them, and a Flash Mob for LOVE. This is your Spark News Digest.

Read, Discuss, Share.

An event organized as part of the ‘One Billion Rising’ campaign in New Delhi on Thursday.

GLOBAL: The ‘One Billion Rising’ on the Streets of Delhi

In almost 200 countries around the world, people took to the streets on Valentine’s Day to rise and dance. These flash mobs are part of One Billion Rising, a campaign initiated by Eve Ensler, author of “The Vagina Monologues” to end violence against women. The mob message resonated in India which is still reeling from a highly publicized gang rape. Hundreds of men and women took the streets of Delhi to demand a JUST love grounded in equality for all.

Delhi Rising Promotional Video:

Read the full story 


GLOBAL: Searching for Gender Equality

A new study found that mobilizing grassroots women’s groups may have the most long-term impact on policies to eradicate violence against women around the world.

Read the full story 


GLOBAL: Boys: The Trouble with Female Celebrity Profiles and the Men Who Write Them.

The sex, the fantasy, the minimization, the disillusionment. This opinion piece illustrates the inherent sexism male writers continue to use to portray female celebrities in glossy magazines.

Read the full story


GLOBAL: Malawi’s Leader Makes Safe Childbirth Her Mission

In Malawi, 1 out of 36 women are at risk for maternal mortality. The country’s new president, Joyce Banda,  is out to change that horrifying ratio. Banda has a plan to sensitize Malawi’s 20,000 village chiefs, the country’s power brokers, to the dangers of childbirth, while still respecting tribal traditions.

Read the full story 


NATIONAL: Pregnant? Watch Your Risks In Great Texas State

When one think’s of maternal mortality rates, Texas is not the first place that comes to mind. No place in the US should be the first place that comes to mind. However, Gov. Perry’s budget cutting support for Texas’s women’s health services coincides with a shocking increase in maternal mortality rate in the Lone Star state.

Read the full story 

Closing the Gap: Spark News Digest

An internet gender gap, gender wage gap, human right’s gap and a cabinate- appointment diversity gap. Spark news digest is here to help fill in the gap, plus discussion on a new approach to film making.


Women wearing colourful Saris Rajasthan India Photo: ALAMY

Women wearing colourful Saris Rajasthan India Photo: ALAMY

GLOBAL: Fifth of women in India and Egypt think internet use is ‘inappropriate’

Can you imagine feeling guilty and ashamed by your family for connecting to the digital world? A new Intel report stated that one in five women in Egypt and India feel the internet is not appropriate for them to use, increasing an internet gender gap.  However, if these women were empowered to connect, they could move mountains. It is estimated that the transformative power of the web in business and educational opportunities for women could increase GDP by billions in 144 developing countries.

Read the full story 


LOCAL: Equal Education, Unequal Pay. The Gender Wage Gap in the USA

This beautifully designed infographic illustrates that while women are paying the same for tuition, doing equally as good or even better than their male counterparts in college, the gender wage gap post graduation is still very present in the good ‘ol USA. Similar to the internet gender gap, if women’s salaries matched men’s, the GDP would increase by billions of dollars. That’s the kind of math that really adds up.

Read the full story


GLOBAL: North Korea’s Human Rights Abuses Have ‘No Parallel’

While the attention on North Korea recently has been on stopping their development of nuclear weapons and missiles, human abuses have been overlooked. Navi Pillay, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Right stated that  “torture, summary executions, rape, slave labor, and forms of collective punishment that may amount to crimes against humanity” are affecting almost the entire population of North Korea, in and out of prison camps.

Read the full story


LOCAL: Obama’s Women Problem Is a Problem of His Own Making

A debate has been sparked by the lack of women appointments, to date, in Obama’s second-term cabinate. Given the criticism the President has received around roles of senior women within his circle, let’s see what’s to come.

