THE BLOG

Political Entrepreneurs Are Driving a New Reform Surge

11/20/2013 12:37 pm ET | Updated Jan 25, 2014

The current pig-pile in Washington is leaving Americans extra-dismayed. Government shutdown through Obamacare meltdown are just the latest examples of Washington patriotism/ridiculousness. Through each of our self-created crises a common meme is emerging: Americans continue to lose faith in our public leaders' ability to maintain our national dominance. Debt, failing education, bankrupt pensions, crumbling infrastructure, environmental decay, and yes, the persistent jobs crisis are stripping us of our natural confidence when attacking the nation's greatest problems.

Experienced change agents know they must adroitly work within this system to bring about change. But what happens when the system is stalled, broken, and even corrupt? In reform efforts I work with, and among an emerging national community of new reformers and innovators, we are finding that the crushing inertia of the status quo is so powerful it's almost impossible to win within the system through traditional means. There is a growing belief that we must work outside the confines of traditional politics.

The Political Entrepreneur is being born right before your eyes.

As is our American habit, instead of complaining, a new cohort of visionaries is arising as a restless, relentless force using innovation, increased resources, citizen craving, and political smarts to modernize our country beyond the confines of Congress, the White House, and K Street. We are now in one of the most creative reform periods the United States has experienced since the 1920s. Political entrepreneurs are galvanizing change in the Freedom to Marry movement, Fiscal Reform, Campaign Finance Reform, Education, Health Care, and Guns. They are also shaping the next cadre of talent and are building the technology platforms that power this crusade.

Political Entrepreneurs must navigate the "Start-up Valley of Death" -- struggling to get the model right, recruit the most talented team, and build the right mix of mentors, advocates, and consumers -- even as they pray for more investment needed to get bigger and better. These reformers are potent and aggressive, but they are not yet sustaining. There is only a thin atmosphere to support their work. And they fail. A lot.

Things are percolating. There's the amazing incubator 1776, No Labels, and the Fund for the Republic in Washington, D.C., and Code for America in San Francisco. But we must do more.

We must nurture a bigger, bolder, complete ecosystem focused intently on bolstering political entrepreneurs and their work. In fact, what we need is a Reform Surge -- a coordinated effort to bring more financial resources, human capital, technology, mentoring, and aggressive strategy and execution to the top players throughout these movements. Given the right conditions, these innovators will drive robust solutions to our hairiest public problems and break the logjam of incrementalism that plagues political leaders of both parties in Congress and the White House.

Through a Reform Surge, political entrepreneurs could become as important to our governing as elected officials or K Street lobbyists.

We don't have to start from scratch. There are powerful examples to mimic. To spark the Internet revolution, centers of excellence, funding, and training emerged throughout the United States. Xerox PARC and Bell Labs evolved to become Seattle, Silicon Valley and Alley, Austin, and the Research Triangle -- the modern centers of start-up innovation. Friends and family investors evolved into venture and private equity funds. TechCrunch, Y Combinator, graduate MBA and computer science programs, and hundreds of other incubators and accelerators now encourage thousands of young Internet entrepreneurs in their quest to overwhelm technology incumbents. It is because of this ecosystem that -- literally -- dozens of new tech start-ups are born every day.

In contrast, most political entrepreneurs are "working alone, together," growing this movement absent the proper support system needed to achieve sustained success. Our task now is to help these leaders emerge as a sustainable new movement -- developing a disruptive politics within a coherent, aggressive, and consistent ecosystem.

We are most effective in solving tough and intractable public problems when we properly prepare, equip, support, and embolden this kind of outside leader. The rising Political Entrepreneur can move us past frustration and dysfunction and toward our most confident and successful America.