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How Data Will Save America, with Poppy MacDonald

How Data Will Save America, with Poppy MacDonald

We sit down with Poppy MacDonald, President of USAFacts, to discuss her work with USAFacts and Politico, how her experience on Capitol Hill helped her understand voters, and why more women need to run for office.


0:00:00.0 Maricella Herrera: Hi everyone. Before I get to the episode, I want to take a moment to address the United States Supreme Court decision to overturn Roe v. Wade on June 24th, which stripped away the right to have a safe and legal abortion. Restricting access to comprehensive reproductive care, including abortion, threatens the health and independence of all people, which we have already seen with abortion bans and restrictions in countries like Poland and Malta. This decision has dire consequences and could have harsh repercussions for other landmark decisions within the United States. I encourage our audience, American and otherwise, to learn more about what you can do to help I encourage you to speak up, take care, and spread the word.

0:00:46.6 Intro: Welcome to the Ellevate Podcast, Conversations with Women Changing the Face of Business. And now your host, Maricella Herrera.


0:01:09.6 MH: Hi everyone, welcome to the Ellevate Podcast. I am Maricella Herrera, and I am here today with Jess Matley, one of my colleagues at Ellevate. Hi, Jess.

0:01:21.1 Jess Matley: Hello. Hello. Happy to be here.

0:01:24.5 MH: As you can hear, Jess is from down under.

0:01:28.4 JM: Down under in Australia, as we say, two syllables. [chuckle]

0:01:34.1 MH: How is it? Australia?

0:01:35.7 JM: No. Just Straya. S-T-R-A-Y-A.

0:01:44.3 MH: Well, Jess actually works very, very, very closely with our chapter leaders, which are our ambassadors around the world. So Jess, why don't you tell our listeners a little bit about your role and what you do at Ellevate?

0:01:57.1 JM: So I've been at Ellevate now for something like five years.

0:02:01.7 MH: Something like a lifetime.

0:02:04.4 JM: No. Well, I was looking through some old photos recently, pulling together a digital farewell card for a colleague, and I was, like "Oh, like, oh my goodness. We have done so much." And I lived in New York for about five years of that time, four or five years, and yeah, doing events every week. And yeah, it was a... It was a really lovely exercise just to see all these old memories and moments of the pre-COVID time. But yeah, so chapters. So right now I'm the Chapter Program Lead at Ellevate Network, which means I really support and direct the chapter operations in our chapters all around the world. As you mentioned, our local chapters are headed up by our ambassadors there. So local, professional women coming from all different walks of life and industries and job functions that come together in these small teams to produce local events and to have that local touchpoint for members. And it's a really truly inspiring and beautiful thing, seeing these women dedicate their time and energy to growing communities locally. And it's great. It's a rewarding and challenging job, but I'm never bored, that's for sure.

0:03:21.7 MH: You have, I'm sure, what is a pretty interesting look at the different regions and how Ellevate kind of shapes up in different places. We have more than two dozen chapters around the world, and like you said, the people behind them are just really, really special. We've featured a few of them on the podcast, and it's been great to be able to chat with them. I did a couple of interviews with chapter leaders recently that will come out later this year, but it's nice to be able to chat with them in a different capacity.

0:04:00.2 JM: Yeah.

0:04:00.3 MH: And I think you get that to... You get to know these people in a way that's actually quite special.

0:04:06.0 JM: Yeah, absolutely. I really look forward to the time when I can start doing some more travel and actually visit the chapters in person, because just like you said, yeah, meeting these women in person and getting to have dinner with them and just catch up as friends is a really unique thing about Ellevate, but also about working at Ellevate full-time in this role. So it's pretty special.

0:04:23.9 MH: Yeah. Hopefully next year when things normalize a little bit more, not just COVID, but the economy. I'm hoping it will normalize, but who knows. [chuckle]

0:04:35.8 JM: Yeah, that's all right. I've got a motorbike. I'll just jump on my motorbike, pack my laptop and do a tour.

