Euphoria, fear, and why we’re here

Well, here I am—a full-time social entrepreneur.

Last week was my first week all in on Polithon, and it’s been exhilarating and terrifying at the same time. It’s critical to have a solid support system to take this kind of leap, and I’m grateful to my family, friends and mentors for believing in us and offering advice as my co-founder Evanna and I embark on this incredible journey.

Before Polithon, I would never have thought of becoming an “entrepreneur.” My thing was international development. I spent years running around the Middle East and working on the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. I loved my on-and-off ex-pat life…the people, the places, the history, the culture, the adventure, and most importantly, the feeling that what I was doing mattered.

That region is my second home, and if you had told me a year ago I’d be turning toward domestic issues, I would have laughed out loud. But I began to feel frustrated by my inability to make a dent in solving the problems I cared most about. I felt like I wasn’t being heard. And as Evanna and I commiserated about the challenges of trying to influence policy as Millenials, Polithon was born.

We started Polithon because we wanted to have an impact—we, the “hashtag generation,” who supposedly don’t care about anything that isn’t on our smartphones (the favorite Millennial stereotype we know isn’t true). Millennials want to make our voices heard, but we can’t seem to cut through the partisan gridlock and the piles of lobbying cash. And we’re sick of it.

We started Polithon because we know that if we just carve out a small window for our voices to be heard, we can change things.

Like I said, I’ve never thought of myself as an entrepreneur, but I have great role models in my uncle, both of my grandfathers, and two of my mentors – all entrepreneurs themselves – making the concept a little less frightening. One of them loves to remind me how there are only two emotions in entrepreneurship, “total euphoria and abject fear,” and I’ve already faced both…multiple times, but I know that’s how you know what you’re doing is worth it.

This gig isn’t comfortable, and it’s not easy. But our system is broken, and Millenials are the ones who are going to inherit its product. We need more than just a voice; we need a chance to make it heard. And if we succeed, it will be worthwhile because it will mean a better future for all of us.

Thanks for being on this journey with me!

Julia

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Millennials: Not a Generation of Hashtag Activists

This post originally appeared on the UN Foundation’s Global Accelerator Blog

By: Julia C. Hurley

Millennials are tired of being talked about. We are tired of being labeled without being consulted. Everyone seems so eager to define us as a generation, but few seem as eager to understand us or identify our strengths rather than point out assumed weaknesses.

We are the most interconnected generation the world has ever known. We’ve grown up this way and new technologies to us are the same as the telephone was to generations before us – a tool to get things done. We are not a generation of hashtag activists. On the contrary, we are a generation yearning to use our interconnectedness as a force for good. We are innovative and make up a large part of the entrepreneurial world. Silicon Valley: we helped build that into what it is today.

We may be young, but we should be taken seriously. We are not afraid to cross boundaries other generations seem to be caught behind and are willing to compromise politically in ways those in their 40s, 50s, 60s, and 70s, aren’t. Perhaps this is part of our interconnectedness and our ability, as a result, to see each other more as human first and any other label second. Half of us define ourselves as politically independent, refusing to be trapped by the two-party system. We see beyond these lines and want to get down to business. The gridlock and bureaucracy of the federal system in the US, and partisan bickering on Capitol Hill are what are driving us away from public service, not apathy. The same can be said elsewhere as well – in democracies around the world and even more so where democracy is absent and the old guard reigns, leaving the vast majority voiceless, not just Millennials. We care. We just don’t see how a broken government is going to fix anything if driven by ego and special interests, forgetting what people actually want and need: compromise.

This is why we’re seeing a surge in Millennial groups trying to find ways to move beyond this. For example,Millennial Action Project (MAP) is pushing a post-partisan agenda by engaging our generation in politics again. They started the Future Caucus with the support of two of the only 60 Members of Congress under the age of 40, Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) and Aaron Schock (R-IL), with the goal of fostering “a bipartisan community of legislators dedicated to pragmatic, innovative leadership on future-oriented issues and engaging with future leaders across the country on critical policy issues.” Young Invincibles started out advocating on behalf of Millennials who lacked healthcare and have now expanded into a 50 member team advocating and raising awareness on a variety of issues critical to our generation. Youth Voices USA is empowering Millennials by engaging in political participation, trying to get more of us prepared for public office and will be running campaign training events for at least 60 to 100 people over the next few months during their first two events. And the list goes on…

