Sparked by COVID-19: Creativity and Collaboration.

By Susannah Wellford

If there is one thing Running Start is known for, it is our signature in-person programs. Literally all of our promotional materials talk about how our programs are hands-on and face-to-face. So it was more than a little unsettling when overnight our buzz words became the recipe for what not to do in the COVID-19 era. My staff was confronted with a total reset of how we think about what we do and how we create impact. But in those early days when we were still figuring out how to use Zoom and setting up our new offices in our bedrooms, I saw creativity light up my staff. Faced with change and disruption that is more complete than anything we have ever faced in our working lives, I have watched as they brainstormed new ideas to reach our participants that are not only great for this bizarre locked-in time, but which I anticipate we will use in perpetuity.

Our week-long in-person high school political leadership training we usually hold at Georgetown University? It has morphed into a six week online training that is highly interactive and preserves or improves upon many of the elements we love most about the program. Our signature networking receptions that introduce high-level DC power players to our young participants? They’ve become Zoom meetings with power players from around the world — and we can even pair mentors and up-and-coming young women in breakout rooms for a more personal experience. Mentor coffees? Once so hard to schedule, they are now much easier to set up — who doesn’t have time to spend half an hour in their living room talking to a young woman online about how to plot her leadership path? VIP Panel events? Where once geography limited our scope, now we can pull panelists from different time zones and audience members from around the globe.

We’re not alone — our friends in the women and politics world are right beside us in their response to this disruptive (and anxious) time. And we are thrilled to see so many of the groups in our field come together to share audiences and amplify each other’s work. College to Congress is offering free online classes to all college students affected by the pandemic, even if they aren’t already involved with their organization. Young Elected Officials Network (YEO) is partnering with us on a mentor panel with elected women in state office. IGNITE has shared a set of politics-themed Zoom backgrounds, and She Should Run is running a bookclub!

Below is a partial list of the great events coming up that our partners empowering women in politics are planning.

While this time is unsettling, inconvenient, and pretty scary, I find so much hope in the work my community is doing to make sure we lose no ground in our fight to raise women to greater power in this country. The pandemic only highlights how critical it is to involve all voices and experiences in policy and governance.

Headshot of Susannah Wellford, smiling, with a marble background.

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, and is a graduate of UVA School of Law and Davidson College. She lives in Washington, DC with her twins.