Start running CEO and founder Susannah Wellford (right) with two of her graduates from the program.
Start running is an American nonprofit organization that trains diverse young women to run for public office. Recognizing the lack of representation of women at all political levels, the organization aims to encourage women, regardless of their partisan affiliation, to apply for political office and support them through mentoring and building leadership skills, in campaign strategy and teamwork. Under the leadership of CEO and Founder Susannah Wellford, Start running has trained more than 20,000 women from high school to college in more than 100 annual programs. 90% of the old candidates won. SHE SAID spoke to Susannah Wellford about her vision for women’s political empowerment.
A core value of Running Start is impartiality. As a result, your more than 100 programs across the United States, which encourage all women from high school to college to run for elected office, are neutral. Why is it important for your work to put women and not their politics at the center?
As a Democrat myself, I noticed as I melted Start running in 2007, that almost every other effort to get women into politics results in women taking sides in politics. The reason why Start running is neutral and non-partisan, it is because there is such an intense need to attract more women, that we did not want to limit ourselves to women who we believe would represent certain values. Based on this conviction, we wanted to impact as many women as possible regardless of their political affiliation. However, over the years the United States has become more partisan and polarized, making fairness the value we are most proud of. We want to continue to bring together young women regardless of identity and ideology to debate issues, because we believe that young women must first and foremost engage as people. I think it’s so rare in America that you step out of your bubble and have a conversation with someone who comes from a different background and sees the world differently. While these conversations outside of your bubble aren’t easy, I think it’s one of the most important things that Start running promotes. As our graduates have been exposed to a larger universe of ideas, we hope that, if elected to political office, they will be much better at speaking across the aisle.
In the United States, women are less likely to run as candidates than men. As a result, women are under-represented at all levels of government with only 1 in 4 of elected leaders being female. Why do you think this is still the case in 2021?
I think we’re still a very traditional society and the power structure has always favored white, older, straight, and Christian males. As they grow up, girls see a political landscape that is unlike them. While this is changing, the role model effect for girls wanting to change the world is real: Since they don’t see many people molding what they might become, they are less likely to seek out themselves. a public service. This is also the reason why many women, instead of showing up, decide to engage in nonprofit or community advocacy organizations to try and change the system outside of formal structures. To empower young women to run for public office, we focus on building confidence, capacity and relationships, as all of these present barriers for women to rise to power. This involves trying to overcome the pervasiveness of impostor syndrome, teaching public speaking, fundraising and advocacy skills, and connecting our participants with both men and women. powerful. These links, through internships or informal counseling, are particularly important as women tend not to have as many deep connections with decision-makers due to the fact that they were not historically in power.
Running Start strongly believes in the value of female leadership in the public sector. What are some of the main advantages that make increased representation of women in politics socially desirable?
Women bring something different to leadership and politics, but I think it’s hard to define. Since women have traditionally been outside the power structure, their whole way of approaching issues and leading is different from that of men. Just by being in Congress, women make a difference because they lead in a different way, which is also the result of their different lived experiences in matters such as women’s health care. My real desire is to have more women so that the lived experience of women can influence politics. Beyond that, the addition of women should contribute to greater diversity in leadership in general, not only understood in terms of gender but also in terms of race, sexual orientation and age. Bringing more diverse identities to power can make a difference for everyone, as it can lead to better decisions. With more diverse perspectives, government as a whole can be strengthened and everyone in society wins.
The United States has its first female vice president. Seeing such female representation at the highest levels of government can have an impact on the empowerment of young women considering public office. With this in mind, Running Start offers mentoring opportunities, which aim to increase women’s confidence in running. In this context, what makes you optimistic about the future of women in politics?
Seeing Vice President Harris sworn in obviously gave me a lot of hope. Since 2016, when women joined women’s marches around the world, many have translated their fight for more rights by running for office. This led to a record number of women running for and joining the Congress and state legislatures in the United States in 2018 and 2020. Interestingly, many young and diverse women with very different day jobs have won, which in turn has won. added to my optimism about the future of women in politics. . Despite all the hardships in 2020, American women seem to have woken up for the first time in years and are committed to using their voices. Committed to their communities and their country, the women candidates have shown their ambition and their aptitude for public office. It is the dedication of young women to changing the world for the better that makes me very optimistic about the future of women in politics in America.
Svenja Kirsch is a Masters candidate in Public Policy (MPP) at Harvard University and previously studied international relations at Jacobs University and Sciences Po Paris. She specializes in business and government policy and has a particular focus on corporate government affairs, CSR, women’s economic empowerment and sustainability. Prior to joining GRI, she worked in academic review, political campaigning, think tank research and corporate sustainability management.