Evin Jones, Executive Director of the Pacific AIDS Network (PAN), has always been passionate about social justice issues. During her undergraduate years she was a participant in the anti-sexual violence campaigns in Ontario and worked on other global issues, particularly relating to Central America. After completing her law degree, Evin travelled to Central America and backpacked around for six months. It was a trip that would change the course of her career. “Once I was out of the vortex of law school I really reconnected to why I went there in the first place – to try and affect positive social change,” says Evin.
Returning to Vancouver, she realized that her passion for social justice issues would be best used in the non-profit sector rather than a law firm and she chose a different career path. Evin was hired as an advocate for Positive Living BC, formerly BCPWA, and shortly thereafter became the manager of the Advocacy Department. After that, there were stints as Executive Director of YouthCO AIDS Society and of the Vancouver Friends for Life Society. In 2008 she became the first full time employee of PAN, and as its current Executive Director, has watched it grow significantly since. “PAN started by providing an opportunity for member organizations and people living with HIV/AIDS to come together and network and talk about issues of importance,” Evin explains. “The trajectory of the organization coming up on my six year anniversary has been pretty exciting; we now have seven full time staff and four part time staff.”
Since its inception, PAN has become a busy organization with two main areas of activity: capacity building and community-based research. PAN (in partnership with the Ontario AIDS Network), provides core leadership, communications and board governance training for people living with HIV/AIDS. PAN also provides ‘discipline focussed’ training opportunities for front-line support workers, volunteer managers, executive directors, harm reduction workers and educators. As PAN grows and develops, it has expanded its vision and mission to include hepatitis C and other related conditions.
In the community-based research realm, PAN supports and facilitates CBR by linking academic researchers with community-based organizations, people living with HIV/AIDS and public health and government agencies. PAN partners with the CIHR Centre for REACH in HIV/AIDS and the CIHR CBR Collaborative Centre, in which the OHTN plays a key role. Along with Dr. Cathy Worthington at UVic, and with funding from the CIHR, PAN is a co-lead on Positive Living, Positive Homes, a CBR study designed to investigate how housing policies and services impact people living with HIV/AIDS and their ability to manage their health and wellbeing. Rethinking ASO’s? is a research planning and dialogue process project with partners in the Atlantic region, examining the implications of shifts in policies and programs towards an ‘integrated approach’ to HIV/AIDS services that includes other sexually transmitted and blood-borne infections.
Evin believes that PAN and its member organizations play an important role in Canada at a time when the social safety net is eroding. “It really calls upon us—whether it be around HIV, hep C, health promotion, harm reduction, housing, food security, or poverty— to be creative and form strategic alliances. There is huge potential there for change.” Research can also facilitate change when it takes into account the needs of the community. “I’ve felt very happy about the way that PAN has been able to inform the research agenda in BC. PAN has also enjoyed being part of a bigger national picture and helping to make sure that research is really relevant and meaningful to the community-based response and people living with HIV/AIDS and those most ‘at risk’.”
Over the course of her career, Evin has seen how complex and unique the HIV/AIDS epidemic is. “It is a powerful social justice issue. The roots of transmission and who is vulnerable is strongly shaped and informed by larger issues around equity and social determinants of health,” Evin explains. “My heart was in this work initially because of the impact it was having on gay men, but I got a very fast education about all of the other groups that are vulnerable – and the epidemic continues to evolve. It’s been a constant learning process and also an opportunity to challenge to my own assumptions about people. That learning – professional and personal- continues.”
The Canadian Association for HIV Research (CAHR), the CIHR HIV/AIDS Research Initiative, the Canadian Foundation for AIDS Research (CANFAR), the CIHR Canadian HIV Trials Network (CTN) and the Canadian HIV Vaccine Initiative (CHVI) Research and Development Alliance Coordinating Office (ACO) would like to thank Evin Jones and her colleagues at PAN for their significant contributions to our understanding of HIV. Their work is part of a larger Canadian effort that is making a difference in the lives of those affected by HIV in Canada and around the world.