Many of the faces in politics and Government seem to be that of an older generation. While what is most important is the root of policy and integrity of elected officials, the importance of engaging youth is imperative. Activating fresh talent within the world of public service ensures generational involvement today and in the future.
This week's guest, Octavia Abell, talks to Xander about outreach work that recruits, trains, and mobilizes recent graduates into the fields of civil engagement. Abell is the CEO and Co-Founder of Govern For American (GFA).
The GFA website reminds visitors that; 30% of our Government's employees are on the verge of retirement, which motivates Abell and her organization. They provide fellowships to talented candidates with diverse backgrounds into political positions where the most significant changes can be made and address what she calls "a talent crisis."
Abell explains that GFA; currently with 26 working fellows, was created to build up the next generation in the American public sector with the mission to make Government more active and responsive from state departments to education and health, "the places where policy touches our lives in a really tangible and meaningful way," says Abell. "It's public servants who are, day in and day out, doing the work and are making the choices that impact all of our lives."
She saw this new talent gap when she worked as a Director Of Strategy for the RI Office Of Innovation early in her career. "At a really formative point in my life, I got to see the power that the government had to solve problems at scale, and that was really inspiring.", she says, and while she found that inspiring, she realized she was the only perspective under 30 years old around her which stood out when talking about such subjects like student loan debts. "It really started to get to me." she said, "It struck me as really odd that there were no mechanisms to get young people into the public sector."
She found that there were so many areas that people could get involved in if only guided through the proper channels and find a place beyond changing legislation alone but through the various rule and regulations power government officials have.
"We want to make sure we are bringing in people who understand those problems; who are going to make choices that serve our communities more effectively. We hope that by doing that, we can both achieve better outcomes but also rebuild that trust that we have lost, seeing our systems fail."
Typically government work has not attracted young people and is a challenging field to navigate as far as knowing one's niche or direction. "We see young people going into financing, consulting, and tech." says Abell, "not the place that has the biggest potential, as I see it, to really address problems on scale."
Yet, now more than ever, Abell believes organizations like hers are essential in creating an active government. "We see so much activism in our generation and Gen Z behind us," she says. Abell wants to keep that momentum going by opening the government avenues to do so with young talent that asks questions and pushes back on the usual ways of doing things.
GFA's fellowship program assists in placing grads into state-level roles while helping them cultivate skills and start coalitions. "What that looks like to us is really intentionally recruiting and the selection and matching people with high impact jobs where they can both learn from other leaders in government but also be the ones that are bringing that new perspective and set of skills that are often missing."
Abell believes the combined focus on data and storytelling are keys to young talents' success. "The power to inspire and mobilize others and find who your allies are is really, really important, Abell says, "If you think about movements in this country, it's back to being able to effectively mobilize people around a vision."
Octavia believes that people are the policy and that people are why we have the systems we have, and therefore, "People can change the system."
"We have the power to make choices about how we want our government and public systems to look." But, she says, "If we can make our public systems reflect the values and diversity of this country, we're going to live in a much different country."