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- fellowship applicants
The two co-founders of Ready to Launch, Charlotte White and Erica Liepmann, met working on political campaigns in Los Angeles. They soon recognized a gap in leadership in terms of helping women from diverse populations get started in careers in politics, advocacy and government. Liepmann and White believe that expanding representation of women in the ranks of staffers is just as essential as electing more women to office. Liepmann explains, “I experienced firsthand when I was trying to get into the government and political arena how difficult it can be to even know about these career pathways.”
Together, they decided to create an organization that would invest in the staff pipeline, with a specific eye to making it more inclusive to ensure more women from historically marginalized communities can bring their talents and perspectives to this work.
“I think in the last two to five years, there's been a real cultural reckoning happening about structural inequity and [a focus on] how we have to tear down barriers to entry in the business world, in the entertainment industry, in every sector,” Liepmann says. “And that's what we're trying to do in politics and government staff arenas—make sure that we're reaching young women from historically marginalized communities, where they are, with information about these paths.”
By co-founding Ready to Launch in 2021, they turned their passion into their full-time mission. Their flagship program is the fellowship, which provides recruitment, training, and mentorship to set participants up for success. Ready to Launch helps connect participants with internships working in elected officials’ offices, and offers paid stipends during their three-month experiences. They also engage alumni with ongoing networking and leadership development opportunities to grow their careers.
In addition, they run publicly available events, which due to COVID have been hosted virtually. The events focus on helping women better understand the array of jobs and career paths available to them in government and politics and include featured speakers who work in these sectors. These kinds of events have reached over 200 young women so far.
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To get all of this started from the ground up was not easy, and they needed an integrated software solution with tools for fundraising, event planning, volunteer management, website development and email outreach all in one place. They also needed it to have a short on ramp in terms of understanding how to make it work. They found what they needed in NationBuilder, as Liepmann explained, “What I like about NationBuilder is the integration. That's really what sets it apart in the marketplace. Just being able to have that integrated platform for fundraising, email lists, keeping track of our applicants—it's been a one-stop shop.”
Their fellowship application process yielded 103 potential participants, and with the help of twenty-eight volunteers they narrowed down the candidates to the seven selected fellows for their first cohort, each of whom got paired with an individual mentor. They were determined to approach qualifications differently than how other fellowship programs have historically reviewed candidates.
Liepmann explained their approach by saying, “We had a really in depth rubric. And we had multiple women of different backgrounds read each application as a way to help us eliminate some bias, and get diverse perspectives thinking about each of the applicants. We don't have a GPA threshold. We're about tearing down some of those barriers. . . we were looking for participants that hadn't had an experience like this before, for whom it would really be a game changer. For whom it might be their first opportunity in this world.”
Once selected, the seven fellows were set on a path for success, with Ready to Launch leading a week-long orientation and training them on the front-end before they even started their internships in offices for elected officials such as L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti, L.A. County Supervisor Holly Mitchell, L.A. County Supervisor Hilda Solis, and Congresswoman Judy Chu. They followed up with a monthly training day during which they took a deep dive on topics like LinkedIn, resume development, cover letter writing, government 101 and general writing skills. The fellows also have the opportunity to meet with women professionals who come to speak with the cohort.
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As a new, small nonprofit, they have been building as they grow, with Liepmann and White as the only staff. Liepmann credits NationBuilder’s outreach and materials with allowing them to build while growing.
“I really appreciate that there's ongoing touch points with the company through different webinars, training, and resources. Those resources and that exchange of information that come from NationBuilder help you learn, whether it's a new feature, or just a feature you haven't had time to figure out yet. That's something I've really appreciated, because I'm just trying to figure it out day by day.”
For the co-founders, one of the most gratifying aspects of the process has been watching the cohort learn from each other. The 2021 group of fellows is really diverse, which was a priority to Liepmann and White. “We think that this diverse coalition building around women supporting other women and developing these friendships across different communities is really important.”
In 2022, Ready to Launch is going to increase their program offering and plans to have multiple cohorts of fellows. Looking ahead, Liepmann says: “We want to keep building that database of supporters, volunteers, donors, and women who are interested in our program, because that's really the backbone of the work we're going to do. So growing and scaling. Our hope is to double the impact.”