In the Ever-Evolving Bay Area, These Six Women Lead by Example
Turning passion into power.
- CategoryMakers + Entrepreneurs
Meet six extraordinary women who help make San Francisco, Oakland and Silicon Valley tick. At the top of their game, each of these women all had a clear vision of where they were going—and they have more than arrived. Although they come from different backgrounds and enjoyed unique trajectories, they all have raised the bar with their individual successes. Here are their stories…
Advancing Community-Driven Policy
Hope Neighbor (pictured in top image)
Strategy Consultant for Social Impact
There is often a disconnect between our appetite to do good and the actual on-the-ground needs of the individuals or communities we’re trying to serve. Hope Neighbor has planted herself in that gap and is building a bridge as fast as she can.
As a young child, the Portland, Oregon, native frequently accompanied her mom to volunteer with the city’s sizeable Vietnamese refugee community. What struck her, she recalls, was the insight that her own reality was often a far cry from that of her neighbors.
She attended an international magnet high school in Portland, followed by Pomona College, where she spent her junior year studying in France. That exposure to other cultures solidified a desire to live abroad, so she signed up for the Peace Corps and embarked on a two-year stint as a community health volunteer in Cameroon.
Upon her return, she enrolled in a master’s program in public administration at Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School, sharing, “I was interested in what degree I’d need to get to effect policy change.” She alternated between classroom time and on-the-ground work with the World Bank and International Rescue Committee.
In 2005, she moved to the Bay Area to work in strategy consulting for boutique firm Marakon Associates. She explains, “Marakon was doing really interesting work in consumer insights: what is a customer or population’s need for something, and how can you build that into corporate strategies?”
In 2009, Neighbor decided to use her varied experiences and insights to start her own firm, Hope Consulting, and the following year she and her team released a landmark report on impact investing and charitable giving, titled “Money for Good.” The report reflected 2,000 interviews with people nationwide aimed at estimating the potential size of the impact investing and charitable giving markets, and determining what it might take for donors/investors to change how—or how much—they invest.
Six years after becoming her own boss, Neighbor found she missed doing work with an international component, specifically work related to women’s reproductive health. She joined San Francisco-based Camber Collective in 2015 as a partner and co-founder, and has worked to improve philanthropic and development effectiveness by shaping policy and programs to meet genuine human needs. Some of her proudest accomplishments include working with the World Bank, the United Nations Population Fund, and 10 governments in Africa to help countries establish their own strategies for helping improve quality of life for women and girls.
Neighbor recently left Camber to map out her next chapter. Meanwhile, she’ll serve as interim Chief Strategy Officer for the Earth Innovation Institute in San Francisco and spend time with her family. “I definitely want to continue working on global development effectiveness through the lens of women’s empowerment and reproductive health,” she shares, “this time focused uniquely on systems change.”
Meanwhile, later this month, she’s taking an ambitious international trip with her 4-year-old daughter. As Neighbor well knows, it’s never too early to start broadening your horizons.
A Story to Tell
Chief Administrative Officer and General Counsel for the San Francisco 49ers
A journalist at heart, Hannah Gordon has always been fascinated by the lives of everyone around her. “I’m a storyteller by nature and love human beings,” she says. “People are fascinating and I see every experience as an opportunity to observe the human condition.” Today, the life of this Oakland native is in the spotlight for her work as chief administrative officer and general counsel for the San Francisco 49ers.
While a student at UCLA, Gordon’s love for football materialized. “Growing up, I was a dancer and not the biggest sports fan,” she confesses. “And in college, I found myself having more free time, so I started watching sports on the weekends.” During the NBA finals, she would observe sports journalist Hannah Storm reporting from the sidelines. “I realized that I wanted to find a job where I could talk about sports to people and facilitate this type of witty repartee,” Gordon recalls. “It looked like so much fun.”
Unfortunately, UCLA didn’t have a journalism major, but the university’s student paper had a 50,000-person daily circulation—“which is bigger than a lot of small town newspapers,” Gordon adds. She was assigned the tennis beat for her sophomore year, where hours were spent educating herself on the sport and attending women’s matches. During her junior year, she earned the coveted football beat, making her the first woman ever assigned to the sport. “It was exciting and intimidating at same time,” she recalls.
Upon college graduation, Gordon spent time with the NFL Players Association (NFLPA) and the media relations department at University of California, Berkeley, before enrolling in Stanford Law School. Soon after graduation, she found a new home—and a new nickname—within the NFL league office. “It was during the big lockout and here I was, in my late 20s, working on player contracts and the salary cap,” she recalls. “I ended up earning the infamous nickname ‘Queen of the Lockout,’ because I was responsible for all communications to the clubs.” Gordon wore her new moniker proudly.
