On Her Own Terms

August 2, 2016

This post originally appeared in US News & World Report, here.

Hillary Clinton, our country’s first female major party nominee, presided over a Democratic National Convention last week where the feminine side of leadership was on strong display. From the speeches on the floor to the buttons on sale in the street, unity, love and empathy were the watchwords of the convention. That Hillary didn’t feel the need to exert a macho leadership style at the convention was a tipping point for women’s equality. There was hardly a macho moment to the whole affair, and that in itself was groundbreaking.

download (2)The buttons and T-shirts I saw while walking around the convention were almost all positive. There were some people wearing “Dump Trump” T-shirts, but they were overshadowed by the hundreds of buttons, signs and T-shirts proclaiming “Love Trumps Hate” and “I’m With Her!” All week the theme in the hall was unity and empathy, even in the face of contentious news coverage and lingering dissenters. Michelle Obama spoke about how “when they go low, we go high.” Tim Kaine spoke about how America has “an incredible cultural diversity that succeeds when we embrace everyone in love.” AndPresident Barack Obama asked us “to reject cynicism and reject fear, to summon what is best in us.” Especially compared to Cleveland the week before, Philly was a love fest of epic proportions.

When Hillary took the stage Thursday night she spoke to us not just as a candidate, but as a woman. She spoke openly about the historic nature of her race and what it means for the country: “Standing here as my mother’s daughter, and my daughter’s mother, I’m so happy this day has come. Happy for grandmothers and little girls and everyone in between. Happy for boys and men, too, because when any barrier falls in America, it clears the way for everyone.” She spoke about her faith and her values: “No one gets through life alone. We have to look out for each other and lift each other up. … Do all the good you can, for all the people you can, in all the ways you can as long as ever you can.” She spoke about the importance of uniting people as a leader: “I will be a president for Democrats, Republicans, independents. For the struggling, the striving, the successful. For those who vote for me and those who don’t. For all Americans together!” And she spoke about how kindness and love are crucial to what makes us Americans.

All of this is remarkable because women historically have felt great pressure to show toughness: to make sure the voters know that they may be women, but that they are as strong as men, as hard-hitting as men and as unsentimental about serious issues as men. As a senator and secretary of state, Hillary has had ample opportunity to show her toughness and to prove herself in the hyper-masculine worlds of defense and diplomacy. No one can say she isn’t tough and battle-ready. And maybe this is why she is now free to show her softer side.

Women really do have a different style of governing, but they have not always felt comfortable emphasizing this uniqueness. When women are elected to positions of power, they tend to be more collaborative, more creative in solving problems and more willing to work across the aisle than men. (In fact, because of these traits, women in Congress really do get more done.) As those most often in the caretaking roles, they are especially cognizant of the needs of the weakest in society. They tend to govern in a way that gives power to others rather than keeps power for themselves. I know these are stereotypes, but I have spoken with so many elected women over the years, up and down the ticket, that I feel strongly that there is great truth in these generalizations.

Last week we reached a major milestone in women’s rights because the tenor of the convention, and Hillary’s remarks show that we are not only at the point where a woman can be her party’s nominee; she can also do it on her own terms.

Susannah Wellford
founded two organizations to raise the political voice of young women: Running Start (which she now leads) and the Women Under Forty Political Action Committee. Susannah previously worked in the Clinton White House and for Senator Wyche Fowler. Ms. Wellford is a graduate of UVA School of Law and Davidson College. She lives in Washington, D.C. with her twins, Ben and James.

Political Disruptors

August 2, 2016

This post originally appeared in US News & World Report, here.

Politics is in need of a makeover. The current party-controlled system has left us with elected leaders who aren’t representative of the people they serve and with barriers to entry that repel those who aren’t already part of the elite. People feel they have no voice, and this is especially true for the millennials generation. Millennials could have real power to affect elections, but they still don’t get out to vote or run for office in numbers that would make a real difference to the political status quo.

So it was refreshing to meet up with several groups at the Republican National Convention who are working to turn politics on its head and make it more accessible for everyone. These groups are using technology to open politics up, make it cool to the younger voter and get rid of barriers that keep youth disaffected and politically disengaged.

