Young Alum of the Year: Liza Heavener

By Christopher Clymer Kurtz | May 30th, 2019

Eastern Mennonite University’s 2019 Young Alum of the Year Liza Heavener ’07 says she is “not afraid to jump into unchartered territory.”

Her passion for changemaking has taken her from Souderton, Pennsylvania, to EMU to Capitol Hill to remote Borneo to her current position as the chief operating officer for the New York City-based community of next-gen philanthropists, impact investors and social entrepreneurs: NEXUS Global.

Its 5,000-plus members, which include young people from over 70 countries and from some of the world’s most influential and wealthy families, have “a proven track record of knowing how to move the needle on the most pressing issues of our generation such as climate change, human trafficking, animal welfare and refugees and countless other topics,” Heavener said.

“I don’t believe that all the money in the world can change the world, and I don’t always believe the best ideas are enough to change the world,” she said. “But if you bring those two things together with the right passions, synergies and collaboration, then we’re able to accelerate solutions that are going to help the planet and hurry history in the right direction.”

EMU was “a safe space” for Heavener, with professors and staff willing to be her sounding boards as she earned a liberal arts degree with courses in pre-law, music, global studies, political science and business. She played field hockey, went on a Middle East cross-cultural, and spent two terms at the Washington Community Scholars’ Center, where one of her two internships was in the Senate Majority Leader’s office and the other later employed her.

Those real-life experiences expanded her identity as a “citizen of the world” who is geared for creating “lasting change and impact,” she said, and she has since worked to build common ground in Congress, managed a campaign that “failed spectacularly,” worked for an international consulting firm – and, on a whim, applied (and was chosen) to star in a documentary and television series about fighting illegal deforestation and releasing endangered orangutans in Borneo.

At her first NEXUS Global Summit at the United Nations in 2012, though, Heavener thought, “I’m home. These are my people.”

Now married for five years to a man she first met in a crowded Metro station and the mother of a toddler, Heavener said that following her intuition has rarely led her astray.

“Everyone has their own passion, and their definition of impact will be different,” she said – “but strive to do whatever you can to make the world a little bit better than it was yesterday.”

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