As the country faces a crisis of trust, there are leaders across the U.S. who are working to fix broken systems and strengthen our democracy. In 2019, national venture philanthropy organization New Profit identified seven democracy entrepreneurs who are using innovative models of organizing, supporting a new generation of leaders, and shaping a narrative that promotes unity. This multi-part series features interviews with these democracy entrepreneurs. Learn more about New Profit’s Civic Lab initiative.

Photo credit: Jason Grow

New Politics revitalizes American democracy by recruiting and developing servant leaders who put community and country over self to serve in the political arena. Founder and Executive Director Emily Cherniack recently shared her insights with Giving Compass.

What inspired you to launch your organization?

In 2009, my former boss Alan Khazei ran for the U.S Senate in the special election to replace Ted Kennedy. I had never worked on a campaign before and I was really surprised at how broken the system was. Campaigns are a closed ecosystem, so it’s very difficult to figure out how to be successful. I realized the types of leaders we desperately needed in politics, servant leaders—men and women who had dedicated their lives to serving our communities and our country—weren’t even running. And when they did decide to run, they were set up to fail because of how rigged the system was. I started New Politics to recruit and support these servant leaders to run for office and give them a fair shot at winning elections.

How is your organization helping to create a more robust democracy in the U.S.?

At New Politics, we fundamentally believe that the lack of political leadership in this country is not for a lack of leaders. There are millions of men and women who have served this country, through the military and through national service programs like AmeriCorps and the Peace Corps. If we could recruit and elect servant leaders who put the country and community first, we could transform our democracy and make it work for all of us. We act as an honest partner to help servant leaders navigate the political ecosystem. We do this through candidate mentoring and strategic advising, which includes communications, field, and political strategy, in addition to campaign fundraising and team building support. At our core, we help service veterans stay authentic to who they are as servant leaders and help build the best team around them to ensure they are set up for success.

What does being a democracy entrepreneur mean to you? Why is entrepreneurship needed in this space?

A democracy entrepreneur, much like a social entrepreneur, is someone who focuses on solving big, systemic issues in our country. The democratic system as we know it has failed too many Americans. And the slim minority for whom it has worked, only benefit from keeping things as they are. So democracy entrepreneurs look at the democratic system as a whole and try to solve for certain pieces of it—less money and special interests in politics, expanded access to voting, and of course, easier paths to running for office. If we don’t find ways to dismantle the status quo, we run the risk of our system breaking down completely.

How can philanthropists better support democracy entrepreneurs and other civic leaders in the U.S.?

Democracy work is a long game. Traditionally, political donors think short term--one election cycle at a time. And every election cycle the focus changes: one year it’s about the U.S Senate, the next it's about campaign finance, etc. Philanthropists need to look at democracy work like they do ending hunger and homelessness. No funder says to an organization, “You have two years to solve homelessness.” We need the same long term mindset in this space as well.

What are you hopeful about? Where do you see bright spots?

I am incredibly hopeful because I get to work with and support incredible leaders who are running for office and making transformative change. To see individuals rise through the system in just a few years is what New Politics is all about -- we find exceptional leaders with values-driven, service-first mindsets and we're in it with them for the long haul. Watching folks in state legislatures make huge strides on education reform, national service expansion, and gerrymandering has been inspiring. And while Congressional approval ratings are at an all-time low, I am hopeful about the 10 members we have elected thus far who have already demonstrated a “country first” mentality and have led from their first day in office.

What can we do as everyday citizens to help rebuild trust in our communities and strengthen our democracy?

Politics is intimidating and I really didn’t have an understanding of the system before I got involved. Start local. We are all represented by city councils and state legislators. Go and volunteer for a campaign. Get to know your local elected officials. These are where many of the laws and policies are created that impact our daily lives. Then find more folks and bring them along with you on this journey. The more people engage in our democracy, the better and healthier it will be.