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The first is Brigade, which is working to create a social media platform like Facebook – but for politics. Brigade’s app allows users to explore their positions on policy issues and then share them with their friends. Even better, the app tells voters which candidates align with their positions, so that they can be knowledgeable when they go to the polls. Brigade is still relatively new, but as more people join it has the power to make politics cool and fun in a way that will get youth to the polls as informed and enthusiastic participants. During a quick chat at The Washington Post hub, Matt Mahan, the visionary behind Brigade, told me that the goal is not to further silo people into issue ghettos but to get people talking to each other about the issues of the day and what they believe, so that they can better understand the other side.

Where Brigade uses technology to connect voters and keep them informed, Crowdpac,the brain child of British political insider Steve Hilton, uses tech to make it easier for people to run. Fundraising is one of the biggest obstacles to running for office, and people who don’t come from wealth are severely disadvantaged when it comes to launching their campaigns. So Crowdpac has developed an online fundraising tool, like Kickstarter, to help people solicit campaign donations online. Mason Harrison, their head of communications, told me that the best part is that the app allows prospective candidates to gather pledges to weigh support, which become active when the candidate decides to run. Young people don’t give money to political candidates and so they have little influence on who is elected. Crowdpac offers the millennial generation an easy, familiar way to give to political campaigns. Combine this idea with Brigade’s more informed young electorate and we really might see some new people getting into power.

Democracy Works was also there spreading the word about their TurboVote app, designed to make voter registration foolproof and easy. This is good for everyone but could especially help millennials whose voter registration numbers have fallen steadily since 2008. The app takes away a major barrier to youth voting: Millennials move around so much during college and first jobs, and it can be time consuming and difficult to figure out how to vote absentee or register in a new place. TurboVote holds your hand and makes the process easy.

Combined, these new ideas have the power to really change youth engagement in politics. And they are not the only ones working to disrupt politics as we know it. The teams atFairVote and Representation 2020 are working to change our voting systems by encouraging rank choice and proportional voting, systems that many in the rest of the world use because they work better and produce more fair results. And groups like She Should Run, All in Together and of course my organization Running Start are working to break down the barriers that keep women, especially young women, from becoming political leaders.

It was important for these groups to be at the RNC because political reforms that target youth engagement are often dismissed as surrogates for the Democratic Party. Young people do tend to vote more on the progressive side, but getting millennials more informed and active will help create a more robust dialogue around politics that ultimately will help both sides. The growing number of under-40s who are registered independent is a sign that younger people want to be open to vote their mind rather than be told by a party what to believe.

I have always admired the disruptors. We tend to get complacent with the systems we are used to, and the disruptors remind us that we can and should strive for better. There is real hope that the future of politics will be something we can all feel good about.

Susannah Wellford
founded two organizations to raise the political voice of young women: Running Start (which she now leads) and the Women Under Forty Political Action Committee. Susannah previously worked in the Clinton White House and for Senator Wyche Fowler. Ms. Wellford is a graduate of UVA School of Law and Davidson College. She lives in Washington, D.C. with her twins, Ben and James.

Feminism at the GOP Convention

August 2, 2016

This post originally appeared in US News & World Report, here.

The fact that I am bringing my women’s empowerment organization to the GOP convention has raised some eyebrows and sprinkled hate mail in my usually cheerful inbox.

Sixteen years ago, I helped create the Women Under Forty Political Action Committee (WUFPAC) to support young women from all parties running for Congress. My work with the PAC illuminated a much larger issue: There were not enough young women of either major party running for political office. This realization led to the 2007 creation of Running Start, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization dedicated to educating high school and college-age women on how and why they should run for office. At Running Start, my goal is to make elected office accessible and acceptable for young women, regardless of political party. My job is not to shape the political ideologies of these young women but to give them the confidence and tools they need to fight for the issues they believe in at the highest levels.

downloadThe Republican National Convention is a perfect place to spread the word about Running Start. The convention will be attended by politically minded women from all over the country who are interested in politics and curious about what it takes to run. There aren’t a lot of role models for women in Republican politics. Democrats outnumber Republican women 76 to 28 in Congress, and many conservative women tell me that it is refreshing to find a nonpartisan group interested in getting them elected.

The nonpartisan nature of my organizations has raised eyebrows before. Years ago, the head of a major women’s organization pulled me aside at an event to tell me, “Honey, we all say we are nonpartisan, but that doesn’t mean you have to allow Republicans on your board!” There seems to be an unwritten rule that if you are working to empower women, you must be a liberal group. And even when women’s groups do support Republicans, many of them only open their doors to the pro-choice crowd. At a meeting of women’s organizations that I attended, a prominent Democrat declared that women who aren’t pro-choice aren’t real women.

