Friday, August 5, 2011

Last Day...?!?

Today is my last day at Planned Parenthood. Really.

It turns out clich├ęs are true for a reason—time really does fly when you’re having fun. It flies even faster when you’re truly, deeply engaged with your work, with the mission of your organization, and the people with whom you get to work.
In honor of my last day, these are five things, in no particular order, I’ve learned this summer…

1. Cecile Richards: even cooler than I thought she was back in the fall, when she came to talk in my HBS class. The same woman who strode in and owned the classroom is engaging, funny, smart and…incredibly warm.

2. …actually, all of Planned Parenthood’s staff falls into those same categories. They’re feminists after my own heart: progressive, hard-working AND pragmatic women and men (who aren’t afraid to wear loud, bright pink).

3. You have to take your “Ws” where you can get them, and celebrate appropriately. This summer (and this whole year) saw unprecedented levels of attacks on women’s health, on women’s choices and on women’s rights. HHS adopting the IOM recommendations regarding making birth control a completely covered benefit is a HUGE gain for women. And even as PPFA keeps its eyes looking forward, we still take the time to boogie down, too.

4. It is pretty amazing (and different!) to work for a nonprofit with a very strong strategic plan and vision. Early on in the summer, we were introduced to PPFA’s five-year plan. Consensus building around goal-setting? Check. Balanced scorecard? Check. Measurable objectives? Check. Linda Bilmes would be proud. It really does make a difference when you know exactly where you fit in and how you contribute to the organization’s overall success.

5. Advocacy + Varina = happy heart. Over the course of my two years at Kennedy, I was privileged to learn from some of the best teachers (and I don’t mean just instructors, although they were good, too) in the world. I spent the summer working in NYC, learning what consulting is all about. I got to write a Master’s Thesis that examined what advocacy is in the context of multi-service organizations. I examined online advocacy tools and best practices. I ran the Women and Gender Caucus, and got a crash course in event planning. But there is absolutely nothing in the world that compares to spending your day working on a cause you believe in with all your heart. I have come to realize over the past two years how central being an advocate is to my very identity, and it feels oh-so-good to be back!

Bonus: I’m a better bowler than I thought. (Pictures will be posted, I promise.)

I have loved, loved, loved coming to work each and every day. Thank you so much to Chloe, for being an amazing boss, and to the international team for being so supportive and for taking the time to show me the ropes. And finally—thank you so much to WAPPP for making this fellowship, and really, my entire experience at HKS, possible and wonderful!

Thursday, July 28, 2011

I Stand With Planned Parenthood.

Planned Parenthood Staff & Volunteers with Van Jones

You have to be in love with your job when it’s the middle of the day and you’re off to the Capitol for a rally. Of course, better that we were not in a situation where our basic human safety net, including Medicaid, Medicare and social security, were at such risk.

For the clients Planned Parenthood sees, Medicaid is an absolutely essential “benefit,” which helps pay for (but does not completely cover) basic health services such as Pap smears, cancer screenings and STI testing. As we saw in Indiana earlier this summer, cutting Medicaid simply means that more women are forced to go without care. For any fiscal conservatives, that should ring a warning bell. In addition to putting women’s health at risk—it actually ends up costing everyone more in the long term.

Many groups were at the rally today…and more can be found at For our part, we ended on a positive note: delivering the many signed petitions we have supporting birth control as a preventative service to the Department of Health and Human Services. The recent IOM recommendation was a boon for women’s health care: let’s ensure we keep moving forwards, and not backwards.

Update: More about the rally in this NPR story.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Access Matters

It’s been an incredible and incredibly busy two weeks at PPFA.