In 2011, this queen joined the 49ers as its chief administrative officer and general counsel, overseeing the Legal, Public Affairs, and Strategic Communications; Risk Management; Community Relations; and the 49ers Foundation. Finishing her ninth season with the team, Gordon has seen many highs and lows—and looks forward to what the 10th season holds. “When we went to the Super Bowl in 2012, I remember the general counsel of the New Orleans Saints telling me to, ‘Stop and smell the roses. Really enjoy this because this doesn’t happen everyday,’” she recalls. “You have to remember these moments when times are tough—it helps you to appreciate those special moments when everything finally comes together.”
Vice President of Corporate Communications for the Golden State Warriors
When Lisa Goodwin accepted the Vice President of Corporate Communications position for the Golden State Warriors in 2012, she never imagined what journey was in store: eight seasons, five conference titles, and three Championship rings. “The Warriors have always been such a big part of my life,” she says. “And joining the team felt like coming home.”
Goodwin grew up in Novato and has been a Warriors fan since birth. “When I was little, my mom and dad would take me to so many Warriors games,” Goodwin recalls. Her love of the game only grew and she dreamed of playing college basketball, which came true when Colgate University offered her a basketball scholarship. She played for two seasons before injuries sidelined her. “I used to think that basketball would only take me so far,” Goodwin says. “But here I am, 15 years after college, working for an NBA team.”
Before joining the professional side of the court, Goodwin moved back to the West Coast to work for the high-tech PR agency Blanc & Otus for three years. “By then, I was 25 and wasn’t sure if tech was the right fit for me,” Goodwin recalls. She decided to leave the tech bubble and dip her toes into the business side of sports and accepted a job as the Senior Manager of Publicity for the San Francisco 49ers. A quick stop at Yahoo! as a Communications Manager followed before joining the Warriors, where she oversees the business PR for the team and PR for the Chase Center’s non-basketball related events. “I originally joined the team because I knew the opening of Chase Center would play a big role in my position,” Goodwin says. “And I wanted to be a part of that.”
When high-stress moments do occur, Goodwin finds peace in her yoga practices. Certified since 2015, she takes and teaches classes at the physically driven CorePower Yoga in San Francisco. Even a few notable Warriors have set up their yoga mats alongside Goodwin during her classes. “Yoga really settles me,” she says. “The mental part of class helps me deal with the stress and it’s been my rock for the last five years.” She even took her love of yoga to the Chase Center construction site, where she taught 1,600 hard-hat wearing, mostly male construction workers the art of yoga. “It was an experience I’ll never forget,” she recalls.
As for the current season, Goodwin feels like things are starting to hit their stride. “We’ve found a good cadence and our fans are having a great time,” she says. “It feels good to be moved in and settled.”
Investing in Untapped Potential
Founder & Executive Director of Rise Up
Denise Dunning was 12 when she encountered the path her life could have taken under different circumstances. Her family had traveled from their home in D.C. to her mom’s native Argentina for Christmas and was on a train outside of Buenos Aires. “A girl came on board, just a little older than me, pulling along a toddler and carrying a baby,” Dunning recalls. “She stopped at every row asking for money, food, any kind of help, and everyone was ignoring her. I felt so incredibly angry and ashamed. I promised myself that if I ever had a chance, I would do something for girls like her.”
While pursuing a degree in international policy at Duke, Dunning studied abroad in South Africa, and she later traveled to Honduras on a Fulbright scholarship, working on emergency response after Hurricane Mitch derailed her original research plans.
She received a master’s degree in international development from Princeton and then opted to move with her then-boyfriend to the Bay Area—a decision her Princeton advisor labeled “career suicide.”
That prediction was wrong; Dunning found a job as a research associate at the David & Lucile Packard Foundation, helping develop its women’s reproductive human rights portfolio. After two years in Guatemala working with a nonprofit promoting adolescent reproductive and sexual health, she finally settled in California, earning a PhD in sociology at UC Berkeley and marrying the boyfriend who first lured her west.
It was during her PhD studies that Dunning decided to pool her diverse experiences and insights and launch her own nonprofit. “I wanted to start a project that supported girls and women already doing great work in their communities,” she says. “Women and girls know the challenges they face and they have really good ideas about solutions. I had this belief that local communities are the best people to solve their own problems.”
Dunning founded her organization, eventually named Rise Up, in 2009, and based its initial work in Guatemala. “Among our first group of youth leaders was a young woman named Veronica Buch who was working with a group of about 20 indigenous girls in the highlands, trying to support them staying in school,” shares Dunning, a mom of three. With the support of Rise Up, Veronica and her peers targeted the issue of child marriage, leading to a nationwide legislative ban on the practice in 2015.
Today, the Oakland-based Rise Up employs about 25 people, has worked in 15 countries, including here in California. “We’re now 10 years in, and we have 640 youth leaders who have gone through the entire [Rise Up] process. Our leaders have advocated for 120 new or improved laws or policies, impacting 135 million people around the world,” Dunning says proudly, citing statistics from a recent external evaluation.
