Communications, Policy & Advocacy/

Eileen O’Connor

Senior Vice President, Strategic Communications and PolicyCommunications, Policy & Advocacy, The Rockefeller Foundation

Eileen O’Connor joined The Rockefeller Foundation in 2019 as the Senior Vice President for Communications, Policy, and Advocacy, serving as a strategic adviser to the President, Dr. Rajiv J. Shah on special projects, policy, positioning, advocacy, and content management designed to achieve programmatic impact across the Foundation. Her team takes an interdisciplinary approach to advocacy, partnering with program teams to create and execute strategies that create systemic impact.  CPA is central to organizing expert voices to structure operational roadmaps to change, such as the Global Covid 19 Vaccination Action plan, the K-12 Testing strategy, and the creation of functioning coalitions like the State and Territorial Alliance for Testing (“STAT”) which the Biden Administration utilized for school re-opening and equitable and more rapid vaccine distribution.

Prior to joining the Foundation, O’Connor was the principal at Garnet Group Public Affairs, specializing in crisis prevention, crisis management, litigation support, strategic communications, and executive positioning, following her role as the Vice President for Communications at Yale.  In that capacity, O’Connor oversaw branding, thought leadership, strategic communications, and crisis management for the President and the entire university.  She came to Yale from the Obama Administration, where she served as Deputy Assistant Secretary for South and Central Asia and senior adviser to the special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, living in Kabul from 2011 through 2012, overseeing $400 million in public diplomacy programs building independent media, telecommunications, economically empowering women, voter protection and participation, and countering violent extremism.

Before joining the Administration, O’Connor founded and led legal crisis management practices for several law firms in Washington, D.C., at McDermott, Will and Emery, Orrick, Herrington, and Sutcliffe, and Patton Boggs.  As an attorney, O’Connor developed legal and communications strategies for Fortune 500 companies facing litigation or investigations in multiple forums, both in the U.S., Russia, Eastern Europe, and former Soviet states.  She represented clients in white-collar criminal cases, defense of multi-billion dollar assets in Russia and Ukraine, mass tort cases, including vaccine defense and the settlement of 10,000 plus claims regarding injury from the rescue and recovery efforts after 9/11.  O’Connor won awards for her pro bono work on asylum cases, criminal appeals, and human rights, including the Supreme Court case Samatar v. Yousef, where she oversaw the FSIA challenge of the plaintiffs claim against the former defense minister of Somalia for ordering the rape, torture, and murder of political opponents.

Earlier in her career, O’Connor was a journalist at ABC News and at CNN, where she served as a national and White House correspondent and was based in London, Tokyo, and Moscow, covering economics, politics, the fall of communism, Russian organized crime, and conflict throughout the world.  O’Connor was awarded the Peabody Award, the DuPont Award, multiple Overseas Press Club awards, two NY Film Festival Golden Eagle Awards for Documentaries, Emmy, Cable Ace, and National Headliner awards for her political, investigative and war zone work. O’Connor has a J.D. from Georgetown University Law Center, a bachelor’s degree in business administration, also from Georgetown, and a Post-Graduate Diploma in World Politics, centering on Africa and the Middle East, from the London School of Economics and Political Science.

Authored Content

  • Mar 30 2023
    Perspective 5 Things We Can All Do Better to Advance Gender Equity Every day, women are helping women advance human rights, tackle climate change, drive economic growth, secure nourishing and sustainable food, and prioritize health, all around the world. As this Women’s History Month comes to a close, we carry the inspiration of their accomplishments forward throughout the year. While we applaud women supporting women, advancing gender […] Deepali Khanna, Eileen O'Connor, Elizabeth Yee, Natalye Paquin
  • Aug 18 2022
    Perspective A New Brand Identity for The Rockefeller Foundation The one thing I knew when I joined The Rockefeller Foundation is that it is a singular convener and collaborator that identifies and accelerates breakthrough solutions to the world’s greatest challenges. That work excites and inspires me every day, and I hope it can do the same for all those who seek to make opportunity […] Eileen O'Connor
  • Oct 27 2021
    Perspective Parents’ Support for Child Vaccinations Is Waning, at the Worst Time Possible The FDA Advisory Panel’s endorsement on Tuesday of Coronavirus vaccinations for children ages 5-11 means kids could be receiving shots as soon as next week. For some parents, these headlines will be met with a collective sigh of relief, followed by a mad dash to ensure their children are signed up for a vaccination as […] Eileen O'Connor
  • Apr 08 2021
    Perspective Challenging Our Assumptions—And Messages—About Vaccine Confidence Among the previously mundane routines that have taken on a new level of anxiety during the pandemic, one rises to the top: going to the dentist. There are few other instances when we’re asked to temporarily put aside our instinct for social distancing and mask wearing so directly and in such close quarters.  There are […] Eileen O'Connor
  • Oct 09 2020
    Perspective How Strategic Communications Can Transform the Response to Covid-19 Sam* knows a lot about Covid-19 testing.  He can tell you the difference between an antigen test and a PCR test. He can explain the NFL’s testing protocol and how the Defense Production Act could be used to scale up manufacturing. If you really want to know, he can tell you about the eccentric billionaire […] Eileen O'Connor