Foundation honors women of achievement and courage


At a dainty 5-foot-2, Rachel Chong doesn’t possess the stature or the carpentry skills to help build a house.

Without those skills, the one volunteer opportunity she was presented with in her former investment banking job left her wanting a better way to find other volunteer opportunities. That led her to an idea.

“Can there be a marketplace to find volunteer matches?” she asked. “This is a simple idea. Someone can build it — but I didn’t think that someone would be me.”

She left her job in banking to enter the nonprofit realm nearly a decade ago and now runs Catchafire, a website that matches volunteer professionals with nonprofits, based on their skills.

Chong will talk about her experiences as the keynote speaker at the 23rd Annual West Michigan Women of Achievement and Courage Awards luncheon at the Grand Rapids JW Marriott.

Wednesday’s event will honor Judy Frey with the Trillium Award as an exemplary community leader. Two other women will be recognized as honorees: Steelcase Director of Global Corporate Relations Deb Bailey and Grand Rapids Public Schools Superintendent Teresa Weatherall Neal.

“The annual Women of Achievement and Courage Awards events are critical to the work of the Michigan Women’s Foundation,” said foundation CEO Carolyn Cassin.

“The West Michigan luncheon not only allows us to raise much needed funds to continue the fight in eliminating barriers to equality for Michigan’s women and girls, it also allows us to shine a much-deserved spotlight on the region’s most admirable female executives and community leaders.”

Chong leads New York City-based Catchafire as it grows into the world’s leading skills-based, volunteer-matching platform, providing organizations with access to affordable, high-quality talent as a for-purpose, certified B-Corporation.

The website links thousands of companies and volunteers.

Chong graduated magna cum laude from Barnard College and Columbia University and helped found the Duke Microfinance Club in 2006 while earning her Master of Public Policy from Duke University.

She then became a program manager at BRAC USA, the world’s largest non-governmental development organization, focused on a variety of programs including microfinance, health and education.

Chong was named a 2014 World Economic Forum Young Global Leader and one of Fast Company’s Most Creative People in Business in 2012.

She was intrigued by the Michigan Women’s Foundation as soon as organizers reached out to her to speak at the luncheon.

“I’m passionate about supporting women,” Chong said. “And the foundation seems like a great organization.”

According to her biography on the Catchafire website, a sign reading “Be truthful, gentle and fearless” hangs by her desk.

Following Wednesday’s West Michigan awards event, the Michigan Women’s Foundation will host the Southeast Michigan awards dinner in Detroit April 28.

After starting Catchafire nearly six years ago, Chong, now in her early 30s, has a social mission on her mind.

“I want to be solving big problems for the rest of my life,” she said. “I’m really passionate about working on things that have a positive impact, and I’ll be dedicated to those things the rest of my life.”

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