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FILM: A New Approach to Making Films That Matter

Films are one of the most powerful mediums of our time. The number of documentary films have grown rapidly within the last few years while funding has increased at a pace less than half the rate of production. Funders want to understand the investment’s social impact in a more direct way. To help, social scientists are looking at ways of compiling data to understand how the framing of social issues spreads within social networks and potentially shifts public discourse. While this approach is new, it has the potential to give film makers and funders the data necessary to create stories that influence, educate and engage the intended audience.

Read the full story

Spark News Digest

Spark is a learning community. We learn by doing and educate our peers on issues impacting women around the world. Practicing what we preach, we will be posting relevant news articles for your mind-expanding pleasure. Read, learn, discuss, share.


An Acehnese woman straddles on a motorbike in Lhokseumawe in Indonesia, Monday, Jan. 7, 2013. / AP

An Acehnese woman straddles on a motorbike in Lhokseumawe in Indonesia, Monday, Jan. 7, 2013. / AP

GLOBAL: Women’s Rights Hit Roadblock in Indonesia

In Indonesia’s conservative Aceh province, women are being shunned for being…women. The Islamist government has voiced that because of the “curves of a women’s body,” female passengers cannot straddle motorbikes as it’s too alluring. Religious-based regulations like this are happening in many regions in the world and in some places, getting worse.

Read the full story


LOCAL: We must reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act

It happened. Congress failed to reissue the Violence Against Women Act before it expired last year. Congresswomen Glen Moore talks about the disappointment of  letting a bill as important as this fall to the wayside and the less-than-urgent  timing Congress has used to reauthorize it.

Read the full story and watch the video


GLOBAL: The Internationalization of Women Issues

“Women issues are world issues,” Michelle Bachelet, the executive director of U.N. Women and former president of Chile, said recently. “Today there is greater awareness than ever before that women’s full participation is essential for peace, democracy and sustainable development.” The globalization of women’s issues continues to be on the rise. Hopefully, this will continue to penetrate into leadership positions and change the landscape of decision making around the world.

Read the full story


GLOBAL: Lawyer in India Gang-Rape Case says Victim to Blame

The latest in the India gang-rape case shares the point of view of one of the lawyers defending the three men who are charged with the rape and murder of a 23-year-old women riding a bus in New Delhi at night. He states that “until today, I have not seen a single incident or example of rape with a respected lady…even an underworld don would not like to touch a girl with respect.” Will the international lens on this case force India to strengthen its laws on rape and protection of women?

Read the full story


LOCAL: What Linda Lovelace’s Story Does and Doesn’t Say about Porn Today

Linda Lovelace’s story is about to hit Sundance with Lovelace, played by Amanda Seyfried. The film has potential to kickstart some serious conversations about rape culture and sexual consent. The question remains, will the conversation help or hinder a new understanding about women and sexual consent?

Read the full story


Got 3 Minutes? – Flexing Resources Round 2


Turn 3 minutes of attention into a $5,000 grant by voting for Spark’s grantee Sweet Dreams in the “Give Back” Challenge! Yesterday, Shannon Farley wrote about Anna, a Spark member, who turned $7 of unused flex spending into 3 months of medical supplies for a women’s shelter. With just 3 minutes, you, too, can have an exponential impact!

Sweet Dreams is a contestant in the GOOD + Brookside Foods “Give Back” Challenge. The winner of this challenge receives a whopping $5,000 grant to implement their programs. The winner is dictated by the number of votes received, so your vote really counts! Voting is easy; it just takes a few minutes of your time.  Let’s all take a quick break from our Tuesday routines to make a difference in these young women’s lives.

The Details:

1. Voting is open NOW through December 9th, 12pm PST at http://brooksidefoods.maker.good.is/

2. Follow the link above, search for Sweet Dreams (currently #47 out of 120 applicants) and vote though Facebook or by email.

3. Each person can vote once during the voting period, so alert your network about the challenge!

The $5,000 grant would make a significant impact on the 12 young women entrepreneurs, ages 14-21, by supporting their business development and training.

Rally your networks and VOTE Sweet Dreams to the top!

