Political Entrepreneurship: The Democratization of Influence led by Karin Agness

Historically, most Americans have had few options for making a difference in shaping politics and culture—voting at the ballot box, donating to candidates or causes of their choice, or running for elected office. But in 2016, the opportunity to influence the nation’s course has been democratized. Anyone with a smartphone, a promising idea, and a commitment to drive change has an opportunity to influence the course of history. This course will take a look at cases studies of political entrepreneurs effectively starting movements or creating change. Studies will examine the different ways that people seek to make change and the common skills that are needed to succeed as a political entrepreneur—such as marketing, fundraising, and organizing.

Bringing my experience of starting a non-profit as a college student in 2004, which has now expanded to universities across the nation, I hope to empower students to turn their own passion into a career that is making a difference. Students will be encouraged to brainstorm about ways that they can solve a problem as political entrepreneurs. Interested students will be invited to create strategies or plans for political entrepreneurism and receive feedback and career advice about how they can get involved and make a difference in politics.

Course Outline

Week 1: Course Overview

The first week will be an introduction to political entrepreneurship. Students will consider a case study in different ways that people, and particularly young people, are exerting influence in politics and culture, historically and today. The class will consider how technological trends are democratizing political influence—giving more people the opportunity to shape the national political discussion. The first class will set the stage for the balance of the course—including an overview of the different sectors where political entrepreneurs are active in making a difference, such as traditional electoral politics, non-profits and social change organizations, advocacy and activism, writing and commentary, investigative reporting, and the public policy sector. Students will be encouraged to identify challenges or problems that they wish to solve—which we will return to throughout the course—and be invited to develop plans or strategies for a political entrepreneurship project to make a difference. Students will also be provided with professional networking opportunities to explore ways to become involved with politics and social change.

Week 2: Working in Government or on Political Campaigns

Behind each candidate is a team of staff who trying to anticipate what is going to happen and position their candidates. In local office, often young people can quickly work their way up the hierarchy and then move to national campaigns. Alternatively, some people make a mid-career switch to politics.

Guest: Sarah Isgur Flores, Deputy Campaign Manager for Carly Fiorina

Week 3: Starting a Social Change Organization

One way that political entrepreneurs are driving change is by identifying problems and creating social change organizations that works to solve problems. This class will examine cases studies of successful non-profit and advocacy organizations that have been created to pursue social change. Students will consider both the strategic and practical challenges of creating social change organizations—from writing business plans, creating an organization, and tackling the challenge of fundraising.

Week 4: Shaping Public Policy: From Local Politics to National Initiatives

Many social change entrepreneurs find success working for public policy research or advocacy organizations. And they find themselves working in cities and states far from Washington, DC. National and state and local think tanks and advocacy organizations provide an opportunity for young people to leverage their problem-solving skills to achieve broader impact on federal, state, and local public policy. They work with locally elected candidates to make a difference. Students don’t just have to move to DC to make a difference in public policy.

Guest: Marilinda Garcia

Week 5: Foundations, Philanthropy and How to Get Funding for a Good Idea

Many young people have good ideas. Often what separates those who actually act on their ideas and those who never do is money. Once you have a good idea, what should you do? What are different funding sources? How do you apply to foundations? What do philanthropists look for before investing in a new idea?

Guest: Mike Hartmann, The Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation

Week 6: How Millennials are Changing the World

We will discuss trends affecting millennials—both the world they will graduate into and how they are shaping the world. One millennials who has built a career in politics outside of running for office will discuss how she did it.

Guest: Kristen Soltis Anderson

Week 7: Making Your Voice and Opinion Heard

While shaping the national discourse used to be the exclusive province of major newspapers and television networks, the democratization of politics affords anyone with a voice and an idea with a chance to shape national discourse. One way millennials are making a difference is through media—writing commentary, creating traditional media stories, conducting investigative journalism, and using social media to drive social or political change. The students will consider case studies of ways to make one’s voice heard and learn from a leading practitioner who has succeeded in shaping the national political discourse.

Guest: Katie Pavlich

Week 8:  Can Your Idea Change the World?

As the capstone class, students will be invited to discuss their vision for problems that need to be solved and ideas for entrepreneurial projects to make a difference. I will work with interested students throughout the course to shape their ideas for the final discussion. Students will have an opportunity to present a strategic plan. Students will be encouraged to draw lessons learned from the preceding survey of political entrepreneurship and share takeaway skills that they can use to pursue their interest in shaping the nation’s future.