Last week saw the influx of about 600 youth and affiliate members and staff to learn more about the ongoing Medicaid fight, and to speak with their members of Congress. The entire week was a flurry of trainings on Title X, 340 B drug pricing, advocacy best tips and even international health 101. My team mostly concentrated on the 400 or so youth (high school and college) who had come in as peer educators and VOX leaders—with the theme of making the connection between local reproductive rights and the fight for global health. One of our major tools is the new Christy Turlington Burns film—more about that here. My main task was to figure out the breakout sessions around that and to also put together an advocacy toolkit we can roll out on college campuses this coming fall. I was overall very impressed with both the knowledge of the crowd and the overall commitment to Planned Parenthood’s mission—I wish I had been so involved when I was in high school.

Since the conference, my work has concentrated mostly on gearing up for the upcoming fights on UNFPA defunding and global gag rule imposition. Various bills and reauthorizations are coming down the pipeline, and we are expecting a number of anti-choice provisions to be introduced either as amendments or as bill language.

This morning, PPFA staff was privileged to tour a local PP health facility to gain a better understanding of what, exactly, our affiliates do. Security is an even bigger deal there than it is here at HQ—as we were filing in, a large mass of likely protesters began congregating outside the doors. It makes your heart break for the (mostly women) who have to walk by these protesters and endure their taunts just to get access to birth control or to get an STI test—which is what the vast majority of these particular clinic’s services are (see graph below). It drove home in black and white how much of a social justice issue access to birth control really is.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Lots to do this week!

This week will be an extremely busy one at the DC PPFA offices! Hopefully I will get a chance to update throughout the week.

A note on pictures/activity specifics: understandably, PPFA needs to be very cautious re pictures/specific details on projects/etc., as there are many anti-choice groups out there and security is appropriately tight. Nevertheless, I hope to be able to share visually some of the activities from the week...stay tuned!

Thursday, July 7, 2011

The perks of being an intern...

A lot is happening in the world of Planned Parenthood, and I could not be more excited to be a part of it. Somehow, throughout the continued attempts to restrict women’s health care, PPFA rallies at the last minute to ensure that essential services are preserved. Last week, in the midst of the attempted shutdown of abortion clinics in Kansas, we actually got to meet and have lunch with the amazing staff attorneys involved in “impact legislation” for Planned Parenthood. These are the women joining the doctors and nurses administering care on the front lines, filing lawsuits on behalf of Planned Parenthood and their clients every time a state legislature passes a law that may be unconstitutional. We also got a sneak peek behind the scenes at the Kansas fight and the kinds of “licensing requirements” with which the clinics were supposed to comply—which were indicative of the state legislature’s political stance against Planned Parenthood, rather than licensing concerns (more about that in the HuffPo article linked to above).

For now, at least, women of Kansas and mid-Missouri will be able to continue to access services. For me, these intern lunches present an amazing opportunity to hear from women who have spent their lives defending not just a woman’s right to choose, but a woman’s ability to access affordable health care.

And yesterday? We met and spoke with Cecile Richards. It was AMAZING. More on that...and what I'm actually doing in a later post!

Monday, June 27, 2011

First Day...

It is my first official day of work! Last night was a bit odd--classes ended in late April, and the past two months have been a whirl of graduation festivities, travel, moving, seeing old friends and reading plenty of fiction (no more econ textbooks...for now!). It felt a bit strange to get up this morning and get dressed up.

And yet, what a great time to start work! This week's ruling in Indiana was a great reminder of how vital this work is (see previous post, too). I've met a few members of the team already, and it seems that with various bills' reintroductions, a fight against the global gag rule and a massive training taking place for young women and men in mid-July, there will be no shortage of things to do.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Oh, Mitch Daniels...

Thought I would share news from Indiana regarding 9300 Medicaid patients who rely on Planned Parenthood for vital services.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Back to Washington

As the title of the blog implies, my name is Varina and I am headed back to Washington, DC.

After two amazing years at the Harvard Kennedy School, I am returning to the city in which I attended undergraduate and where I have had nearly all of my professional experiences.

Thanks to the generous support of the Women and Public Policy Program, I have the opportunity to do one more fellowship/internship prior to re-joining the "real world." This blog will document the weeks I spend working with the Planned Parenthood Action Fund.