Required Reading for the Social Entrepreneur

Last week I attended the Echoing Green Big Bold Benefit to celebrate social entrepreneurship and listen to Echoing Green 2011 finalists give pitches.
As part of the fellowship application process, each finalists was asked which books they consider to be “required reading” for social entrepreneurship. I wanted to share this list, especially as we all work hard to find ways to innovate and build on Spark’s tremendous model.
  • The Prophet by Khalil Gibran and Love of Life by Jack London
  • The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho and Rose
  • Where Did You Get That Red by Kenneth Koch
  • Harvard Business Review’s 10 Must-Reads: The Essentials
  • Mountains Beyond Mountains by Tracy Kidder
  • The Adventures of Augie March by Saul Bellow
  • How to Change the World by David Bornstein
  • Enchantment: The Art of Changing Hearts, Minds, and Actions by Guy Kawasaki
  • Follow Her Lead: Leadership Lessons for Women as They Journey from the Backroom to the Boardroom by Dr. Anita Davis Defoe
  • The Revolution Will Not be Funded: Beyond the Non-Profit Industrial Complex by Ed. INCITE! Women of Color Against Violence
  • The Republic of Tea by Mel Ziegler, Patricia Ziegler, and Bill Rosenzweig
  • The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery
  • Aku Aku by Thor Heyerdahl
  • Perfectly Reasonable Deviations from the Beaten Track: The Letters of Richard P. Feynman by Richard P. Feynman
  • How to Change the World by David Bornstein
  • Banker to the Poor by Muhammad Yunus
  • The Soul of A New Machine by Tracy Kidder
  • Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard by Chip Heath & Dan Heath
  • The Elements of Influence by Alan Kelly
  • Critical Path by R. Buckminster Fuller and Mountains Beyond Mountains by Tracy Kidder
  • God’s Bits of Wood by Ousmane Sembéne and Development as Freedom by Amartya Sen
  • Good to Great by Jim Collins
  • Good to Great and the Social Sectors: Why Business Thinking is Not The Answer by Jim Collins
  • Founders at Work: Stories of Startups’ Early Days by Jessica Livingston
  • Predictably Irrational by Dan Ariely
  • The Moviegoer by Walker Percy
  • The Lorax by Dr. Seuss
  • The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein
  • Crossing the Finish Line by William G. Bowen, Matthew M. Chingos and Michael S. McPherson
  • Strength to Love by Martin Luther King, Jr.
  • Long Walk to Freedom by Nelson Mandela

D.I.Y Inspiration by Jenn Wilcox

On November 24, Nick Kristof published a powerful article about “Do it Yourself” philatnthropists in the New York Times Magazine. Kristof profiles courageous women who have given up lives of comfort in the US to develop low-cost sanitary pads in Rwanda, fundraise for women in Congo by running races, and run a school for Nepalese children.

Elizabeth Scharpf – Founder of She: Sustainable Health Enterprises

This article and the stories shared about the women serve as an important reminder why grassroots organizations make a difference. Biology shouldn’t be destiny—we all have the capacity to try and make the world a better place.

At Spark, we often discuss how some of the women’s greatest barriers to education or employment are often issues you don’t think about – transportation, meals away from home, sanitary supplies during menstruation. By brining a fresh perspective to many of the daunting issues facing women around the world, young entrepreneurs are able to enact real change that breaks the mold of what traditional aid workers envisioned.

While change and progress often take three steps forward and two steps back, this article serves as an important reminder of how simply engaging in these issues is both noble and adds to the greater good. As Kristof writes, “anybody wrestling with poverty at home or abroad learns that good intentions and hard work aren’t enough. Helping people is hard.” But any progress, even incremental, is exciting and deserves to be celebrated.

Today, my spark is Elizabeth Scharpf – a 33 year old entrepreneur working to create a low-cost sanitary napkin solution that may help keep Rwandan women in school and at work. She may not succeed, but her business-based approach to tackling gender inequality and working to enhance productivity in the developing world is truly admirable.


Jenn Wilcox is a founding member of Spark NYC.