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Born to Lead: Meet Senator Jeanne Shaheen

by admin, posted March 30th, 2009 at 10:16 pm
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Jeanne Shaheen (R-NH)

Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH)

Jeanne Shaheen knows a thing or two about leadership. She’s the first woman in U.S. history to be elected both as governor and U.S. senator (from the state of New Hampshire). She served on the board of the Nellie Mae Education Foundation. And, she led the Institute of Politics at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government.

The newly elected senator from New Hampshire spoke to T>A>I about her nonprofit leadership experience and the importance of developing the next generation of leaders.

T>A>I: You have a lot of leadership experience in the academic, nonprofit, and public sectors. Describe your leadership role on the foundation board.

Senator Shaheen: To me, there were many benefits of working in the nonprofit sector. At the foundation, we were able to set our agenda and decide how to spend our grant dollars. We determined the criteria, goals, and schedule. This is much harder to do in the public sector.

During my tenure on the board of the Nellie Mae Education Foundation, I was impressed with the foundation’s “engaged grantmaking” model. Basically, we helped our grantees on several levels—working with them closely, providing them with resources, and encouraging them to share ideas and information among themselves and with other organizations and state agencies.

T>A>I: How did the “engaged grantmaking” approach work?

Senator Shaheen: For example, the foundation contributed to an afterschool program in New Hampshire called PlusTime NH. We encouraged PlusTime NH to meet periodically with other organizations in the Boston area to learn about what they were doing and what was working. Ongoing participation was part of the grant commitment so these organizations had to meet and learn from one another.

The “engagement” model is something the public sector should use because very often, the different government agencies tend to work in silos.

In addition, I realized that part of my experience on the foundation board was our work around “outcomes.” At times, it’s important to take a step back from contributing to programs and discuss outcomes. This is something we should do regardless of which sector we belong to.

T>A>I: Do you have any advice on recruiting and training emerging leaders?

Senator Shaheen: When I was the director at the Institute of Politics at Harvard, engaging young people in politics and public service was my mission. But the challenge was—how do you identify leaders?

I asked a roomful of young men and women, “How many of you want to run for public office?” And I was surprised to learn that almost all of the men raised their hands but very few women did. I realized that we needed to create a leadership program to identify and develop young women to be leaders. There are still a disproportionate number of men in leadership positions in almost every field.

So, we developed a credentialed, semester-long leadership development program for young women to provide them with training and mentoring opportunities. For example, we brought in speakers who shared their experiences and offered advice. One speaker helped the women develop negotiation skills because often, women aren’t as assertive as men are in this area.

T>A>I: How can the nonprofit sector work more effectively with government officials?

Senator Shaheen: There are a number of examples of nonprofit organizations working very effectively with government officials, including AmeriCorps. When I was a state senator and we first brought AmeriCorps to New Hampshire, a number of volunteers worked with the courts on domestic violence programs. This program still exists today, placing volunteers throughout various advocacy organizations and law enforcement agencies where they offer support and information to victims of domestic violence.

This is a good example to expand upon as we work to address all the important issues facing our country. A great new option is the possible creation of an EnergyCorps.

Note: Established in 1998, the Nellie Mae Education Foundation works to stimulate transformative change of public education systems across New England by growing a greater variety of higher quality educational opportunities that enable all learners – especially and essentially underserved learners – to obtain the skills, knowledge and supports necessary to become civically engaged, economically self-sufficient life-long learners.

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