David Burstein, Founder of Run for America
As Founder and CEO of Run for America, David Burstein is out to change the political conversation. With a mission to get more millennials engaged with politics in order to create a better future for our generation, Run for America helps to recruit, encourage and equip the next generation of leaders to run for office. David is also the author of Fast Future: How the Millennial Generation Is Shaping Our World.
As our Millennial Maker, David shares the story behind Run for America and his perspective on the unique challenges politics faces today.
What inspired you to start Run for America?
Several years ago, I noticed that none of the smartest people I knew wanted to run for office. They were solving some of the world’s biggest problems, from education to environmental work, yet many of them weren’t even interested or connected to politics. I started to become very concerned that we would lose a whole generation of leaders in our political system, and decided it was time to do something about it.
What are some of the major challenges that Run for America is looking to solve for?
There are a series of reasons why our political system isn’t working, but ultimately it comes down to the way the incentive system is structured and the people who are involved. The only way to change the incentive system is from within, so we believe the most essential thing to do is recruit, prepare and help elect the best talent into our political system. In the United States the private sector spends $75 billion every year on talent identification, development and retention; however, in politics there is no system in place for optimizing human capital. We believe that if we can change that, many other reforms—like campaign finance reform—will fall into place much easier.
How do you feel millennials are different from previous generations when it comes to political engagement?
As voters, this generation craves authenticity and inspiration (which we’re seeing right now in this election). We are moving into an era of politics where personality will count more and more, perhaps one day even to the exclusion of of actual policy.
As political leaders, it's been amazing to see more and more millennials running for office to try and be part of the solution. Millennials are problem-solvers, do-ers, and fixers. We’re pragmatic idealists, who will change the dynamic in Washington once we make up more of its ranks.
Millennials are problem-solvers, do-ers, and fixers. We’re pragmatic idealists, who will change the dynamic in Washington once we make up more of its ranks.
What role has social media played in influencing political dialogue?
I think 2016 is the first truly "social" election. We obviously had social media in 2008 and 2012, but it’s really exploded in terms of content creation this cycle. I think Trump’s social media celebrity is a unique part of that. We’ve never seen someone running for president get into so many Twitter wars, or post Instagram-exclusive ads. Overall, I think it can spread equal amounts information and misinformation. While social media promises to be a means of connecting us more closely to politics, it may also be creating an echo chamber that is driving partisan wedges even deeper.
What obstacles have you faced as a young founder looking to drive change in an industry that is traditionally owned by older decision makers?
Almost every week someone tells me that what we’re doing is impossible, or that this “isn’t the way it’s done.” Unsurprisingly, these are people who have been doing this for a long time, but the game is changing. If you look at this election, how did all the smartest “experts” miss the entire Trump phenomenon? The ideas of the prior generation of political pros are getting ever more stale; if they don't learn to adapt, we risk losing touch with the new paradigm.
What advice would you give to future Millennial Makers?
Don’t be afraid of the unknown, embrace it in its entirety.
Go to source for news?
My Twitter feed.
Most memorable startup moment?
Getting the first message from a total stranger thanking us for our work. They are who we work for, and their opinion matters most to me.
Words to live by?
To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.