“Political Entrepreneur” isn’t just a buzz word

Heverly Stephen Equinox Leaders 2020

po•lit•i•cal (pəˈlitikəl)

    1. of or relating to the government or the public affairs of a country

en•tre•pre•neur (äntrəprəˈno͝or,-ˈnər)

    1. a person who organizes and operates a business or businesses, taking on greater than normal financial risks in order to do so

Like many facets of my career development, I didn't quite understand what was meant by, "political entrepreneur" when it was introduced to me. I saw it first in the New Leaders Council San Diego (now San Diego Leadership Alliance (SDLA)) application and promotional materials. I thought it was a catchy term like "innovation" that was thrown around to get attention but wasn't actually being used functionally.

That was in 2011. More recently, I jumped on a political campaign in a full-time capacity for the first time. Not just knocking on doors or making phone calls - which are arguably the most important roles in this type of grassroots campaign - I was calling the shots; developing and implementing a communications plan for a start-up campaign with little time until Election Day. I didn't know what was ahead of me, but I took the challenge anyway.

For example, I was told one day, "We need to buy an ad in a community newspaper."

With about 48 hours of turnaround time, I had to confirm the order, design the ad, get it approved by my campaign manager and get it in the paper before their print deadline – while handling the rest of my day-to-day tasks, and having no prior experience doing it.

That's when the whole "entrepreneur" concept hit me. Running a campaign is essentially running a business. Renting office space, managing a staff and budget, raising funds, marketing the candidate or issue - these are all things needed to get a business off the ground and running.

Luckily, for most of the challenges I faced, I had a base of understanding of what had to be done. For me, that's where SDLA comes in. We may not realize it, but a few weekends of training over six months can provide the tools needed to be successful in whatever we do – especially in campaigning for progressive causes.

Following those months of training, as an SDLA graduate, I had opportunity to solidify my skills and training with a mentor. This is where a lot of us would love to have Assemblymember X or CEO Y guiding us into the next steps of our careers. But in my opinion, choosing a well-respected expert who has the time and willingness to sit down every other week and help solve problems is a better choice. It's the practical experience that was most valuable to me.

Graduating with a biology degree and working in environmental policy and programs isn't the typical background of a communications and marketing professional, but with my mentorship – which led to a career change and opportunity to work in communications – I made it here.

I'm not the only one. There are SDLA board members and alumni plugged into all levels of the campaign from management to the crucial volunteers powering our momentum.

The lesson learned is: don't underestimate opportunities to learn, grow and take risks. Our training gives us the skills and potential, while our entrepreneurial spirit gives us the confidence to put those skills to work and make great things happen.

Stephen Heverly was a 2011 NLC Institute Fellow and is Communications Director for the David Alvarez for Mayor campaign. His rockstar mentor is Jamie Ortiz, owner and founder of JO Communications, and SDLA Board Member.

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