Leaders signal who belongs and who doesn’t.
They provide role models. They’re powerful symbols for future generations to see what they can and cannot aspire to become.
It matters who is within the corridors of power. Only those who lead organizations and institutions and make decisions can truly shape the future.
Political leadership is particularly visible.
For the DiverseCity School4Civics program, we identify, recruit, train and connect diverse leaders. We offer a non-partisan training and mentoring program delivered by campaign experts from across the political spectrum. Our goal is to help emerging leaders build political power beyond one single election campaign. We want to make “lifers” out of program participants.
Starting up a School4Civics program
- Make a case for the program: In the Greater Toronto Area, we counted senior leadership in political, community and business sectors and released a report.
- Look for opportunity: Build toward elections at all levels of government. Local, provincial or state, and national elections all represent an opportunity for new political actors to emerge.
- Demystify election campaigns – and to some degree the reality of electoral politics– for leaders from underrepresented ethnic and racial groups.
- Make the program multi-partisan: Trainers and participants can be drawn from across the political spectrum as long as they are committed to diversity in electoral politics.
- Put political experience to work: Someone with a history of political activism, whether as a candidate or working behind the scenes, will have a broad political network that crosses party lines and can help in the development of a program.
Building a curriculum
- Create a general campaign curriculum: In addition to candidates, train emerging political activists who will employ their skills in other campaign roles – not everyone can get elected or even run, but everyone can participate.
- Define clear learning objectives: The School4Civics curriculum was built on three key components. The first two support broader leadership development and the third is more specific to elections.
- Identify your political values;
- Plan for the short and long term to make an impact; and
- Learn practical campaign tools such as fundraising, communications, and identifying and getting out the vote.
- Offer multiple learning points/methods/etc.: We delivered the program in workshops, but also offered online learning via webinars, phone seminars and networking opportunities where participants learned from each other.
- Switch up the learning schedule as needed: The frequency of training events varied from monthly to bi-weekly, but there was consistent contact between meetings with the program participants.
- Recruit from across the political spectrum: Trainers, mentors and coaches should be people committed to diversity in electoral politics, with a multi-partisan spirit and with the experience to bring practical lessons from the field.
- Provide trainers with tools: They may have strategic, fundraising, communications, or other expertise, but they may not be teachers. Equip them with interactive exercises and other learning tools.
Recruitment and selection
- Build a program audience on an existing network: Our program was aimed at the Greater Toronto Region. We had an extensive network of leaders and organizations that supported our outreach to promote the program.
- Define the attributes of participants: School4Civics participants were selected based on:
- Demonstrated record of volunteering and social change leadership;
- Capacity to learn in a multi-partisan environment; and
- A commitment to use the lessons in real life elections.
- Define political involvement broadly: The majority of people we selected had volunteered previously on election campaigns, but they lacked knowledge of their inner workings. And they lacked the political networks to play more significant roles.
- Strive towards diversity: We had a broad spectrum of participants, including gender balance, and a good range in ages. This was also true in terms of race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation and regional representation.
Building a political activist network
- Maintain a network: The program may have ended, but the political journey has just begun. So remain connected. The success of the leaders you’ve trained, and their social impact, could be months or years in the making.
- Be deliberate about making connections: Link up participants, not just with each other, but also with people in positions of power and influence. That could be an elected official or a well-connected activist behind the scenes.
- Cultivate media to change the conversation: School4Civics contributed to the broader public discourse about the diversity gap in political leadership. Behind the scenes we also helped, by using our own networks to connect new faces with reporters looking for stories.
- Invest in success: With limited resources, it makes sense to invest more (support, time, opportunities) in people who will truly benefit. In practical terms, build coaching into the program and offer it to the most committed participants; match them with mentors when they’re really able to use the advice.
- Seek partnerships: However informally you work with other organizations working to promote political leadership and participation of other underrepresented groups, share your knowledge broadly – curriculum, contacts, and trainers. The more organizations that are committed to this work, the better.
- Define success broadly: The key program outcome is political participation. Did people participate? Did they run for office? Did they support each other?
- Demonstrate impact: Showcase new candidates and leaders prepared to stand for elected office. The stories of the leaders you’ve trained are the ultimate measure of the program’s success.