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 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.