I disagree. I made Running Start nonpartisan because I believe that electing women from both sides of the aisle is the key to a better functioning, more effective government. And the research bears me out: Women are more likely to cosponsor legislation across the aisle and to work harder to find common ground. The idea that only certain women should be encouraged to run is extremely counterproductive. There should not and cannot be a standard for how women in politics should think and act. Right now Congress is arguably the most divided it has ever been. The collective effect of having women in office is strengthened by having women on both sides of the aisle working together to sponsor legislation and push important issues otherwise left untouched. Bipartisan legislationsuch as the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, The Breast and Cervical Cancer Mortality Prevention Act, The Women’s Business Ownership Act and The Violence Against Women Act, to name a few, shows that regardless of a woman’s political ideology, she understands what is it to be a woman, and will legislate accordingly.

All of the Republican women I know believe in gender parity. As one of our alums, Antonia Okafor, told me: “Being a feminist and being conservative are not mutually exclusive. A conservative feminist believes that women should be able to reach any height because of ‘equal opportunity.’ True feminism does not diminish the role of men but rather focuses on the right of women to become everything they want to be.”

My goal at the RNC is to offer conservative young women a home where they can learn how to rise up in a party that doesn’t always do the best job to encourage women’s participation. There is no EMILY’s List for Republican women; they need all the help they can get to increase their numbers in politics.

Running Start’s presence at the convention is in no universe an endorsement of Trump. (In fact, as a nonprofit Running Start can’t endorse.) Trump’s misogynistic, racist rants are an affront to everything that Running Start stands for. My dislike of Trump isn’t a partisan thing’ it’s a moral thing. There have been plenty of strong Republican women who have spoken out against him, including Rina Shah who was removed from her position as a Washington, D.C. delegate as a result, and Kendal Unruh, a high school teacher and RNC delegate who raised $3.5 million to spread the message that convention delegates can and should vote their conscience.

We need to embrace strong female leaders who will force party officials to think about women’s issues and sponsor legislation that affects women. I am a Democrat, but my organization is not a reflection of my party views. Running Start embodies the idea that if Congress is a more representative body it will serve all people better. Staying home next week sends the message that Running Start doesn’t care about all women. So stop sending hate mail and come watch us inspire young women to run in Cleveland!

Susannah Wellford
founded two organizations to raise the political voice of young women: Running Start (which she now leads) and the Women Under Forty Political Action Committee. Susannah previously worked in the Clinton White House and for Senator Wyche Fowler. Ms. Wellford is a graduate of UVA School of Law and Davidson College. She lives in Washington, D.C. with her twins, Ben and James.

Where Are the Young Women in Election 2016?

May 23, 2016

With Hillary and Carly making history, why aren’t more young women interested in politics this cycle?

susannah-5In 2008, with women at the top of presidential politics, Running Start saw a jaw-dropping 30,000 girls apply for 50 spots in our political leadership program. But despite the success of women in election 2016, this year we only had a tiny fraction of that number apply. What’s going on?

Each year our nonpartisan nonprofit organization brings 50 high school girls from around the country to DC for a week of political leadership training. Most years we get hundreds of applications for these spots. In 2008, when we received such a record number, the girls were applying a few weeks after the historic election that saw the first Black man win the presidency and Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin close behind. Boxes and boxes of applications had to be filed and piled wherever they could go. In the end, we picked our class of young women, but were left reeling from the onslaught. We wondered: would this happen every time prominent women drew the national political spotlight?

susannahIn 2016, we finally had the chance to find out. With Hillary Clinton a front-runner for the Democratic nomination and Carly Fiorina a major player on the Republican side, we braced ourselves for a year like 2008 when our mailman threatened to quit and our office looked like it belonged to a hoarder. But now that applications are in and tallied, we find that instead of thousands of applicants, we are left with a mystery. In this “year of the woman” we got the same number of applications that we got last year, maybe fewer.

In 2008 we attributed the glut of applications to the role model effect. When something seems unattainable, it can be incredibly powerful to see someone like you doing it. It makes your goal seem possible instead of unreachable. Researchers have even seen it work in very short periods of time: when a woman is shown a portrait of Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany, she does a better job at public speaking.

