Founder and CEO of Running Start
"I love people and discovering the humanity in everyone I get to interact with."
Susannah Wellford is a native Washingtonian and founder of two nonpartisan nonprofit organizations: Women Under Forty PAC and Running Start. Running Start trains young women to run for political office on a nonpartisan basis, and gives them the confidence and connections they need to run-- and win. Susannah has worked a long history in politics from her former career as a lobbyist and has also trained women to run in Algeria, Belgium, Germany, Israel, Jamaica, Kuwait, the Maldives, Russia, Sri Lanka, Ukraine, and the United Kingdom.
In her free time, Susannah loves to write on her blog and grow things: she has a total green thumb!
WHAT INSPIRED YOU TO START THE WOMEN UNDER FORTY PAC AND RUNNING START?
I was working in a law firm and a colleague came into my office one day was like "Let's do this." So it actually wasn't my idea and she had actually written a paper in law school about a PAC that supported young women that was bipartisan and she had gotten an A on it. It wasn't originally my passion but the more I worked with her and worked with the PAC, it really became my passion because I began to see it as “if you want better solutions for problems that affect women directly, it makes sense to elect women," and it's really true for so many problems in the world. So I ran Women Under 40 PAC for 5 years and then I really realized that the bigger problem was the pipeline; there just weren't enough young women putting their names on the ballot and that's where the idea for Running Start came from.
The idea was "why don't we talk to women in high school and college and make sure they start out on the right path and know they can do it?"
ABOUT HER JOB:
My job IS really to be the ultimate salesperson for Running Start, so i sit down with somebody and it's my job in that hour I have with them to convince them that Running Start is one of the best organizations ever and that they should invest in us. I see myself very much as a salesperson and it's easy for me because i absolutely love the mission and having done this for 14 years, I'm still just as excited about it now as i was back in 2007.
It really was trying to convince people that Running Start was a valid idea when nobody had ever heard of it before. I remember we actually had a meeting early on where I got a lot of people, who i had hoped to be supporters, together and told them the whole idea behind Running Start and I had this whole vision that I thought I did the greatest job presenting and I actually had one person walk out of the meeting. She was like “I don't want to be apart of this, it's going to fail.” A little after, I had lunch with someone who I really thought of as a mentor and she ran another organization. She also said “you really should give Running Start to my organization and we should fold it because on your own, you're going to fail.”
I think having people tell me I was going to fail was the hardest thing because I already had that voice in my head saying “you don't know what you're doing, how are you going to do this?,” and the best thing was that I was able to quiet those voices and say:
“No, I think I'll be able to do it.”
I hope at some point in 15 years I will leave Running Start, but that it would go on and become bigger. I want it to be like Girls Scouts- where everybody knows about it and it's known as a training problem that's like a rite of passage for young women.
Our plans are to train people to go out and train more people and have a multiplier effect.
As for myself, I love more than anything to travel so I would love to travel the world and talk to women about politics and women's empowerment, write a book (or maybe a couple!) and speak.
her words for you
One of the best ways to form a real bond or friendship is to ask somebody a favor. It seems so counterintuitive but it's the idea that if I trust you enough to ask you for a favor, it's humbling me and making me vulnerable, and it makes you feel good and honored. Often, people wanna be asked and want to help and mentor you, so ask for help!
Who is someone who has inspired you?
My mom because she faces the world with kindness and an open heart.
What is a saying or quote that motivates you the most that you would like to pass on?
“But over time I learned that I can choose how to respond to the past. I can be miserable, or I can be hopeful—I can be depressed, or I can be happy. We always have that choice, that opportunity for control. I’m here, this is now, I have learned to tell myself, over and over, until the panicky feeling begins to ease.”
from The Choice: Embrace the Possible