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Emily Fan, Deputy General Counsel, The David and Lucile Packard Foundation

Emily Fan, Deputy General Counsel, The David and Lucile Packard Foundation

February 8, 2021

Tell us how you got into the “mission-driven” world and what you love about the work? I have been involved in mission-driven organizations since high school—starting from volunteering with direct service organizations in San Francisco, through internships in college including with the Asian Law Caucus, through my law school summers including with the Law Foundation of Silicon Valley.

My first position out of law school was in Chiang Mai, Thailand working on human rights and counter-trafficking efforts. The organization led undercover operations to remove trafficked individuals from brothels and worked to prosecute the traffickers and brothel owners. That experience deeply shaped how I practice law through understanding the importance of context, cultural humility, and connecting with community and staff. I also got firsthand exposure to the global relationship between race/ethnicity/nationality/gender and poverty and the associated impacts which has shaped my career path as I have continued to seek opportunities to work upstream for justice.

On a personal level, I love that I can combine my faith, my personal purpose, and my professional training in my job. I enjoy being able to continue to deepen my international experience while being based in the Bay Area where my family is located.

Professionally, I love working with other similarly driven people who are also seeking increasing mission impact and striving for excellence and stewardship of funding. I enjoy the diversity of issues especially as we fund internationally and domestically and across many social issues—there is always something to learn whether programmatically or operationally. Our team also needs to work cross-functionally and across departments and units which gives us a unique perspective of the organization’s culture, strengths, and where we can provide support. I also love the camaraderie among the legal professionals in the sector—the support and information sharing are tremendous.

What are your thoughts on leading, mentoring, and collaborating with your team? I was fortunate to learn the impact of trust on company culture, performance, morale, and loyalty early in my career. I worked for a partner who trusted me with a lot of responsibility and leadership but was always there to support in case I made a mistake. I could turn to him without fear. He also proactively noticed and addressed difficult situations so that I didn’t have to figure out how to resolve it on my own, including when an important client made unwanted advances. This partner cared deeply for each person on the team and the team, in turn, took care of and trusted each other—ranging from ordering in food, to helping to review a colleague’s section of a due diligence report, to helping each other finish our work in time to go watch a movie together after work, to traveling together to jazz festivals in another city for the weekend or even abroad. I had never heard of or expected this level of relationships among colleagues or within my work environment—the behavior arose from the lived values of the culture and the firm leadership.

I believe teams are strongest when we are committed to building and upholding collective trust which requires communication, transparency, and time. We need to know that we have each other’s backs during the good, bad, and ugly. I learned from that partner that it is my responsibility to live out my values, model the behavior, and to encourage leadership, mentorship, and collaboration at all levels.

What have you found to be the most challenging personally and professionally since the start of the pandemic? Professionally, I have been most concerned about the wellbeing of our teams. The need for philanthropic funding has only increased during the pandemic and our organization has worked to quickly respond and get additional funding out the door, which means more and urgent work. At the same time, staff are juggling their own family matters, children’s education, housing situations, and physical and mental health. On top of that, particularly because staff are mission-driven and attuned to the currents, we are deeply moved by what is happening in the world around us. It is a lot to carry, and it is a lot to sustain over time. As an organization, we are focusing on priorities but when the world is literally and figuratively on fire, our folks want to do more. Burn out is a real risk.  

What advice and tips could you offer for those passionate about joining a mission-driven company?

  • Figure out what issues you are passionate about and what role you want to play in the ecosystem. You can work in-house, or pivot to become an expert in a program area, or you can fundraise, or you can be a donor – there are many roles and all are needed.
  • The opportunity to make an impact is wide as there are many mission driven entities including for-profits (e.g., double bottom line companies, those with B Corp certification, consulting companies whose clients are primarily non-profits, social impact investment firms, etc.), government entities, and not-for-profit organizations.
  • If you are interested in working on international issues, if you have the opportunity to get field experience, take it. If you are interested in international development, focus on learning from local leaders and communities.