0:04:41.7 MH: You and your motorbike. I don't know if we can take the liability. [laughter]

0:04:50.6 JM: What are you saying? I'm a safe rider. [laughter]

0:04:53.5 MH: Just saying. We do a wellness... So at Ellevate we do try to lead with our values and we do try to put our money and our actions within the company where our mouth is. I've always thought about the culture that we've created as a company, as a little bit of a laboratory of like, how can we make this place a place where people wanna work? My whole mentality is all we need is for work to suck less. [chuckle] And I think in many ways, and with Kristy in the past, we've kind of created and built Ellevate in a way that's like, where would we wanna work? How would it be if we wanted to work there? And one of the things that we have is a quarterly wellness stipend where we give employees some cash every quarter to do and get something that's gonna be for their health and wellness. And this is besides other benefits. And I think you've been the person who's gotten the most interesting thing with that because you bought your helmet. [chuckle]

0:05:58.6 JM: Yes. I just... I continually just buy motorcycle gear. Yep, yep. I used an entire year's worth of my stipend just to buy a really good quality helmet, Arai brand, which some of y'all out there may know. And yeah. And then I think the last most recent stipend I spent, it went towards Turin motorcycle boots, which are like Mad Max style boots, if you will. They're very cool.

0:06:23.9 MH: Yours goes to motorcycle stuff. Mine always goes to running shoes always.

0:06:32.0 JM: Equally as good, equally as good, equally important.

0:06:34.6 MH: Important to keep your feet in shape.

0:06:37.0 JM: Yeah. And I would say both things, both activities, you have to focus so much on what you're doing, that it is a stress relief, you know?

0:06:45.0 MH: Yeah, it is.

0:06:46.1 JM: It takes you... It takes you outta yourself and it just brings you back to the physical, the moment, the very present moment. And that's what I love about it.

0:06:53.9 MH: Oh, yeah. I feel the same way about running. I went for a 14-mile run on Sunday because I'm training for the marathon as everyone, probably... Everyone who listens to the podcast is probably tired of hearing me say, but I went for a 14-mile run and kind of hit mile six and my headphones ran out of battery. And I was like, "I have so much longer to go, how am I gonna do this?" And you know what? It was quite nice. I don't know. I like zoned out, and it was so nice. I didn't believe I could be with my thoughts that long. [chuckle]

0:07:36.9 JM: Yay. You had a different kind of experience with it. That's really interesting.

0:07:41.6 MH: Can you listen to anything when you're on a motorbike?

0:07:44.4 JM: People do and you can, because so certain helmets are... Well all helmets can have a Bluetooth integrated into them. Some come with it, and some you just like tap it onto the side. So yes, you can play music through that and you can play like Google, Google Map instructions and things like that.

0:08:04.7 MH: Oh yeah. That makes sense.

0:08:06.8 JM: But me personally, I don't know. I'm a fairly new rider. I've only been riding for two years, so I really want to hear the traffic and everything around me. So for me personally, I don't.

0:08:16.2 MH: I feel like that would be me. I would get really anxious, but I can't even ride a bike so much less a motorbike.

0:08:23.1 JM: One day, Maricella, one day you and me, we're gonna get you on a bike. Ooh. Both actually. You can learn how to... You can learn how to motorcycle. There you go. Just skip the bicycle. Go straight to the motorcycle.

0:08:36.6 MH: I'm gonna die. I mean, it's interesting. It's interesting. Anything, you know... As I was saying about kind of our culture at Ellevate makes me think a lot. We were having this discussion in our marketing meeting yesterday. It makes me think a lot of all the articles that are coming out about quiet quitting and acting your wage and kind of stuff like that. And it's interesting. I have very... I think that's what I've been into this past week, reading a lot about these topics and ambition and the changes especially for women, the changes in attitudes toward work. And I have mixed feelings about this quiet quitting situation.

0:09:25.9 JM: So do I, so do I. I think we're both people managers and you of course are also CEO of companies, so have an extra responsibilities and a view on it all. But I don't know, I think there's two sides to it, because I think there's quiet quitting for your mental health, for work-life balance. Yes, 100%. Do your hours and then switch off. A job shouldn't demand more of you than that. But then there's quiet quitting, and maybe it's called something else. Like I've got some friends out there who are like, "Yeah, I do like... I do like four to six hours a day, and I could keep working, and I could keep contributing to the company, but I just don't want to." And so, I don't know. I know we all go through like peaks and troughs where you're really productive and other times where you may need to not be as productive, and that's cool. But I don't know, to me that... I don't know. I grew up in the '80s and I'm like, work ethic, hard work, put in the hours, put in the time. I feel guilty otherwise.

