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WE@Yale: Women’s Innovator Breakfast

Spotlight: Evelyn Chen, Director of Development at Equality Now

On September 25th, Evelyn Chen, Director of Development at Equality Now presented on her decades of experience working in fundraising and marketing for mission-driven organizations. Her talk, entitled “How to Dismantle the Patriarchy and Keep your Day Job,” was co-sponsored by Yale Women in Law, and educated attendees about the balance of bringing about real institutional change while advancing professional goals.

Founded in 1992, equality now is an NGO that protects and promotes human rights for women around the world, and is comprised of global networks of politicians, activists and lawyers who work together to advance women’s rights. With offices in NYC, London, Nairobi, among other cities, Equality Now works heavily in Africa and the Americas. Chen shared that the prevalence of female genital mutilation (FGM) in the US stands at half a million, and that it is by no means a minor issue even in developed Western countries.

“We use the power of the law to establish gender equality because the law is a statement of worth by your government,” she said. “We believe it is the first step to concrete progress, so and that’s where we start. We focus on systemic change because we believe it can influence culture and large populations of people.” Chen discussed the presence of laws that perpetuate violence and inequality towards women, such as men who rape women and subsequently marry them to avoid rape accusations, since marital rape is not recognized in many places. “We worked to make rape recognized as a weapon of war, not an unfortunate byproduct,” she said.

While there are groups that work to help women exit from domestic violence and pull women out of the water, she added, Equality Now is “trying to figure out who pushed them in.”

“Change takes a long time,” said Chen. “We’ve been working on most cases for years and it takes collaboration: it won’t be taken down by just one person.”

After graduating from Dartmouth, Chen began her career in sales and marketing for a luxury hotel chain while volunteering her free time at shelters in Manhattan. “When I gave my time to others and contributed, I felt good,” she said. “I decided I would stop worrying about what other people were doing and begin worrying about myself, my contribution and my part in this world.”

She then transitioned to fundraising in nature conservancy for twelve years — the largest conservation organization in the world — before moving on to work at New Yorkers for Parks, a much smaller organization that conducted research and advocacy for parks and open space in the five boroughs. Afterwards, she took up a role at wildcat preservation organization Panthera, and joined a non-profit board during that time.

A tip she gave the audience was not to start one’s own non-profit immediately. In 2016 alone, 80,000 new nonprofits were registered in the U.S. “It’s not hard or expensive to start a nonprofit, but growing a nonprofit to scale to serve its constituents is a whole other matter,” she said. “Funding is declining, demand for services is going up, and existing companies need your help to maximize impact and grow.”

A large part of Chen’s role as Director of Development involves building relationships with donors and fundraising, and her three tips for fundraising are capacity, interest and willingness to give. “We’re looking for a confluence of these things,” she said. “They have to have the ability to give, a genuine interest in what you’re trying to support, and just because someone has a lot of money doesn’t mean they will give you any of it.” Additionally, Chen says she frames each fundraising interaction as a learning lesson. “Don’t be afraid of a no because that’s useful information and you have to make it okay for them to say no,” she said.

As for how to keep your day job, Chen advocated for “meandering careers” that educate you with new experiences and useful skills. “We need people in all different industries to know about, be aware of and get involved in these issues to figure out how we can make progress,” she said. “We get a lot of support from fashion and beauty and I’d love to break into tech for issues like sex trafficking that happens online.”

Chen shared some parting advice for the audience, encouraging them to learn more and get involved with different groups and websites, learn about issues like FGM and child marriage, and spread the word to engage others.

Her closing words to a diverse roomful of women undergraduates, professionals, graduate students and faculty? “Equality is not a fight of women against men. We see it as a struggle of us working together to fix humanity so we can thrive. When men and women are treated equally, societies are more equal, peaceful and prosperous, and everyone benefits,” she said. “You don’t have to be an expert, we just need people involved.”

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