Posted by: Academy of Achievement | 06/14/2013

Ward_300Kelly Ward, Class of 2006
Catherine B. Reynolds Foundation Fellow, Executive Director, Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee

It is unbelievable how quickly time goes by! It seems like just yesterday I was at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, attending seminars and workshops with the other Reynolds Fellows. That “yesterday” was actually more than seven years ago, when I was honored as one of the inaugural recipients of the Catherine B. Reynolds Foundation Fellowship.

There are very few moments in life when a new, unexpected opportunity sets you on a completely different course. For me, receiving the Reynolds Foundation Fellowship was one of those moments. The Fellowship introduced me to the world of social entrepreneurship and the impact we can have when we foster and invest in innovative, high-impact solutions. It taught me that there are fantastic solutions to the world’s most pressing problems, and that finding, developing and scaling these solutions is the key to large-scale change.

During my Fellowship and my time at the Kennedy School, I focused on the connection between public policy, social innovation and growth capital. Specifically, how can we leverage government funding as growth capital for social entrepreneurs? Can government investment bring social innovation to scale instead of stifling creative solutions? These were new and intriguing questions at the time, and the Reynolds Fellowship and Harvard’s Center for Public Leadership were integrally involved in the development of these new ideas.

It was through the Reynolds Fellowship that I met New Profit, a top-notch venture philanthropy fund in Cambridge. I worked with them on my graduate thesis, and was exposed to a plethora of inspiring entrepreneurs and innovative ideas. They were on the frontlines of redesigning government funding to work for social entrepreneurs — providing matching funds instead of grants, growth capital instead of piecemeal investments. It was exciting to be a part of it.

When I graduated from the Kennedy School, I managed a congressional campaign and then ran a small advocacy nonprofit in Arizona, but I was drawn back to New Profit to help bring the ideas they were developing to fruition. I moved back to Boston to head up their America Forward effort, a national coalition of nonprofits working to develop and push a policy agenda with the 2008 presidential candidates. We met with every major presidential candidate, and our ideas were received with great interest. Barack Obama’s campaign, in particular, embraced the notion of social entrepreneurship, and once he was elected, many of our ideas were incorporated into the “Serve America Act,” the most bipartisan piece of legislation to pass during President Obama’s first 100 days in office. It was so inspiring to see our new President surrounded by the country’s leading social innovators, committed to investing in their work as part of his vision for improving the country.

I am now back in the political world, running a special election Senate campaign in Massachusetts. For the last three years I have served as Executive Director of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee in Washington, D.C. Our job is to elect Democrats to Congress. Our goal is a Democratic majority in the US House of Representatives. At same time, ,

One of the most critical elements of the Reynolds Fellowship was leadership development. In addition to fostering the innovative ideas of the Fellows, the Reynolds Fellowship also invested deeply in our overall development as leaders. While my current job is more political than entrepreneurial, I use the lessons I learned as a Reynolds Fellow every single day.

When I think back about the overall experience, especially attending the 2006 International Achievement Summit in Los Angeles, it seems so surreal — I have to remind myself that it actually happened! I’m so grateful for the opportunity and so excited for the new people who get to share in the experience.

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