Running Start uses the power of role models in all of our programs. When so many of the faces in the news don’t look like the young women we train, finding and showing them the ones who do lets them visualize themselves in the halls of power. Suddenly, political leadership goes from an abstract goal to a concrete possibility.

With women so prominent this election cycle, why didn’t the role model effect bring thousands of girls to our program?

We deputized our high school intern Lauren to do some detective work. She looked through a very unscientific sample of 2008 applications and noticed some interesting patterns. Maybe those 30,000 applications in 2008 were less about a woman running for president and more about politics finally looking like something young women could be proud to be a part of.

DSC_0007 (7)One of my favorite quotes from a 2008 application is from a young woman in California: “When I was growing up, a Black female president was an improbable idea. After the recent election, however, I’m convinced that this great nation is ready for some big changes.” Another student wrote: “Although Hillary Clinton did not make it to the oval office, I believe that soon, perhaps in my lifetime, a woman may be seated at the big wooden desk.”

Most importantly, they talked about a barrier being broken: no longer did old white men have a monopoly on the presidency. One young woman wrote: “I told my father that I wanted Barack Obama to be our next president. My father looked at me and said ‘Grace, unfortunately, a Black man with the name Barack Obama will not be elected as President of the United States in my lifetime’. No man has ever been happier to be proven wrong.”

DSC_0012 (5)Flash forward to 2016, and that barrier is already broken. Sure two women made it incredibly far, but that is the way it is now. You don’t have to be old and white to win. It’s easy to take the trailblazing candidates of this cycle for granted. For many of the girls applying to our high school program, big-name women seriously running for president is the only paradigm they’ve ever known. At Running Start, we know that not nearly enough women ever consider political leadership. But to young women surveying the political landscape maybe it seems like we’ve already solved the problem.

It is also clear that the stunningly negative tenor of the current election has turned youth off. The window of time when politics was hopeful and admirable is closed. “Being a politician has many negative connotations, nowadays,” says one 2016 applicant. Another despairs, “it has become a fact that politicians are full of empty promises.”

Young women also are acutely aware that running as a woman carries even more baggage. “I have noticed that women are treated very differently in politics—our ideas are ridiculed, and we’re seen as more emotional and ‘b****y,” a 2016 applicant wrote. Another pledges to stand against “a derogatory standard of women in the media” that causes girls to be “fearful of disparagement and feel less competent than males to lead”. Studies show that women are less likely to run for office for these same reasons.

These points of frustration come from young women motivated enough to apply to a political training program. Young women as a whole are probably much more cynical about politics.

To find out more about why young women this year aren’t as interested in political leadership, we’re asking young women to speak up and tell us what their thoughts really are on election 2016.  Our #YoungWomenSpeak poll is up on Twitter right now.  We’ll continue the conversation @rsprez and @runningstart and share what politically engaged young women have to say about this election.


Susannah Wellford is the President & Founder of Running Start, a national nonprofit organization that trains and inspires young women to run for political office.  Susannah is also the co-founder of Women Under Forty Political Action Committee, the only bipartisan organization in the U.S. financially supporting women under the age of 40 running for Congress.  Susannah is a recognized expert in the arena of women’s political leadership.

The Power of Intangible Charity

December 2, 2013

By: Casey Spreen

As a junior majoring in Accounting and minoring in Poverty Studies at the University of Notre Dame, I have spent the past two and a half years of college looking at many numbers, large amounts of money, and various forms of legislation. Interning with Running Start has provided me with a unique opportunity to combine my studies and my interests, because Running Start is always looking at finances, participation levels, and the overall growth of the organization.

However, Running Start faces different road bumps than the typical nonprofit organization. Our actions are not as tangible as some organizations, like those of food banks or clothing donation centers. We do not provide meals, blankets, or shoes. So yes, Running Start may not look like a charity at first glance. However, I have come to realize that we are ultimately providing so much more to young women, and our society as a whole, than the traditional charity provides to the community.

A discussion in our office led us all to agree that Running Start is teaching young women how to make changes, not making those changes for them. Metaphorically, we are teaching them how to fish, not giving them the fish. The majority of the young women we educate and inspire are socioeconomically disadvantaged, from diverse backgrounds, or facing some form of adversity. They are passionate about bettering their communities and their lives. Not only are these young women advocates for equality, but also they are advocates for change.

