She’s Doing It: Eve Ellis to Komen Leader Nancy Brinker: Relinquish Power for Real

by Gloria Feldt on August 22nd, 2012
in Define Your Own Terms, Leadership, Power Tools, She's Doing It and tagged , , , , ,

Former Susan G. Komen for the Cure NYC board member Eve Ellis became devoted to the cause of finding a cure for breast cancer after her sister, sister-in-law, and one niece all battled breast cancer. They survived.

But her other niece, Hally Yaccino Steiner, wasn’t so fortunate. She died of breast cancer 6 years ago at age 36.

Every year since she became a Komen NYC board member in 2004, Ellis, a wealth advisor who lives in NYC with her spouse, theater producer Annette Niemtzow, raised money for them enthusiastically, and since 2006 she raised it to honor Hally’s memory.

Every year until this one, that is, joining many thousands of people who have withdrawn their support for Komen since it created a tsunami of protest by discontinuing funding of Planned Parenthood at the behest of a politically motivated staff and board members.

I wrote about the incident for the Daily Beast in case you need to review the gory details that saturated the media.

In that showdown, at least for the short term, Planned Parenthood won. And recently, founder and CEO of the national Komen for the Cure Nancy Brinker stepped aside from her top leadership post, no doubt under severe pressure. However, she remains chair of the executive committee.

So this year, instead of her annual appeal for funds, Ellis is asking people to sign this petition urging Brinker to step out of all powerful leadership roles.

I signed the petition and hope you will too. If you have reservations, here are Ellis’s reasons why she hopes you reconsider:

GF:      In your opinion, how did the big flap between Komen and PP happen? What went wrong?

EE: I don’t actually know how the decision was made, but I do know that Nancy Brinker heard directly from those at the NY Affiliate before the final decision was made that Komen National “should not do this and that there would be severe ramifications if National went ahead with this plan.”

GF:     What was your reaction when the conflict flared up? 

EE: I was shocked, dismayed and immediately wrote to my supporters over the years that I was embarrassed and sorry for this.  I felt that I had raised money from them for an organization and people I had trusted and that that was no longer the case.  Komen had breached this trust by politicizing women’s healthcare.

GF:    What are the best things you believe Komen has accomplished over the years?

EE: No organization has done more in providing much-needed breast health services for under served women AND providing national research to find cures for breast cancer.

GF:     What consequences are you seeing from the fallout over what happened? 

EE: Oh my gosh, it’s just so sad.  The bottom line is that, with fundraising down substantially, as well as a tarnished name, now staff, board members, and medical advisory members have left.  This leaves less money and resources for under served women as well as fewer research dollars for finding cures.

GF:    The changes that have been made aren’t enough for you. Why?

EE: Nancy Brinker has been elevated to Chair of the Executive Committee of the Board.  This person has more power than the CEO and board member roles that she previously held.  The Chair of the Executive Committee of the Board has the ultimate power to hire and fire the CEO.

GF:  some people say, they’ve done enough, PP won, now move on– how do you respond to that? 

EE: Komen reversed its decision regarding Planned Parenthood for this year’s grant.  We have no idea what the future will bring.

GF:  What do you hope the petition will accomplish

I hope the petition, along with all the other pressure, will cause Nancy Brinker to relinquish her power at Komen. I hope she maintains a titular role and has input but not the decision-making role. It’s my hope that Komen can get back to the good work it does and at the strong level that it did. Too many lives are at risk. Women’s health is too important to turn into a political game.

Ellis says she’d like to come back to Komen in the future but not to the organization it currently is:  “I believe there are others like me, and sadly, time is running out for us to return.”

Do you agree? What are your thoughts? Have you moved your support to other breast cancer research and service organizations?


Gloria Feldt

Gloria Feldt is the author of No Excuses: 9 Ways Women Can Change How We Think About Power. Buy the book here. Engage Gloria for a Speech or Workshop. Tweet @GloriaFeldt and connect on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Google+ Gloria is the co-founder (with Amy Litzenberger) of Take the Lead, a new initiative to prepare and propel women to leadership parity by 2025. Find them @takeleadwomen and on Facebook.

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