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From State Department to Leadership Now

By: Daniella Ballou-Aares 29 Jun 2017

Five years ago I moved from New York to Washington to become an appointee at the State Department. I was humbled by the importance of the issues at stake but also saw significant need for innovative thinking and new perspectives. The 2016 election solidified for me that all of us need to play an active role in our democracy, and attracting a more diverse group of experienced professionals to serve in government and run for office is an important part of that. I quickly found many in the business community shared this sentiment though had previously given little thought to engagement in policy and politics.  In January, an event organized with fellow HBS alums on the sidelines of the Women’s March in Washington helped galvanize early members of what would become the Leadership Now Project.

The Leadership Now Project is a network of business professionals who are concerned about the challenges facing our democracy. Gerrymandering, excessive money in politics and voting restrictions are distorting politics, and preventing new entrants and policy innovation.  Diverse in our political views, racial and ethnic backgrounds, gender, age and professions, we are united by the belief that galvanized America’s founders, E Pluribus Unum - out of many, one. The group does not have a partisan affiliation but is grounded in core values that are the basis of good governance: integrity, fact and science-based decision-making and a commitment to serving and uniting citizens, rather than exploiting divisions. 

Leadership Now is focused on creating high-impact entry points for members of the business community to substantively engage in our democracy.  As a lean start-up we are working to test and build model. Founding members, the majority of whom are Harvard Business School grads, are investing time beyond their day jobs to drive action. We have started by building a meaningful understanding of critical issues through engagement with public officials, experts and a curated weekly newsletter.  In the last several months we’ve held salons with public officials in four cities, including fellow HBS grad Massachusetts Congressman Seth Moulton (‘11), to discuss how to bring new people and ideas into politics. 

Looking forward to the 2018 elections our members are working to actively encourage new entrants to politics and level the playing field for their engagement. We are interested in identifying and highlighting candidates who share our values and have significant experience outside of politics in business, the sciences or related fields. To reach beyond our founding members we’ve built a virtual community on CrowdPac, a platform co-founded by Gisel Kordestani (‘03) and designed to democratize political funding and enable virtual communities to organize around political issues. 

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Daniella Ballou-Aares, (MBA/MPA 2001), the founder of the Leadership Now Project, is a partner at Dalberg Advisers and a World Economic Forum Young Global Leader.