Discussing the effects and results of our trainings and mentoring with the Running Start staff reminded me of many conversations in my Introduction to Poverty Studies course. My professor spent a great amount of time focusing on the disproportionate effects of poverty on women. Although there are government programs, like WIC and tax breaks, that are designed to specifically help women, these women need more than handouts to change their lives.

Providing a young woman with confidence, hope, and the ability to better her life and the lives of those around her can change her future. Many of those struggling to escape poverty lack the opportunity to better their lives. Running Start is providing that opportunity. These young women are our future. Not only do they understand the power of oppression and the struggle to voice their opinions, but they also have the desire to fight.

By participating in Running Start trainings, young women gain the skills and courage to run for political office. Even if these women choose to run for local office, they are still forging the way for other young women. The public service that these young women can provide is both admirable and achievable. A small change makes a huge difference. We have provided over 7,500 young women with a path to politics, connections to mentors, and the inspiration to make a difference.

The young women trained by Running Start may run for a school board position and completely revamp the most impoverished schools in their community. They may run for Senate and create legislation regarding the minimum wage. They may even run for President of the United States, inspiring countless young women to work harder than they ever have before because they see what is possible.

We are here to give them the running start they need to achieve their goals.


About the Author

Casey Spreen is a junior at the University of Notre Dame, majoring in Accounting and minoring in Poverty Studies. During the Fall Semester of 2013, she is studying at the University of California, District of Columbia campus while interning with Running Start. Casey first became interested in the government during high school when she became involved in Student Council and was elected to represent thousands of students from across the Houston, Texas area through the Texas Association of Student Councils. Because of Casey’s involvement in multiple student organizations and volunteer activities, her high school nominated her to represent her school at Texas Girls State. The experience completely changed her prospective of government and opened her eyes to the extreme need for more female representation in governments throughout the world. Casey has stayed involved in student programming and has served within the Notre Dame Student Government as a Senator and a member of multiple departments. Although Casey has only been in DC for a few months, she has fallen in love with the energy and professionalism that fuels the city! She has truly enjoyed working with the Running Start team and developing her professional skills. Casey will be returning to Notre Dame in January 2014.


Elected Women & the Women Who Get Them There – September Off the Record Dinner

October 17, 2013


(Left to Right: Stephanie Rydell, Intern; Sara Blanco, Operations Manager;
Rep. Connie Morella; Melissa Richmond, Programs and Outreach Manager)

On Wednesday night, September 25th, Running Start held its 3rd official Off the Record dinner, hosted by the fabulous Kiki McLean. As a new intern, I was thrilled to have the opportunity to attend. I was really excited to meet the amazing mentors who had agreed to donate their time to speak with Running Start members about their own experiences in leadership positions.

Susannah Wellford, Running Start’s founder, even gave me the honor of introducing all of the mentors before the dinner and panel discussion commenced. I was a bit nervous to speak in front of such wonderful people, but I received some great public speaking advice from Jessica Grounds, Running Start’s Executive Director. She emphasized confidence in posture and delivery and just as she said it would, it went really well. Giving the introductions actually gave me a fantastic advantage for the rest of the night, as every time I approached a mentor to introduce myself, they were already familiar with me!

The dinner itself was very intimate, with approximately 20 guests and the 6 mentors. Everyone was free to mingle with snacks and drinks until dinner was served, a lovely meal from Lebanese Taverna. Everyone was soon seated comfortably with wine and a plate of baklava and the panel discussion began! All the mentors sat in a row against the fireplace and began introducing themselves.

The first to speak was none other than former Representative Connie Morella (R-MD) who held that office from 1987-2003. Throughout the course of the night, she shared with us amazing personal challenges she has overcome, including adopting her late sister’s 6 children, in addition to her own 3, in the 1970s. She emphasized standing up for what you believe in and not getting caught up in party lines.

Next up was Courtney Johnson, Executive Director of Women LEAD, a PAC that supports Republican women candidates.  She, like all the mentors, had a great energy and was a captivating speaker. She shared valuable insight on the idea of “having it all” and was incredibly friendly with everyone who attended. She even offered to meet up with me over lunch to discuss career plans in the upcoming weeks!

Seated next to Courtney was Margie Omero, Managing Director of Purple Strategies’ Research Division. She shared humorous stories of being blunt with clients over polling results and was incredibly personable.

Sitting beside Margie was Jill Bader, Communications Director at Republican State Leadership Committee. I thought Jill’s comments were particularly interesting, as she discussed life on the road and the challenges of frequently relocating.