On the international front, Millennials are making waves with organizations engaged not just in development, but the political process as well. Ligues Des Electrices Tunisiennes (LET), the Tunisian League of Women Voters, is getting women – especially Millennial women – deeply involved in the newest democracy in the Middle East by helping them to understand their rights and even run for office, assisting a number of women in the last parliamentary election. In East Africa, activists, such as Kenyan Boniface Mwangi of Pawa254, are leveraging the 50 percent of the population that are considered youths to make social and political changes that reflect the will of the people. From holding parliament members accountable in their spending, to advocating for more youth voices in Parliament, Boniface has led numerous peace protests and is working closely with current lawmakers. Even in countries riddled with conflict, Millennials are self-organizing and self-educating so that they can play a vital role in new governments. They have seized the opportunities to gain seats in democratic institutions, and have called for citizens to keep government officials honest. They have created technological platforms that track aid spending and oil revenues. Despite the personal dangers to themselves and their families, members of groups such as the Kabul-based Young Activists for Reform and Change have continued to have their voices heard and turned into concrete action.

Now Polithon is joining these impressive and inspiring groups of Millennial change-makers around the world. We are applying the tech hackathon model to policy and crowd-sourcing the best ideas Millennials have to offer. We are bringing together diverse groups to ‘hack’ policy and get through the gridlock of the current political process in order to find tangible solutions to critical issues facing our generation. We are committed to seeing a future in which we move beyond partisanship and make policy more inclusive, while focusing on impact with policies that are for the good of the people, not just a select few. We want to play a role in shaping our futures and truly change the way policy is developed and implemented by taking back the process and working through our differences, unlike those entrenched in their politics. We will do it differently. We are doing it differently.

And no matter how uncomfortable this makes our critics, we, Millennials, through collaboration and compromise, locally and globally, will change this world for the better, too.

 

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New Year Present: We’re a Full Org!

Happy New Year!!

We hope you are having a great start to an even more kickass year 🙂

We know it has been a long time since our last update, and we apologize for the lack of communication. It’s not an excuse, but we have been busy building Polithon into a full-fledged organization, working on operations, fundraising, event planning, media, legal, etc. One of the biggest shifts is in our methodology. We have decided to focus on one issue per year, with five Polithons in different parts of the country, culminating in a final gathering in Washington, DC, where the best solutions from each city will do what Congress hasn’t been able to do – compromise and come up with a complete policy solution. For 2015, our issue will be student loan debt, and will kick off with a Polithon in Ohio in the spring followed by ones in Iowa, New Hampshire, and two other TBD states that will be relevant to the 2016 presidential election.

IMPORTANT UPDATES

The team: Julia will be on Polithon full-time starting the end of January, while Evanna will continue her role in a part-time capacity. The team will also be joined by a monitoring and evaluation expert next month.  Moreover, we are in the process of hiring an intern to help us get the organization off the ground. Check out the job description and share with anyone you think might be interested!

Fundraising: Thanks to a generous anonymous donor, we received seed money and will be financially sound for the next 4 months. Our fundraising strategy is multi-faceted with the mission to be a sustainable social enterprise (and less than 50% depend on donors) by 2017.

Next Event: Our first official event in Columbus, Ohio, will be in late March or early April. Ohio will be the location for the Republican National Convention next year and is one of the two candidates left for the DNC site as well, making it a perfect jumping off point for us. We are in late stage partnership and sponsorship talks with several major influential organizations. More news about this in the next week or so.

Media: Check out the coverage we received in the National Public Radio, which syndicated a piece by Ozy on Millennials in policymaking. For issue- focus on the Gaza blockade, the Independent Voter Network did a nice piece on us, and a more academic piece on the potential of Millennials is in development now as well. . Julia also did a podcast with Simon Sinek, speaker and writer of Leaders Eat Last andStart with Why and spoke about Polithon. The latter two will be out later this month.

Board/ Advisors: We are continuing our search for advisors and candidates for our board of directors who will push us to the next level. We have had some great conversations and are looking forward to finalizing agreements.

GETTING INVOLVED

Every day, we are thankful for all the support you have given us, whether monetarily or emotionally or connection-wise or through the myriads of other ways. We seriously could not have done what we have accomplished so far without it. If you are interested in being a part of this movement, we are asking for help on the following tasks:

  • Partners: we love to collaborate. If you know of any organizations, people, or potential funders who are passionate about long-term, sustainable, Millennial engagement, the student loan debt crisis, or any intersections thereof, please shoot us an email!
  • Hiring: know any graduates or almost graduates who are looking for an internship? Tell them about Polithon and send them our way

With the New Year, we are back on the newsletter bandwagon, so expect a 2 minute read about our progress once a month. No spam. No frill. To the point.

Thanks again! Onward. Upward

Evanna  + Julia

evanna@polithon.org
julia@polithon.org

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