0:10:39.9 MH: You and me both. I'm also an '80s kid and also former finance kid. So to me, it's like you work and you work hard, and it's part of just ingrained in me since I was young. But I do understand having boundaries, and I am all for having boundaries. I tell this to our team, put yourself first, make sure you're taking care of yourself. Oxygen mask on first. I think that there's a fine line between this quiet quitting and slacking.

0:11:18.3 JM: Yes.

0:11:20.5 MH: And I do think quiet quitting, the way it's described is like doing your job. And I'm all for that. Do your job. Do your job, just as it is, as what you been hired to do. You don't need to work 20 more hours, you know, I don't know. But put your best into it. Whatever it is that you were hired to do, do it with your best intention to do a good job.

0:11:48.8 JM: Yeah. Pride, and gusto, and...

0:11:50.6 MH: Pride and yes, that's exciting.

0:11:52.9 JM: And not everyone's privileged enough to have a job out there, are they? Some people really struggle. I know my brother has an intellectual disability, and it's the hardest thing to get him quality employment with a company that treats him fairly, and a culture that accepts him. The other side of it, I suppose, is if you work for a company that you hate or a boss that you hate, you work in a culture that is not positive whatsoever. You know, I think you would have a different mentality coming to work every day, that's for sure.

0:12:25.5 MH: Yeah. And I would say that's on the company, right? Like, I'm the first one to say companies need to change, and they need to treat people like people, they need to treat people like grownups. We can make our decisions, we can make our decisions of how and when we work with the best of intentions, right? Like this is all about trust. And I think the quiet quitting is kind of... The way that it's being framed in the media, it's almost like a FU, no trust situation. And I don't necessarily... I don't know. I think companies need to build that trust. They need to be places that respect boundaries for their employees that care about employee wellbeing and then things will be a little a lot different.

0:13:18.4 JM: Yeah, definitely. And there was a huge push towards that sort of human-centric policies and human-centric corporate management of their people and their workplaces through COVID, right? And through the great resignation and all these trends that we've seen over the last few years. And it would be sad to see that work reversed and to see companies and corporations feel affronted by this and then go back to sort of their old ways too. So...

0:13:46.0 MH: But they're going back to their old ways. I've been seeing too about how performance management has been very much about like checking how much time people are working and like, again, treat people like grownups. It's not about the time they work, it's not about the FaceTime. It's like, are they doing their job, the job that they were hired to do? And are they doing it with gusto?

0:14:06.3 JM: Yeah.

0:14:09.2 MH: Like you said. I have to think a lot more about this. I want to write something on the topic, but I have to kind of immerse myself. I actually threw a text out to my group chat of people from business school and was like, "Have you thought I... Do you think your ambition has changed?" I actually haven't seen what they responded, but I'm very curious.

0:14:28.7 JM: Yeah, definitely. And when I've talked to my friends about the quiet quitting and sort of my views on it, they've turned around and said, "Well, you work... You've worked at the same company for five years." " Yes." "And you have worked with the same colleagues, for the most part, for that whole time." "Yes." "And you're a small company." Yes. And they're like, "Well of course you feel extremely loyal to who you work for because of that." But not everyone, lots of people work for these big, nameless, faceless companies with 8000, 10,000 plus employees.

0:14:57.0 MH: Which again is why companies need to act better. They need to treat people like people. It's not that hard.

0:15:03.4 JM: Act small, almost. Yeah, it's like the whole new local la la la, small business. It's like even if you're a huge company, act like you're a small company.

0:15:13.9 MH: And that's a lot to your managers, to be fair, because you can't change a full massive Fortune 500 faceless corporation. But managers can have that impact on their teams, and I think that that's very important. Department heads, managers, people who can try to make a very good ethos within that big organization can make a lot of change. Okay. So let's change topics for a little bit 'cause I know I went into my... Got on my soapbox about all the state of the workplace culture, which is what I think about a lot. But just what have you been into lately?

0:16:00.7 JM: Yes, I am getting super excited 'cause I live in Los Angeles, but I am heading back to New York for a music festival in like a week and a half's time. And actually a music festival that you and I are going to together Maricella.

0:16:12.9 MH: I know. I can't wait.

0:16:15.1 JM: So I have... And Stevie Nicks, the Stevie Knicks is the headliner. So yeah, I've been listening to lots of Fleetwood and lots of Stevie, lots of Edge of Seventeen going on in my house. [chuckle]

0:16:30.2 MH: I am very excited. The headliners are Stevie Nicks and Green Day. So I'm just... Can't wait. And also I love that festival.

0:16:38.5 JM: Yes.

0:16:39.3 MH: It's always so much fun.

0:16:40.0 JM: Yes. See here now in Asbury Park, I think it's in its third year. It's a beautiful festival. It's really well produced and you can tell that the producers and the owners of it have their heart in the right place. So yeah, can't wait for that.

0:16:54.6 MH: And I can't wait to see you in person. People are gonna think I spend my life traveling to listen to music with people from work 'cause Joanna was on the podcast the other day and we were talking how we're going to Denver for a concert.

0:17:10.1 JM: Nice, nice. Well, like you said before, you're an '80s kid. I mean this is like... This is what we grew up with, concerts were the epitome of like what you could spend your...

0:17:17.0 MH: Oh yeah.

0:17:19.7 JM: [chuckle] Your money on. Right? Yeah.

0:17:22.3 MH: And it's fun. And I can't wait to see you.

0:17:25.4 JM: Me too.

0:17:25.4 MH: We're gonna have lots of fun. I've also been listening to some Stevie Nicks and hoping very much so that she will play a lot of the Fleetwood Mac songs.

0:17:34.9 JM: Yeah, me too.

0:17:35.9 MH: Some Rihanna and some Dreams.

0:17:38.7 JM: She's got to.

0:17:41.1 MH: My mom is here and she's looking at me with an angry face because she doesn't get to go.

0:17:45.7 JM: Aw.

0:17:46.9 MH: She's a very big Fleetwood Mac fan.

0:17:49.6 JM: I wish she could come.

0:17:51.9 MH: I don't think she would like it. But anyway, so we can go now into our interview. This is la... One of Kristy's last interviews, that she did before she left. Today, we're gonna be hearing from Poppy MacDonald. She's the president of USAFacts. She previously served as president and Chief Operating Officer of Politico USA, publisher and president of the National Journal and partner at Gallup, Inc. So I'm very curious what she's gonna talk about. And let's go to Chrissy's interview with Poppy.


0:18:32.5 Kristy: Hello, Poppy. And welcome to the Ellevate Podcast.

0:18:37.0 Poppy MacDonald: Hi Kristy. Thank you so much for having me.

0:18:40.0 Kristy: Really excited to have you here and wanted to kick it off. Just learning a bit more about you, would you mind sharing a bit about your story with our listeners?

0:18:50.2 PM: Absolutely. I could start from the beginning, but I won't spend a long time. I was born in Salem, Oregon, to parents who were 19 and 20 at the time. So they were not planning to have a child at that time. They were unmarried, and they decided to make a go of it and worked very hard to make the best possible life for me. I will say that forced me to be pretty independent when it came to charting my own course. You can imagine having parents who were still growing up a bit themselves and also just trying to figure out how to provide for a child. They had a lot of things that they were worried about on a daily basis. So did I do my homework? How was I doing in school? And that was not as much their focus, I would say, but they were extremely loving and supportive. And when it came time to think about what I wanted to do after high school, I was super fortunate that I had friends, parents who had gone to college and who could talk to me about what that path would look.

0:19:50.1 PM: And I ended up being the first person in my family to attend college. I went to Scripps College, which is a women's college at the Claremont Colleges. I studied history. I had the opportunity to study abroad in Nepal and then at my academic advisor's assistants, in Washington DC, and that really inspired me to think about how I could have an impact on our country and to chart a course to move to our nation's capital, to Washington, DC after school. And I was in DC for about 22 years with a career that really was about how to empower citizens with information. Which really leads me to my role today where I am based in Seattle, Washington, and I am leading an organization called USAFacts, which is a not-for-profit that's dedicating to empowering Americans with the facts, providing access to government data and being that nonpartisan independent resource for citizens who are trying to find trusted information to help them navigate where do we stand as a country? And are we headed in the right direction?

0:20:55.9 Kristy: Obviously, I don't mean to laugh 'cause it's not funny, but we're taping this actually during some primary races and there's a lot been happening on the political spectrum. And so very top of mind for me, and the first question I have for you is really around your users, voters. How would you describe them? I mean, are most people... There's tons of data around people lack of civic engagement, lack of voting and then to then put in the work to really do the research and understand those who are running for office and the issues versus maybe looking at a social feed or listening to a friend. How actively engaged do you see the voter population and how does that connect to the work that you do?

0:21:45.1 PM: That is a great question. I'll say I have a lot of empathy for citizens who are overwhelmed by the amount of information that's out there and misinformation and the fact that they're seeing conflicting accounts, whether they're turning on Fox or MSNBC or they're hearing from an incumbent or a challenger running against them in a race to get elected. They might be hearing everything's going fantastic in this country, or everything's completely awful and headed downhill. And I really feel for people who say, "I don't trust anyone. I don't trust the media. I don't trust government because I can't get a straight answer." And we get frustrated with people when we say like. "Oh, why do people share misinformation or why do they feel apathetic about trying to go and vote and make a decision?" And while I understand frustration, I also have empathy for people who say like, "I am really busy and that information needs to come to me in a really easy and accessible way."

0:22:51.2 PM: And it's hard to get the facts. It's hard to have a resource I can rely upon. So in the almost four years that I've been at USAFacts, I've been really thinking about how do we take all of this government data that exists as a public resource, but is really hard to get access to and make it easy and accessible and make it relevant to what's going on in citizens lives? And I will say, when we started, when I first came to USAFacts, we had a pretty small audience. We had about 440,000 Americans that I could measure, that were coming to USAFacts and relying upon us. And today, we have over 20 million who are regularly coming to our site. And I think that is because we are taking this vast amount of government data, we're pulling from over 90,000 government entities in the United States of America and trying to serve up the information based on the topics that are going on right now, what people are hearing in their country, whether that is pandemic that I'm navigating for my family, my own health and safety or an issue like Roe v. Wade and what is... How many abortions are happening in America and what women will this affect and what do state policies look to other issues, like education and what's happening in our schools or in our healthcare. And being able to have access to healthcare or the environment.

0:24:18.4 PM: So we are really tackling topics that we think matter to citizens, and then we're making them accessible and easy, not just at, but we're also going to platforms where we know citizens already are, whether it's on TikTok where we just did a video about teacher pay, and we had over 330,000 people view and share that information, or on Twitter or Facebook. So we're really also ensuring we're bringing the facts to Americans on the platforms that they're already using and engaging in.

0:24:52.1 Kristy: When you think about the voters that you're engaging with, this... I don't know if this is a a question you can answer per se, but are people more issue-focused? You mentioned some of these very important issues, are they party-focused? Are they candidate-focused? I mean, there's so many ways to... Lenses with which to look at policy in government and elected officials and what are the trends you see around that?

0:25:24.1 PM: That is a great question. USAFacts we are nonpartisan, we're dedicated to being a resource for the facts. So we welcome people from all political parties and affiliations, and we organize issue by topic. So potentially that bias is a little bit how I'd respond to your question, which is with the exception of our voter center that we offer during the elections, where you can look up by your zip code who is running for office where you live and see their positions next to the facts. With the exception of that experience, all of what we have on USAFacts is really tailored toward topics that are facing America right now, issues that citizens may care about, and that's how they can engage with those facts. And so what we really see is trending topics on our site, in terms of what are the articles people are reading, what are the data that they're searching for that really relate to what we see happening in public policy at the time.

0:26:27.7 PM: And so we've certainly seen interest in our site right now around things like student loans and the student loan payback program, inflation, and what is the impact in terms of prices and how that's impacting families. We've seen a lot of interest in the environment, and what's happening with fuel prices, for example. So it really depends on... But I'd say, and obviously the pandemic still remains an issue that people are coming to us to get those facts. But I'd say it really is topic-based when it comes to why do people come to

0:27:10.2 Kristy: Do politicians use your site, your resources?

0:27:14.0 PM: That is a great question. So we don't have such precise tracking that we know exactly who is coming to our site. We do know where people come from in general demographics. What I do know is that we've had the opportunity to go to Capitol Hill in Washington DC and spend time with lawmakers on both sides of the aisle. We went there before the pandemic and we met with over 300 lawmakers. I will say one of the most rewarding conversations was when we were sitting around a table with 14 lawmakers, 14 senators. It was a nice split between Democrats and Republicans. And we started talking about, "Hey, here's the data we see of what's happening in our country." And there was a great discussion about, "Hey, we can all agree based on these numbers, we have some challenges. What are some things that we can do? What are some solutions?" And by no means did we walk out of there thinking, "Well, it's clear Democrats and Republicans all agree this is the right solution. But what we really were inspired by was seeing people come across the aisle, looking at data they could both agree on, identifying a problem, and then discussing solutions.

0:28:27.3 PM: And what we hope is that whether it's the Republican proposal or the Democratic proposal that ends up being passed, that we can follow the numbers to see, did that work? Did we move the numbers in the right direction? Rather than, did I like or do I affiliate with that particular political party? And we think that's a real opportunity. I will also say that on the house side, the house modernization committee, which is a bipartisan committee, thinking about, how can Congress adopt some of the more modern workplace practices, including leveraging data when making decisions. And they invited me to testify in November about how could USAFacts and government data be a resource for the United States House of Representatives and how could Congress think about data when working on legislation? And I recommended to the committee that right now when the legislation is proposed, there's a very strict process which everyone needs to follow, which is that when the bill's getting marked up, the Congressional Budget Office looks at how much will this cost and how will it be paid for?

0:29:40.4 PM: How about there's also a strict process for let's all agree, what is by the numbers where we stand as a country on this issue, and where is this legislation trying to move that number? It would be great guidance to state and local government who will end up being responsible for implementing that policy. And it would be a great way to judge, by the numbers, was that legislation effective or not?

0:30:05.5 Kristy: I would second that Poppy, if I can... [chuckle] If I can amplify that. I mean, yeah, because in some... I mean, I'll speak for myself, but I think that this is sentiment for many, which is that, I don't know, we've gotten to a place where politics, particularly on the national level and the voters feel very disconnected and out of touch, and we wanna see progress and action and collaboration and... Yeah, the solution may not always be 100% what you want, but if we can at least find a solution and move us forward, then that's progress. And I don't know, it just feels like we've been in a standstill for way too long and kind of not maybe leaning into the data. Just you're talking about, there's too much emotion and too much literally politics that stand in the way. And how do we bring it back down to what do we know? What do the people need? How do we track and measure success and progress and come to solutions aligning around facts that we can agree on?

0:31:17.0 PM: I think that's a really good point, Kristy. And I will also say, there's probably not a lot of people who will back me up here, but I have empathy for politicians as well. I worked on Capitol Hill, our staff size was maybe a dozen people, and you're trying to get your arms around every topic that could face the United States of America. And is it surprising when government data is really hard to get access to? That it's also hard for lawmakers and their staff to get a data-driven assessment of what's happening in the country. And so USAFacts really seeks to be a resource for citizens and our government leaders. We hope to make it easy for people to look at the data and be able to make data-driven decisions rather than just relying on, hmm, what's my political party's position on that?

0:32:10.3 Kristy: Poppy, how has it been for you leading an organization during this time? I speak to many business leaders, and I am one myself, and certainly leading a company during the pandemic has been challenging on many levels, but it's been very rewarding and, being able to support our community and our mission. And similar to you, you're leading a company during a time of great political change, but world and social change as well. And what has that experience been like?

0:32:40.0 PM: Well, I think that's a great way that you describe it, Kristy, in terms of it being both very challenging and very rewarding. I will say the pandemic provided a really unique business opportunity for USAFacts. I say business, we're not-for-profit, and so I just mean an opportunity to reach a larger audience and to show the value, to prove the value of why an organization like USAFacts is needed. And I say that because as the pandemic broke out, and it just started in New York and Washington State, we started seeing people and reporters, citizens, government leaders saying, "I can't get accurate county data about how this pandemic is spreading. What are the cases? What are the deaths? And where would I go for that?" And at USAFacts, we were thinking, "Oh gosh, we're not surprised. We've been saying there are 90,000 local government entities in the United States of America, and there is no standardization about what data's collected, when it's reported, or how it's reported. And that's why we've been beating this drum. This is really important. This data should be accessible to the public for decision making." Never was it seen as more relevant and important to have that access to timely data as in a pandemic when it is our health and our lives.

0:34:10.3 PM: And so USAFacts, we decided, we had 13 people at the time, "Hey, we can do this. It's in some counties in New York and Washington State. We'll just all roll up our sleeves, and we'll start providing this data." Of course, it spread. And at that point, we got contacted by the Centers for Disease Control and the White House. There were a few other people collecting this data. There was a media outlet and an academic who were doing it, but I think for the government, having a nonpartisan independent source was really important. We became the provider of that... The official provider of the pandemic data to the Centers for Disease Control. We were on call to the White House every night. We hadn't thought about our tiny but mighty team of 13 people being the official provider of government data to the government. It was incredibly rewarding and exhausting. I will say, now as a leader, I'm trying to think about how we continue to support this really important data and information to the public who has told us information on the pandemic, information about vaccinations, information about what's happening in my county remains important to me. However, we also have this midterm election coming up that you mentioned, and there are other major topics that I hope, for the health of our country, will be driving us forward.

0:35:36.9 PM: And how do we as a team divide and conquer to also start providing relevant government data and information on those topics to citizens. And how do I not burn out our team? We're not 13 anymore, we're 40, so we have more people, but it's still a relatively small team compared to our ambition to be the definitive source of all government data to every American citizen. So I would say, it's been rewarding and challenging. I think those are two really good words that you used, Kristy.

0:36:07.5 Kristy: In your growth, you talked about your growth of users. I think it was from 400,000 to I believe you said, 20 million, the growth of your team from 14-40. And that's... I've scaled businesses before. Change can be hard, because you're sort of drinking from the fire hose. You are having to make decisions very quickly, onboard team members, create culture, create impact, create direction, and there's a lot of opportunities that are coming at you. Are there two or three key leadership lessons that you really learned or leaned on during that time?

0:36:48.9 PM: You're right. Change has been really hard. Before the pandemic, we were 13 people coming into an office five days a week. So being working together, building trust, knowing what everyone was doing, feeling we were locking arms, headed in the same direction, although there were very few of us, it felt easy.

0:37:13.0 PM: We scaled from 13-40 during the pandemic where people weren't ever coming into the office. We weren't all meeting together in person and the work of scaling from a few counties and getting that COVID data to the country and quickly figuring out how do we add data? How do we continue to support a larger audience? How do we make this information accessible? It was... There were definitely some growing pains. I think the things that I was tackling at the time is how do you keep that culture of everyone's opinion counts? And we're all in this together to achieve this mission of empowering Americans with the facts. How can everyone's opinions still count and yet not hold us back from continuing to make progress? And so trying to find formats and ways for people to still be able to speak up to say, "We are nonpartisan. We want to ensure there is no bias in the information that we're presenting. If anyone sees that, speak up now, and at the same time say, Hey team, remember when we were 13 and we all used to roll up our sleeves so... Everyone did marketing even though we all really didn't know how to do marketing or everyone went in and did some coding even though we weren't great coders. Now, we really are developing expertise here, and we've hired engineers who are amazing at coding.

