This month’s EnCompass in Profile article features Senior Gender Integration Specialist Jennifer Pendleton. We’re glad to feature her as part of our focus on gender equality and social inclusion this March. Jennifer talks about blending her passion for human rights advocacy with her expertise in gender integration and project management, and how connections with people help fill her cup each day.

What brought you to EnCompass? Tell us a little about your background.

I had a winding path that makes sense to me now, but I wouldn’t necessarily have predicted at the beginning of my career. I started out working in nonprofit arts (in my youth I loved being on stage!) with a focus on policy and management, and then went to law school, where I focused primarily on gender and human rights from both a community mobilization and an international law perspective. Two major areas of focus in law school were supporting the prosecution of sexual and gender-based violence 10 years following the Rwandan genocide, and supporting a community-based access to health project in Ghana. These opportunities allowed me to work with and learn from locally based and other international human rights lawyers, and the work in Ghana was especially important. It gave me the invaluable opportunity to learn from and listen to the youth and women’s groups in the community where I was working.

Back at home, I worked with immigration and asylum clients, which was another powerful and illuminating opportunity to deepen an awareness of my own privilege compared to the day-to-day challenges faced by so many others in this world. I appreciated all of these early opportunities, both at home and abroad, for the connectedness I felt with my colleagues and the people we were serving.

After law school, I joined the Peace Corps. While not the usual order for making that choice, one of the things that inspired me to join was my experience working with another public health graduate student and Returned Peace Corps Volunteer while I was in Ghana. The way she approached her work with humility, patience, and active listening was something I really wanted to continue to cultivate in my own career. I also felt that if I was going to live a true commitment to any sort of path in human rights or international development, it was very important to have a longer-term experience with that type of community-oriented work. So a year after graduating, I found myself living in Morocco’s Atlas mountains, working with a local women’s group to form a textiles cooperative and supporting gender and development activities across the country.

When I got back to the U.S., I found my way to a fairly small nonprofit focused on women and youth leadership, political participation, and advocacy. It served as a hub to deliver training and amplify the exchange of information and resources among and beyond a partnership of women’s rights organizations in the Global South. It felt great to be in a supporting role, first as an advocacy associate and partner liaison, and eventually serving as executive director, but still always learning from the amazing women leaders and activists I was working with at the time. I first heard of EnCompass through shared connections in that organization and was drawn to EnCompass’ mission-oriented spirit, which matched my own values. After several more years working in advocacy and international development roles, the right position at EnCompass came up.

What makes your work here special?

I would say that what makes my work here special is the chance to be a bridge between EnCompass teams and our clients. My project management role is about connection—connecting our people and expertise in gender integration and social inclusion to help support more meaningful and effective approaches to inclusive development.

My primary role is working with contracts under the Advancing the Agenda of Gender Equality (ADVANTAGE) IDIQ. I support our teams through both of my specialties—project management and gender integration. The work has a global reach and a lot of variety. We design and deliver training programs and other resources that help USAID and its partners integrate gender in their programming around the world and to prevent and respond to gender-based violence.

One of the things I appreciate most about this project is working with our client and facilitation team—seeing how they are so dynamic and responsive to every Mission’s needs, while staying focused on the essentials of the course content. From a technical standpoint, I’ve appreciated being able to contribute to resources and design that will deepen the focus in these courses over time on priority areas such as women’s economic empowerment, male engagement and masculinities, and ending child, early, and forced marriage, as well as drawing from my experience working as an implementing partner to help adapt and share critical information and resources with these important development actors.

For this and other projects, it is a privilege to be able to work with our team and other experts to share and develop cutting-edge resources and approaches to help make concepts and applications of gender integration and gender-based violence prevention and response more accessible in the day-to-day work of donors and implementing partners. Beyond ADVANTAGE, I manage and serve as a technical expert on EnCompass’ gender integration and assessment activities for two USAID monitoring, evaluation, and learning platforms in Lebanon and Haiti—leading development of tools and resources for integrating gender into different phases of project evaluation, developing training and tools for USAID implementing partners, and co-authoring a country-level gender analysis to inform USAID programming.

And in a similar role with the Benin Private Sector Health Partnership Activity, I have been able to draw upon my health and policy background to help design and conduct a project gender and youth assessment, strategy, and training materials for staff and stakeholders. These interventions help the project work with private health providers and other stakeholders to address the on-the-ground challenges of reaching vulnerable populations with basic health services, and they identify new learning and opportunities to remove regulatory barriers and increase economic opportunities for women health providers and managers.

Tell us about your “true north.” What guides and inspires you in your work?

Leaving advocacy behind to come more fully into a management role was an interesting transition, but I appreciate being a connector in my current role—leveraging and constantly learning from all the things my project teams, clients, and partners have to offer, as well as helping them access what they need. One of the things I like most is that I get to work with so many people across this company, and am not just working with one particular team or skill set. In the end, it’s people’s individual, lived experiences that are the core of our work.

Thinking about my “true north” is linked to having started out in community- and client-based work, and has been grounded and grown through a mindfulness and empowerment-oriented approach. This mentality has grown as well outside of my formal workday, when I also fill my cup as a yoga instructor. What a joy it is to see someone—whether a colleague, a client, or a student—walk away from a meeting, a workshop, or a class with a new idea not only about what’s possible when it comes to achieving external equity or realizing their innate strength, but also with an understanding that they have at their own disposal what they need to make that possibility happen.

To learn more about Jennifer’s work:

Visit EnCompass’ project pages for:

Explore some of her publications: