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The Privacy Advisor | Volunteer Spotlight: A conversation with Avani Desai Related reading: Volunteer Spotlight: Masayuki Negishi

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In this edition of Volunteer Spotlight, Schellman & Company's Avani Desai, CIPP/US, chronicles her volunteer ventures with the IAPP (there's not much she hasn't done), and her work as a runner and philanthropist. 

The Privacy Advisor: What do you do?
Desai: I’m an executive vice president at Schellman & Company. We’re an independent third-party assessor that allows clients to build confidence. So, what we do is come into that company and test their environment, making sure security controls are in place. Companies can take our assesment and show their clients that they do handle privacy and security situations carefully.

The Privacy Advisor: How did you love affair with privacy begin?
Desai: I fell into privacy by mistake, or maybe it was luck. I worked for KPMG for 10 years — it was audit and consulting, like building security programs. I got married, and my  husband got matched [to a hospital] in New York in 2009. I came up to New York and interviewed with our chief privacy officer, and he was telling me about all the interesting things they were doing, and so I started talking to him and telling him my background. He said, “you know, your skillset will work well and you’ll gain a lot in privacy."

It was probably the best three years I’ve had from a professional standpoint. Security is “in the box.” There’s no really outside thinking. I hate to say it like that, but once you understand the standards, it becomes the same thing over and over again. With privacy, I really got to learn from a person who really got a better understanding of how an organization works. I was able to go to every single department and see how it affects them. Those three years [at KPMG], from a learning perspective, I learned the most. I came out really loving the field. I now focus on privacy because it's dynamic and it's changing all the time, and I’m learning something new all the time. Security is security. But if you say you want to build a data center in the EU, there’s so many moving parts. It’s a true project.

The Privacy Advisor: How did you hear about the IAPP, and how do you volunteer within the organization?
Desai: I really found out about your organization when I started that privacy role at KPMG in 2012, which has 60,000 people all over the U.S. There were only five of us there; we didn’t have the man-power to spread the word of privacy. At [the IAPP's Global Privacy] Summit, I learned that you have to somehow train the trainer. We knew there was people in different groups, so we brought them to our office and called them "privacy liaisons." And we said, how, other than training them, can we can get them empowered about privacy? We were already a member, but no one was really utilizing the membership.

We decided we were going to get everyone trained. There weren't really classes at events yet; it was the first or second year of the CIPP/US, so they kind of let us do our own training. So every week, about 50 of us would talk about privacy. We bought the book and went through it, and after that, we really started utilizing our membership. After I moved back to Florida in 2012, I took a two-year role that become a four-year role and became a KnowledgeNet chair and hosted about a dozen Privacy After Hours in an area where the IAPP wasn’t really known; central Florida, between Orlando and Tampa. It’s almost 100 miles between the cities, and we get about 30 people at the events. I also speak; at P.S.R., I did one of the one of the four-hour bootcamps. I just got an approval to speak at the Privacy Summit in D.C. I also write for The Privacy Advisor.

The Privacy Advisor: What do you do you enjoy doing when you’re not practicing privacy?
Desai: I have two kids, so that keeps me pretty busy. I'm an avid runner; I've done the New York half marathon and I'm training right now for the Disney Challenge. My son is five and plays tennis quite often, so I just started taking tennis lessons. My husband and I like to travel. We try to do places that we wouldn’t typically go as kids.

I’m equally as passionate about philanthropy as I am about privacy. I think giving back to your community is big. I sit on a board for a non-for-profit called 100 Women Strong. One hundred women get together and we donate $1100, and we find a [problem in the community] and we try to fix it. I focus on women and children. 

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