Representative Donna Edwards was scheduled to speak at our Off the Record dinner, but was unable to attend as Congress went into session. Fortunately, her Chief of Staff, Adrienne Christian, filled in.  Adrienne was amazing; she is an incredibly powerful speaker. In response to an attendee’s inquiry, Adrienne shared moving stories about what having courage has meant in her own career. She was also kind enough to share memorable anecdotes from her own campaign experience.

Host and mentor, Kiki McLean, rounded out our panel perfectly. She had incredibly profound advice to share, especially about the importance of allowing oneself to receive help, and her energy lit up the room.

Running Start members took turns asking our panel questions, which were all articulately fielded by our experienced mentors. The time flew by and when the panel discussion concluded, mentors and members stuck around to swap business cards and ask any lingering questions.

This dinner was absolutely amazing. I was a different person walking out of Kiki McLean’s front door at 9pm than I was at 6pm when I entered. Throughout the course of the panel discussion, I could not shake the feeling that the entire exchange should have been recorded, transcribed word for word. I felt like a witness to a legendary moment in history; accomplished women sharing personal examples of leadership that spanned the course of decades to young women, hoping to make equally large impacts in the world. You could feel the hope and excitement in the room grow as each speaker, one after another, told the young women in attendance that their mere presence at the dinner that evening proved that they had the determination to succeed and find their voice. It was an inspiring night with great food that ended far too soon. I can’t emphasize enough the importance of becoming a Running Start member and gaining access to these events.  What you get in return is tremendous. Attend one, and you’ll be hooked.

-Stephanie R., Running Start Intern

Elect Her Heads to Georgetown!

May 20, 2013

On April 13th, Katie Shorey headed to Georgetown University  to facilitate the final Elect Her training of the season and although the grounds were buzzingGeorgetown image because of accepted students day and exam prep, the participants were excited to get started.  An hour into our session we were joined by a special guest, Katty Kay, co-author of  “Womenomics: Write Your Own Rules for Success” with Claire Shipman. Kay and Shipman are in the process of researching and writing their new book about confidence. Kay explained that though they agreed with Sheryl Sandberg’s “Lean In” movement, they wanted to understand how women get to the point where they are confident to lean in. She believes that one of the main reasons women don’t run for political office is the lack of confidence, be it in their expertise, qualifications, or ability to win. There has been a lot of talk lately about how boys and girls are raised differently: males are praised for being more assertive when young, whereas girls are thought to be “bossy” for exhibiting the same behavior and tend to be admired for being more collaborative and team-focused. Kay also shared that she believed women take “failure” more personally, such as being turned down for a raise or not being elected, and attributed this fear of failure to not running.
To hear more about the Georgetown training, click here!

Women to Watch Spotlight: Malala Yousafzai

April 30, 2013

Here is a sneak peak of our 2013 Women to Watch Awards honorees.  This year we are thrilled to honor four inspirational women who are making a tremendous impact in politics, media, philanthropy, and activism.  These women are not only exceptional in their fields, but are also inspiring role models for young women around the world.

Tickets for the 7th Annual Women to Watch Awards are going fast, get yours today!

Role Model: Malala Yousafzai

Malala Yousafzai HeadshotAt just 15, Malala Yousafzai showed amazing bravery and persistence in the face of an assassination attempt by the Taliban.  She refused to back down from her heroic activism for girls’ education, not allowing her serious head injury from the attack to dampen her commitment to her cause.  Malala’s courage proves that you are never too young to make a difference, which is why she has earned our Role Model Award.  In fact, Malala started very young, speaking out at age 11 about the atrocities committed in her hometown under Taliban control.  Her work has earned her much-deserved accolades:  in addition to TIME magazine recognizing her as a runner-up for Person of the Year 2012 (the top honor ultimately went to President Obama), they recently named her one of the World’s 100 Most Influential People.  She is the youngest person to ever be nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize, and is the inspiration for a United Nations petition that demands that there be no children left out of school by 2015.

We hope that Malala’s spirit and conviction will spur young women everywhere to become leaders and take action about issues they are passionate about.

