Clinton School alum Kim Caldwell works to train the next generation of female political leaders at Annie’s List, an organization that recruits, trains, supports, and elects progressive women who are dedicated to advancing the self-determination, health, safety, and financial security of Texas women and their families.
As Program Director at Annie’s List, Caldwell helps progressive women all along their leadership journey become stronger political candidates and elected leaders in Texas. She oversees the organization’s workshops that help women learn the skills and access the resources they need to be successful in politics and government. In addition to leading workshops, Caldwell supports the committees of volunteer leaders around the state and heads the organization’s internship program.
“I’m very proud of our internship program,” Caldwell said. “We hire five interns every semester. These are fantastic young people, mostly women, who have a real impact on our capacity, and go on to do great things. It’s a great privilege to be a part of their leadership journeys.”
Caldwell’s time at the Clinton School included three semesters as a graduate assistant in the Center on Community Philanthropy. Her Practicum team worked with Goodwill Industries of Arkansas to help ex-offenders achieve a positive reentry into their communities through training, education, and employment services. For her International Public Service Project, she traveled to South Africa to identify potential collaboration between West Coast Community Foundation and Community Development Foundation Western Cape.
Caldwell became involved with the No Kid Hungry campaign through her Capstone Project in Governor Mike Beebe’s office. That experience turned into a full-time position with Share Our Strength, No Kid Hungry’s parent organization, in Washington D.C., where she worked as a program manager for five years. She transitioned to Annie’s List in March 2016.
She and her husband Justin Dove live with their two daughters, Allison and Edie Dove, in her hometown of Austin, Texas.
How did you decide to attend the Clinton School?
I was at a friend’s New Year’s Eve party in 2008. She and I were part of the Nonprofit Professionals Network together and we were thinking about grad school. We were in that same place – four years out of undergrad where you start to hit those same ceilings – and she mentioned the Clinton School. It stuck with me. I Googled it in January, read about it, and loved it.
What I had learned in my time since undergrad – having worked a campaign, worked briefly for a leadership organization, and for a management support organization – was that I learned so much more by working than I ever did in classrooms. And there were things that I learned in classrooms that never made sense until I needed them in the field.
When I read about the Clinton School, the projects the students were doing sounded like the projects I was doing in my current work. But instead of being the second chair consultant or the junior consultant, I was going to get to figure out how to lead. That’s why I was so interested.
I just want to say first and foremost, the members of my class at the Clinton School changed who I am as a person. There are so many who showed me what thinking and living differently looked like and taught me so much, taught me to talk less and listen more, and to see the world from a perspective that was global and empathetic. It got me out of the “I need to be right and succeed” approach, the perfectionist approach to the world that only serves you well for so long, into really, truly being open and different, being less afraid of failure and more interested in what can be created.
Not that the professors weren’t amazing, but I think often your cohort really determines what is available to you, as far as challenging and interesting thinking, and getting beyond what’s written on the page in your coursework. It’s what makes each class unique. That’s why I loved my class, even though we challenged each other and were hard on each other sometimes, ultimately, it is what made the difference in the program for me.
How did you become involved with the No Kid Hungry campaign?
When I came back from my IPSP, No Kid Hungry had just started with the Governor’s office and they were looking for someone to do some work. They asked, “How do we collect information and look at it so that this partnership that’s forming can make smart decisions about using resources, about investing resources?” It was great.
I got to sit in the capitol during a session, because I was technically working for the Governor’s office. I got to present to the Governor, and I got to present to Share Our Strength, and I ended up speaking at a national hunger conference, and the panel that I sat on was moderated by the woman who would become my boss at Share Our Strength. They were funding the work in Arkansas that I was part of as the coalition was starting, and I was meeting all these people in Washington D.C.
I’d always wanted to spend some time in D.C. It happened to work out that after I graduated they were expanding their center for best practices and I was hired. It was really exciting. Even thought I was new, I was coming with a pretty deep understanding of all the federal nutrition programs and what these partnerships looked like on the ground. In my role with the center, I was able to continue working with the folks in Arkansas, and continue that work and help other groups complete assessments like what I did in Arkansas.
One of the very first things I did within this job was develop a resource to help others replicate my Capstone project. I think that’s such an exciting example of this work that I did in grad school not just being a thought experiment. It was an approach to understanding the context of a state that we replicated in other states.
What were some other ways the Clinton School prepare you for this position?
My work really evolved in my time there. I became an expert in federal nutrition programs. I worked more with the federal government than I anticipated, working directly with the USDA. I would travel around the country to different state agencies and nonprofit partners and develop a protocol for community planning meetings that was promoted by USDA. I worked with different regional offices to go to these states to train these colleagues to lead these meetings with the protocol that I developed. That was very Clinton School-y. It was pulled almost directly from Christy’s class, Peter Block’s Community. For example, we provided a template invitation because one of the things I took from her class was how important the invitation is. People can’t fully participate if they don’t know what they’re participating in.
A lot of the skills from the Clinton School – the design thinking, strategic analysis, all of that – was very present in the work that I did. I am a firm believer that the Clinton School made me better at what I do.
How did you transition to Annie’s List?
When I finished undergrad in 2004, I did one state rep race. I wanted to work in politics; that’s what I thought I was going to be. But it turned out that was not what I was going to be. I didn’t want to do campaigns. It wasn’t for me. You have to love it. And I liked it, but I didn’t love it.
Annie’s List had been at the table for that campaign I worked on in 2004; they had just started the year before. I knew what Annie’s List was, and the candidate that I’d worked for had been an executive director here for a while. And then the current executive director was someone that I’d known from my time in Austin.
The position was training director and it really seemed to be a great combination of the things I’d become good at – building capacity within an organization, investing in individuals as leaders, and strengthening groups of volunteers. It was taking this interest and experience I had in politics and really having the right role within a more stable environment to get to have an impact on what we were doing.
I get to be involved in helping elect women, but through a role that fits with what I’m great at. This year my title changed to Program Director because I took on all of our volunteer leader work around the state. I was on the national board for the Young Nonprofit Professionals Network where we helped start new chapters. In fact, I helped start the Little Rock chapter, because I was on the board while I was at the Clinton School.
It’s an exciting role, even if I don’t know how long I can be in politics because it really takes a lot from you and out of you. But there is nothing I’d rather be doing right now than electing progressive women.
I started “Preparing to Run” (name changing to Candidate 101) because I realized that we didn’t engage women until it came time to show up for seven hours on a Saturday and learn how to run your campaign. We’re really working on meeting women where they are. I spout a lot of research about women and running for office, but women win at the same rate as men. Women just run at a much lower rate. And there are higher expectations for women candidates.
What we know is that women take into account more external factors, which is why being asked is so important. The decision is made very much in the context of their lives, as opposed to very often when men run for office, it is this sort of individual, “I’ve always wanted to do this so I’m going to do it” decision process. This is about meeting women where they are and working toward representational democracy – leadership that truly reflects the community.
What has the interest level been like since last year’s election?
In 2016, when we did have a woman at the top of the ticket for the first time, we trained 204 women. This year, we trained 776. Secretary Clinton spoke at one of our luncheons and Senator Kamala Harris spoke at another. We’re in a different universe.
We just did a strategic plan to double the number of progressive women in the Texas House over the next seven years. We want to ride this wave. Right now, the idea of electing women is sticky. There’s a space in people’s brains for it and we want to stick Annie’s List to it. They know if they want to run for office, Annie’s List is the organization that will help them do it.