Connections — The Power of Mentoring Young Women

At Running Start, our trainings provide each young woman with the 3 C’s that prepare her to lead in politics: confidence, capabilities, and connections. That last C — connections — is why we have created the Running Start Network. More on that later, but first: here’s what mentorship through Running Start has meant for some of our amazing alums.

Ewurama Appiagyei-Dankah, Misaki Collins, and Tarina Ahuja have collectively participated in the following Running Start programs: Elect Her, High School Program, Congressional Fellowship, and Run with Running Start.

How has mentoring contributed to your success so far?

Ewurama Appiagyei-Dankah: “The mentorship of others has been crucial to me in my very nascent career. One of the most important mentoring relationships I have has helped me get an internship and my current job, and the relationships I have with peer mentors have helped me make many critical decisions in the confusing time period that is early adulthood.”

Misaki Collins: “I owe practically every single one of my successes to mentors that believed in me.”

Do you have any advice to other alums who might use the Running Start Network for mentoring purposes?

Ewurama: “Some of the best advice I’ve ever read about mentoring comes from Stacey Abrams, who said ‘What I learned early on is if someone said I want to help you, believe them. But I understood what they meant is help me help you.’ Running Start has ties to an array of amazing, accomplished people, and these people are participating in the Network because they are invested in cultivating young talent — so don’t be afraid to reach out to them, and help them help you!”

Misaki: “I would HIGHLY recommend for all alum to utilize the Running Start Network regardless of how they were previously involved in Running Start. Whether it was years ago that one week in high school or the Congressional Fellowship that got you involved, there is an entire network for women who are eager to empower you.”

Tarina Ahuja: “Mentoring has the capacity to inspire and instigate change in a young person. My mentors have opened doors for me and guided me in cultivating my passions. The Running Start Network is an incredible opportunity to meet and connect with phenomenal women. It has allowed me a portal into a world of movers, shakers, and changemakers that I aspire to be like.”

“Don’t be afraid to connect with and seek mentorship from people who may seem vastly different than you. Hearing from people with different lived experiences than you can be extremely valuable.”

Running Start mentors and mentees at the Embassy of the United Arab Emirates in September 2019.

Any other words of advice?

Ewurama: “Embrace the fact that there are many kinds of mentors you will form relationships with who each serve a specific and unique purpose. Some mentors will know you very intimately and offer you advice based on their closeness with you, and others are more high-level mentors who you connect with about a specific topic or for a specific ask. Both relationships are equally important in different ways and seek out mentors of each kind. Also, don’t be afraid to connect with and seek mentorship from people who may seem vastly different than you. Hearing from people with different lived experiences than you can be extremely valuable.”

Misaki: “I’ve been amazed by the network’s support for one another and how it truly transcends party lines, geographical distance, age, etc.”


Curious about the Running Start Network?

It’s a private Network of Running Start alums, mentors, and other friends intended to facilitate the kinds of relationships that help young women succeed in politics and beyond.

The Network makes it easy to create formal and informal mentoring relationships between younger peers and also between high-level advisors and younger Running Start alums. Simply search for users by name, location, area of interest, or another factor you find compelling — then send them a message to start the conversation. The Network is also where Running Start posts various resources and events, and where you can post jobs and other opportunities.

For those wondering if you have space in your life to start mentoring someone else, consider that investing in others’ development can lead to lower levels of stress for both mentors and mentees. The Network allows you to set your preferences so that others know what types of interactions you are open to, whether they be in-person meetups, phone calls, video chats, etc. Busy working professionals can take advantage of the Network by setting limits on the number of interactions you are able to have each month.

Organizational psychologist Adam Grant has said that the difference between a good mentor and a great mentor is that “A good mentor is someone who’s willing to meet with you and give you advice, but a great mentor is someone who recognizes that there’s no one person that could give you all the advice that you would need. So a great mentor is someone who would actually introduce you to other mentors and help you expand your network of advisors.” If you know others who would like to mentor young women on Running Start’s Network, send them a referral link!

“A great mentor is someone who would actually introduce you to other mentors and help you expand your network of advisors.”

If you are ready to support young women in their path to leadership in politics, join us on the Network!

Cultivating the Old Girls Club

By Susannah Wellford, CEO of Running Start & Alyse Nelson, CEO of Vital Voices

A few weeks ago, the two of us sat down together on a comfortable couch to chat about life and swap stories from our long friendship. We do this a lot, but this time we had a little company — the 1,200 women from the Generation W conference in Jacksonville, Florida who had come to hear us speak about how women can better support each other. We shared how we have helped each other succeed throughout our careers and how a deep personal friendship has grown as a result.

Here’s the story we told: back in 1998, we met at a meeting at the State Department. We were the youngest two people in the room, and we connected afterwards over a favor — Susannah worked with legendary former Governor Ann Richards, and Alyse wanted a signed copy of her book. Since that day, we have nominated each other for awards, spoken at each other’s events, and connected each other to useful contacts. We consider ourselves sponsors of each other — like mentors, but even better.

Most importantly, we have used each other as a sounding board for some of the toughest professional decisions we have had to make. For years we have used long runs or walks to talk through problems and to offer each other advice. It can be lonely at the top of an organization, and it’s an incredible comfort to have someone to talk to who knows what you are going through.

Our relationship is based on trust — we trust that the other will keep our secrets and not judge us based on the vulnerabilities we express. And even though we started out as professional contacts, we quickly became real friends who have shared some of the most intense good and bad moments of our lives (divorces, children, new relationships). Susannah is godmother to Alyse’s daughter, and Alyse introduced Susannah to her significant other.

Susannah Wellford and Alyse Nelson backstage at Generation W.

We worry that this type of relationship is far too rare, because on paper, we should be rivals. After all, we both run nonprofit organizations whose missions are similar. You might assume we were competitors in the cut-throat world of raising money and securing connections, but instead, we’ve been allies since the start. The way we see it, the work we are striving towards is way too big for any one group. It is only through working together that we can ever move the needle on the enormous culture shift required to bring more women to power. And so, our message to other women is: find someone at your level and sponsor each other. Look for someone who you admire and trust, preferably someone who works in your field. The key is to let go of ego and envy and realize that her success is your success. Only by working together as allies can women ever hope to close the leadership gap.


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, Ben and James.

Alyse Nelson is president and CEO of Vital Voices Global Partnership. A cofounder of Vital Voices, Alyse has worked for the organization for more than 20 years, serving as vice president and senior director of programs before assuming her current role in 2009. Under her leadership, Vital Voices has expanded its reach to serve over 16,000 women leaders in 181 countries. Alyse serves on Running Start’s Board of Directors.