Introduced by: Alyse Nelson

Alyse NelsonRunning Start Board Member Alyse Nelson is the President and Chief Executive Officer of Vital Voices Global Partnership.  As co-founder of Vital Voices, Alyse has worked for the organization for 15 years, serving as Vice President and Senior Director of Programs before assuming her current role in 2009.  Alyse has worked with women leaders to develop training programs and international forums in over 140 countries and has interviewed more than 200 international leaders, including Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and former Presidents Mary Robinson and Bill Clinton, as well as Nobel Peace Prize laureates Aung San Suu Kyi, Wangari Maathai, and Muhammad Yunus.  Under her leadership, Vital Voices has tripled in size and expanded its global reach to serve a network of over 14,000 women leaders in 144 countries.

Vital Voices established the Malala Fund on behalf of Malala and her family, continuing Malala’s work for the right of every child to an education.

Previously, Alyse served as Deputy Director to the Vital Voices Global Democracy Initiatives at the U.S. Department of State.  Her position aided former First Lady Hillary Clinton and Secretary of State Madeleine Albright’s commitment to promote the advancement of women as a U.S. foreign policy objective.  From July 1996 to July 2000, Alyse worked with the President’s Interagency Council on Women at the White House and U.S. Department of State, and serves on the Secretary of State’s Advisory Committee on Strategic Dialogue with Civil Society.

Alyse is the author of the best-selling book Vital Voices:  The Power of Women Leading Change Around the World, which shares the stories of remarkable, world-changing women, as well as the story of how Vital Voices was founded, crossing lines that typically divide.

Alyse has been featured in international and national media, including the Washington Post, Financial Times, the Miami Herald, the Wall Street Journal, USA Today and Reuters, and has appeared on BBC, PBS, CNN, NPR, FOX, News, and CNBC.  In 2006, Alyse was named on of “Ten Women to Watch”, by Washingtonian Magazine and was honored by her alma mater, Emerson College, with the distinguished speaker award.  In 2011, she was featured in Newsweek as one of “150 Women Shaking the World,” and in 2012 she was TIAW World of Difference 100 Award recipient.

And by:  Andrea Walton

Andrea Walton Photo

Andrea Walton, 19, is a proud 2012 alumna of our Young Women’s Political Leadership program. She is currently finishing her freshman year at American University before heading back to her hometown of Princeton, Indiana for the summer.  She is majoring in political science and developed a strong interest in  government and politics through serving as a U.S. House of Representatives Page for two summers, sponsored by former Indiana Congressman  Brad Ellsworth in  2010 and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi in 2011.  At the age of 18, Andrea was chosen as her county’s delegate to the Indiana Democratic Convention and went on to be elected Indiana’s youngest delegate at the 2012 Democratic National Convention. Beginning when she was 16 she worked as an intern on the Ellsworth for Senate campaign in 2010 and volunteered for gubernatorial and Congressional races in 2012.

Taking advantage of all the opportunities Washington, DC has to offer, Andrea has continued to stay politically involved at American University.  As a member of AU College Democrats, she has volunteered for Senate and gubernatorial campaigns in Virginia, as well as for President Obama’s 2012 re-election campaign.  Andrea has also been thrilled to have the opportunity to serves as an intern for her hero and mentor, Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky, this semester. Reflecting Running Start’s mission, she hopes to run for office at a young age in order to rise to a position of leadership. Andrea’s ultimate goal is to serve as a Member of Congress representing her home state of Indiana.

 Stay tuned for more weekly spotlights on our Women to Watch honorees!

Click here for more information and to reserve your seats at this year’s awards!

Thank you to our Founding Sponsor:


Women to Watch Spotlight: Mayor Mia Love

April 24, 2013

Here is a sneak peak of our 2013 Women to Watch Awards honorees.  This year we are thrilled to honor four inspirational women who are making a tremendous impact in politics, media, philanthropy, and activism.  These women are not only exceptional in their fields, but are also inspiring role models for young women around the world.

Tickets for the 7th Annual Women to Watch Awards are going fast, get yours today!

Making History: Mia Love

Mia Love Headshot

Mayor Mia Love first captured our attention last summer with her incredible speech at the Republican National Convention.  Her message about the importance of personal responsibility, giving back, and the power of the individual left us inspired and energized. Since then, Mayor Love has emerged on the national stage as a stunning example of the power of the American Dream.

The daughter of Haitian immigrants, Mayor Love learned from an early age the importance of hard work and personal responsibility.  When her parents arrived in the U.S. they only had $10 in their pockets.  Through hard work, all of their children were able to attend college.  On the day of Mayor Love’s college orientation, her father told her: “Mia, your mother and I never took a handout.  You will not be a burden to society.  You will give back.”  Her father’s words became the ethos for her life.