“Sometimes we’re described as being a VC for women and girls,” she adds, sounding like a true Northern Californian. “We’re not recreating the wheel; we’re finding innovators and investing in them to make change.”
Coming Full Circle
Director of Marketing and Business Development of Simon Property Group
When Jennifer Woodring was growing up in the Chicago suburbs, her sanctuary was the Oakbrook Center. “I would go there, eat ice cream, and everything was instantly better,” she recalls. And now, years later, she has found a way to keep that same spark alive—serving as the Director of Marketing and Business Development of Simon Property Group for the Stanford Shopping Center. “I feel like I’m never at work,” she says. “I have so much fun being here!”
Woodring’s journey from Illinois to California had some exciting stops along the way. A Purdue University graduate, her subsequent jobs, to name few, included a sales associate opening at Nordstrom, an internship during the launch of Michigan Avenue magazine, and a marketing position at the Park Hyatt. When Patrick, her boyfriend (and now husband), accepted a job in the Bay Area in 2015, the couple got engaged and soon married. One week after the nuptials, they hit the road to California. “When I was looking for a job in the area, I would come to the Stanford Shopping Center to prepare for my interviews because it was so beautiful,” Woodring recalls. She soon accepted a job as the Senior Public Relations Manager for the center’s Neiman Marcus. A few years later, she transitioned into her current position. “But I still visit Neiman’s often,” she adds. “They’re like family to me.”
During the week, Woodring loves to “get her steps in” and walk the outdoor mall—meandering past store openings and stopping to meet with store managers. “Sometimes, when I’m pulling up to work, I practically pinch myself and think, ‘I get to work at a shopping center,’” she adds. “And not just any shopping center, but the most beautiful one!”
To Woodring, community integration and philanthropy are two of her top priorities. “I love when people share with me what their special connection is to the shopping center,” she says. “People come here for first dates, others get engaged here, and moms come to stroll their babies on a sunny day. It’s so special to feel like I play some small role in their everyday lives.” Woodring also keeps strong relationships with organizations such as Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital at Stanford and the 49ers Foundation. “We want to support the amazing, home-grown organizations that are practically in our backyard,” she says.
When away from her “dream job,” Woodring enjoys spending time with Patrick and their almost 2-year-old son, Jack. “Jack’s favorite word is ‘outside,’ so we go hiking and take weekend trips to the beach,” she says. “There’s just so much to see and experience!”
Many Hats, Singular Focus
Partner at Lux Capital
When Deena Shakir reflects on the path her life has taken, she traces the true starting point to the 1970s, before she was born. “My journey began when my father escaped Iraq in the early 1970s, concealed in the back of a pickup truck,” she shares. He eventually made his way to the Bay Area, where he continued his medical training in psychiatry at Stanford and welcomed a baby girl.
Growing up in Mountain View with three brothers, Shakir spent much of her youth looking beyond Silicon Valley toward a career she hoped would have global impact. She received degrees from Harvard and Georgetown with an international focus, completing coursework in English, Arabic, and French, and then stayed in D.C. to work at the State Department under the Obama Administration. Unexpectedly, it was there that she began to feel a pull back to her native California.
“It started to become evident that my home region was becoming a new center of gravity,” she recalls. “We were in the midst of a fourth industrial revolution, where software was eating the world and transforming industries and quotidian realities. I watched the Arab Spring transpire and witnessed the power of new forms of communication to catalyze change in a way previously unthinkable. I was coming out to Palo Alto and SF for meetings on behalf of the State Department and felt an energy, a pull, that was so palpable I could no longer deny it.”
Shakir followed that energy and spent the next seven years at Google and GV, the venture capital investment arm of Alphabet Inc., where she continued to wear many different hats. The goal, however, was always the same, she says: “to play a small part in an effort to alleviate human suffering and pay forward the good fortune that afforded me the opportunity to earn my own.” It’s a legacy she hopes to pass on by example to her two children, ages 4 and 2.
In August, Shakir made her latest leap, joining Menlo Park-based VC firm Lux Capital as a partner. She describes the firm as “committed to closing the gap between science fiction and fact by supporting visionaries looking to take on real problems via revolutionary technologies.” She credits her diverse background and varied skill set as assets when it comes to investing. And the impact is far-reaching, she points out, noting a recently launched investment in Shiru, a San Francisco-based biotech company leveraging computational design to create enhanced alternative proteins to feed the world sustainably and combat climate change.
“A younger, quixotic version of myself lacked the nuance to understand that doing well and doing good were not dichotomous,” Shakir reflects. “It took years of diving in deep—as a public servant, a technologist, and eventually as an investor—to recognize the value of career intersectionality.”
For more Silicon Valley-inspired stories, visit www.gentry.goldenstate.is.
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