Finding Comfort in Solitude: Natalie Deehan-Clark

Editor’s Note:  This interview in our Feminist Giving IRL series features Natalie Deehan-Clark, U.S. Communications Coordinator at the Center for Renewable Energy and Appropriate Technology for the Environment (CREATE!). From 2017-2018, Natalie traveled the world solo to explore sustainable solutions and community empowerment in developing countries. Natalie values storytelling as a catalyst for social change, particularly for equality and sustainability movements. 

Natalie Deehan-Clark, U.S. Communications Coordinator at the Center for Renewable Energy and Appropriate Technology for the Environment (CREATE!)

1. What do you wish you had known when you started out in college that you now know?

College was a crucial and challenging transition point in my life. My advice to myself would be to follow my interests and let the rest fall into place. Oftentimes, you’ll be surrounded by the right people and the right community when you’re doing what you value. I learned this after college when I traveled the world solo for one year and began to learn how to enjoy my own company. I didn’t mind eating at restaurants alone, I was happy to grab a map and tour a town by myself, and I looked forward to spending hours wandering around a museum. In finding comfort in solitude, I found that my choices in my life were based less on my discomfort and more on genuine interest.    

2. What is your current greatest professional challenge?

As a young professional, when faced with a great opportunity or challenge in my career, I will occasionally find myself asking “Am I ready for this?” However, in the course of my career, I have learned that my passion for my work and sense of curiosity helps me overcome my uneasiness. Recently, I attended and assisted in presenting at an international conference that focused on leveraging systems for improved food security. Before the conference, I was comparing myself/ and my qualifications on paper to the other candidates attending. However, once the first session started, I found that what was more important to me was how I could learn and grow from this experience and keep contributing to this field.

3. What inspires you most about your work?

I am deeply inspired by both my field of work and the non-profit organization for which I am working. I appreciate that this field of work is constantly growing and changing which helps me keep an open mind as well as gives me the space to ask questions and challenge myself. People are always finding different and more effective ways to tackle challenges around the world, and I feel like I will never stop learning and growing!

What inspires me most about the organization I am working for is that it takes a participatory approach when it comes to assisting rural communities in Senegal. Our field technicians, who are from Senegal, individualize the villages by really listening to the women and working with them to fulfill their specific needs. Every region, village and person is different so there is no “one size fits all” solution. It’s important to put the power of change into the hands of those who need it and to remind them that they are capable. This helps women recognize and utilize their own potential which is essential when it comes to truly making an impact. I wholeheartedly agree with a quote from my favorite book by Jacqueline Novogratz, The Blue Sweater: Bridging the Gap Between Rich and Poor in an Interconnected World,“Philanthropists should find innovations that release the energies of people. Individuals don’t want to be taken care of- they need a chance to fulfill their own potential.”

4. How does your gender identity inform your work?

As a woman, I empathize with other women about wanting a sense of community and support. Recently, I visited Senegal through my work and was able to meet multiple female leaders and volunteers across our partner communities. I learned that before these women developed cooperative community gardens to work together, they almost never saw each other. I was told how much these cooperative community gardens have created a sense of community for women where they can talk, laugh, and collaborate with each other. In my own life, a sense of community has provided support when needed and the security to realize my potential as well as empower others. Creating strong bonds and lasting relationships with other women can uplift spirits and better one’s life.

5. How can philanthropy support gender equality

I believe in the power of storytelling for social change. One of the many ways that philanthropy can support gender equality is by genuinely and respectfully sharing people’s stories who are affected by gender discrimination. One thing I’ve come to understand is when it comes to supporting challenges, such as gender equality, it is crucial for people to listen to one another clearly without inserting their own beliefs and emotions into someone else’s story. What I mean by this can be described by a workshop I attended at GlobalPDX with Philanthropy Without Borders. The workshop was called “Exploitation & Empathy”, and it focused on communicating impact in a way that authentically represents the issues and preserves the dignity of those affected by it. One of the key takeaway points was this: It’s important to treat people how they want to be treated instead of how you think they want to be treated.

6. In the next 10 years, where do you see gender equality movements taking us?

There are different degrees of gender-based discrimination around the world and across multiple cultures, but I believe that the overall goal remains the same: eliminate barriers so that women and girls have an equal chance to thrive and lead productive lives. I see a future domino effect of positive benefits for our global community from gender equality movements around the world. Without investing in and empowering women, we’d be missing out on at least half of the world’s potential. It is important to remember that gender equality benefits everyone, not just women and girls.

The UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) recognize gender equality as their fifth goal. The SDGs are 17 interconnected goals that create a comprehensive blueprint to achieve a better and more sustainable future. As stated on SDG 5, “Gender equality is not only a fundamental human right but a necessary foundation for a peaceful, prosperous and sustainable world.” I am looking forward to being a part of this movement!

During her recent visit to Senegal, Natalie met Awa Diop, the cooperative community garden president in the village of Gagnick Mack, one of CREATE!’s partner communities.

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Kiersten Marek

Author: Kiersten Marek

Kiersten Marek, LICSW, is the founder of Philanthropy Women. She practices clinical social work in Cranston, Rhode Island, and writes about how women donors and their allies are advancing social change.

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