Committed to giving back to her community, Mayor Love was elected to City Council in Saratoga Springs, Utah at age 28. Her leadership and principled decision-making during challenging times her city faced resulted in her election as Mayor of Saratoga Springs in 2009. As Mayor, Mia led her city through a period of 1700% population growth in a decade which formed the basis for Saratoga Springs receiving the highest Standard & Poors municipal rating for a city of its class. Continuing her dedication to serving Utah, Mayor Love ran for her state’s 4th Congressional seat in 2012. Although this campaign was unsuccessful, Mayor Love has once again demonstrated her inspiring resiliency and has recently announced that she is running for this position again!

In addition to being an inspirational leader, Mayor Love is also a wife and mother of three children. In her spare time, she enjoys running and tread training and is also an accomplished singer and dancer.

Mayor Love truly embodies the spirit of public service and for this, we are honored to present her with the 2013 Making History Award.

Introduced by: Martha Roby

Portrati Martha Roby, Republican Representative from Alabama

We are pleased to have another inspiring young political leader introduce this year’s Making History Award. Representative Martha Roby received our Political Rising Star award last year, and her continuing leadership in the Republican party makes her another exciting example of young women leading the way.

In just her second term serving the people of Alabama’s 2nd Congressional District, Rep. Roby has quickly earned several significant leadership positions.   She was selected by Republican leaders to serve on the Majority Transition Team, and has also been named Chairman of the Armed Services Subcommittee on Military Oversight and Investigations, a rare honor for a second term Member of Congress.

Prior to being elected to Congress, Rep. Roby worked as an attorney and served as a City Councilmember in her hometown of Montgomery, Alabama.  She is married to Riley Roby and they have two children, Margaret and George. The Robys are members of Trinity Presbyterian Church, where they are involved in various ministries.


Stay tuned for more weekly spotlights on our Women to Watch honorees!

Click here for more information and to reserve your seats at this year’s awards!

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Women to Watch Spotlight: Student Activist Talia Leman

April 17, 2013

Here is your second sneak peak of our 2013 Women to Watch Awards honorees.  This year we are thrilled to honor four inspirational women who are making a tremendous impact in politics, media, philanthropy, and activism.  These women are not only exceptional in their fields, but are also inspiring role models for young women around the world.

Tickets for the 7th Annual Women to Watch Awards are now on sale!

Alumna in Action: Talia Leman

Talia LemanTalia Leman began her philanthropic journey at the age of 10 when she became concerned with the devastating effects of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, so much so that she spearheaded a Halloween campaign with a national network of children across the country to collect donations to restore life in the Gulf coast. The amount of contributions totaled more than ten million dollars, ranking the giving power of youth proportionate to the top five corporate donors for the disasters.

Talia founded RandomKid, an organization that provides support and mentorship to young people who want to work on local and global issues.  Talia and RandomKid have been recognized by other philanthropic and global groups such as the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations.  She is the author of A Random Book About the Power of Anyone, which illustrates the important contributions young people can make to change the world around them, and offers techniques and tools needed to be successful.

We are in awe of what Talia has accomplished so far and are anticipating what’s next in the future!

Check out this article to learn more about Talia’s compelling story.

Introduced by: Tiffany Dufu

Tiffany Dufu (unofficial)Tiffany Dufu is the former President of the White House Project whose mission was to increase female representation and champion women’s leadership in business and politics.

Tiffany began her career in fundraising.  She previously worked for the Seattle Girls School- a math, science, and technology middle school where in one year, she helped raise one million dollars towards a matching donation grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.  Tiffany currently works with Levo League, which aims to elevate women in the workforce.

Through her work, the White House Project launched many programs to propel women into leadership through training, empowerment, and networking.  She has been honored by Mattel as one of their 10 Women to Watch and the National Council for Research on Women.  Tiffany has also been featured in the Seattle Times, New York Times, and on NPR.  She, along with powerful women like Hillary Clinton and Oprah Winfrey, was chosen as one of sixty members of Fast Company’s League of Extraordinary Women. She continues to be an advocate and voice for women and girls around the world.

Stay tuned for more weekly spotlights on our Women to Watch honorees!

Click here for more information and to reserve your seats at this year’s awards!

Thank you to our Founding Sponsor: