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“This election in particular has brought to bear some of the deep divisions we have in this country. It’s critical that the millennial generation leads the way in being bridge-builders politically, ethnically, racially and socio-demographically.”

Steven Olikara is the Co-Founder and President of the Millennial Action Project (MAP), a nonpartisan nonprofit with a mission to re-establish political cooperation across parties and defeat the polarization and gridlock that is holding back the United States government. By working in close collaboration with lawmakers, MAP has already advanced legislation on issues including entrepreneurship, technology, 21st century skills training, veterans’ employment, immigration, volunteerism, and more.

In the wake of the 2016 US presidential election, it is important that citizens of the United States–regardless of the outcome they were hoping for–commit to working together to advance the nation despite differing perspectives and priorities. Steven and his work at MAP demonstrate that all people, especially young people, can play a part in helping us to find common ground and get something done. As a millennial myself, I hope this post serves as inspiration for my generation. This isn’t a time to panic or stick our heads in the sand. This is a time to work productively towards a great future, especially as we grow to become leaders in the workplace.

Millennial Action Project sounds great, but how does it work?

MAP works directly with the nation’s leading young policymakers at the national and state levels to spur bipartisan legislation and innovative policy solutions. Right now, MAP has broadened its scope to include policymakers younger than 40 since there are relatively few millennials in Congress. Their long-term vision is to continue working with millennials in government, especially as our generation begins to join Congress in greater numbers and assume leadership positions.

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Steven at a MAP event at the National Archives

Given that the United States is experiencing our worst political gridlock and polarization since the Civil War, it is not surprising that Steven and the rest of the MAP team already have plenty of work cut out for them.

In its day-to-day, MAP operates by giving young leaders in lawmaking the resources and support to create, introduce, and pass legislation and establish effective partnerships. One of the primary ways MAP achieves this is through the nonpartisan Congressional Future Caucus. MAP organized the Caucus after launching in 2013. It is America’s first and only bipartisan caucus for young members of Congress and exists to facilitate pragmatic cooperation on future-oriented challenges. Through the caucus, MAP has advanced numerous pieces of legislation, including the first bipartisan legislation on social impact bonds.

Life as a millennial leader in government
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Steven and Senator Rand Paul at a recent MAP event at the National Archives

With former positions including work as a Truman Fellow at the World Bank and accolades such as the Millennial of the Year and one of the Most Influential Leaders Under 40 by Washington Life magazine, Steven’s resume is not one to look down upon. Even so, launching a 501(c)3 wasn’t easy. Steven was not raised in a particularly wealthy American household, so personal funding for the organization wasn’t available. In addition, operating across partisan lines made it especially difficult to secure early stage funding.

Steven also faced obstacles because of the millennial label. “Some people acknowledge that political transformation has largely been driven by young people, now and in the past. They saw my youth as an asset. On the other hand, being a millennial organization with millennial founders often prompts an inherent skepticism.” Steven’s advice for the millennial generation is simple: Deliver excellence.

“As a young person, you will always come across skepticism. Don’t give others a reason to doubt you. Deliver excellence. Deliver results that cannot be argued with. If you operate and perform at the highest level, they will forget your age.”
Moving government forward: The role of the Moderate

Steven believes that politically moderate Members of Congress are important contributors to bridge-building across party lines. They are a key component of a functioning democracy.  “At the same time, they are often the most vulnerable because they are targeted by the opposite party,” Steven told me. “They typically represent swing states, and the vote is competitive. They need to demonstrate strong bipartisan leadership in order to succeed.”

Because of that, one of MAP’s early goals was to effectively engage this important group within government and help them to be successful. In doing so, they’ve created a mutually beneficial relationship. By participating in MAP programs like the Congressional Future Caucus, policymakers demonstrate their bipartisan leadership and commitment to voters.

In the last 3 years, MAP has crossed major milestones that signal to Steven that they are doing something right. Recently, MAP hosted a Congressional Future Caucus meeting. Attendees connected on a number of issues, from student loans to ride sharing. Members of Congress were promoting new ideas, listening to and collaborating with Members from other parties, and making decisions together. This fall, a riding sharing bill passed that Members of Congress developed during a Caucus event.

Words for the World: Are you ready to move?

Earlier this year, MAP partnered with Politico for an online event focused on environmental sustainability. The event generated over 17 million online impressions, and that was from just one weekday morning conversation. “This shows me that millennials are engaged and tuning in. This is a generation that is ready to move.”

Does the result of the 2016 Presidential election have you ready to move, too?

If your answer is ‘yes’, you can start by taking a few simple steps to support MAP and its mission:

  1. Follow MAP on Facebook and Twitter to show your support.
  2. Sign-up for the MAP newsletter to stay up-to-date on current events and relevant news.
  3. Volunteer. MAP is looking for volunteers to step up to help bring the Congressional Future Caucus to more states. 
  4. Check out MAP’s Young Leaders Council and consider applying.

To learn more about MAP, visit http://www.millennialaction.org/ and follow along on Twitter and Facebook. Contact Steven at steven.olikara@millennialaction.org.

Steven Olikara: Building Bridges Across a Divided Government

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