0:38:55.4 PM: We've hired people who are marketers who are amazing at helping us find Americans who say who knew that resource existed. We are hiring people who know more than anyone about what's happening with government data. We also need to defer to their expertise, trust them to get their job done and really empower them to run without holding them back. And so I'd say lessons I've learned are, how do you build that trust remotely and also empower the people who have the expertise to run and run fast and still ensure that each person on the team feels like they have a voice and can speak up when they see any concerns and that they have an outlet for that?

0:39:46.5 Kristy: Yeah, all of that resonates with me and the experiences I've had. And you're also... As I read I think you're a mom as well?

0:39:57.6 PM: I am a mom, yes. I have two kids. I have a son that is 17 and a daughter that just turned 15 yesterday.

0:40:07.4 Kristy: Oh exciting. Happy birthday.

0:40:11.3 PM: Thank you.

0:40:11.4 Kristy: That's also I mean the human element, right? I mean the work that you do is... I mean it's full circle because you're a caregiver yourself. You're a leader of an organization, an organization that's employing a lot of people and going through change. The work that you do is really about providing information and resources for people to make decisions that impact our health, that impact our policies and the issues we care about. And so it's really this this whole ecosystem from you as your individual self to the work that you do and the people you impact, that's fueling this world right now.

0:40:55.7 PM: Absolutely. I mean I do think about... Certainly as we think about what are the topics that Americans would care about? Part is just our own lived experience, right? And so I'm thinking about as a mom and seeing the impact of the pandemic of my kids whose school shut down, who are trying to learn remotely, who lost a social outlet, who lost kind of direct human to human interaction with their teachers. What's the impact on their learning and what's that going to mean for their ability to have bright futures and to have the skills and the information they need. So I think it really helps me. And too, I think obviously my kids are a little bit older so I am not doing the childcare juggle or trying as as closely or as intimately as some of my colleagues who have little people who really need to be supervised and closely watched. But certainly that makes us think about what's the impact of not having childcare or daycares being closed down or how does that impact two working parent families or single parents. Right?

0:42:07.8 PM: So I think it's given us a lot of empathy in terms of thinking about what is the data we'd be wanting in that situation? What are Americans thinking about? But we certainly go beyond just my own lived experiences or our team's own lived experiences. And we're really looking at pooling data, and what we're hearing on social media to understand certainly what are the issues facing America, obviously what's being debated on on Capitol Hill that's part of what we're looking at. But we're really... I think our own lived experiences are really helping us think about, what is the data that would help us understand what's happening in this country right now? And how is my lived experience playing out for other Americans? And how are we seeing that in the data?

0:42:54.8 Kristy: And for our listeners, I mean how do they have a stronger voice? You're talking about you're looking at social media and and there's different outlets where you're getting a pulse on what's top of mind for all of us. And so if you want to raise an issue, if you want your voice to be heard, how are ways in which we can really do that?

0:43:19.0 PM: That is a great question. I would say go into the data, right? So it's not just I agree with you, I disagree with you, I don't like what you're doing. I do like what you're doing. It's, "Hey." Challenging someone who has been elected or a someone who has the the authority because they're an elected leader or a civil servant, to create that change, to hold them accountable by saying, "Hey, I'm following the data and I'm concerned. I'm not seeing the numbers move. What are you doing to impact these numbers? Are you paying attention to the data?" I think it's a great opportunity to have a discussion not based on, my views are this way or my political affiliation is this way but just these are the numbers. It's not about partisanship, it's not about preference. It's about this is the state of our country. And I as a mom, I look at a statistic like eighth grade proficiency in reading and math and I see that only a third of US students are proficient in math and reading at the eighth grade level. That makes me really frustrated. It makes me feel like our schools are not serving our students in terms of giving them that basic proficiency that's going to allow them to be successful in life.

0:44:42.5 PM: So how do I bring that to my PTA meeting, to my school board? I mean pick any topic that you care about, the data exists to easily grab it at your fingertips and then allow you to start having that that discussion where you feel you are empowered with just nonpartisan information and use it to advocate for what you care about and to feel confident that you're bringing data to the conversation. And we really feel that numbers are the best way to get a handle on where we stand as a country and to understand if we're making improvements or not.

0:45:24.3 Kristy: Poppy, I love that example you just gave because we don't know we don't know. So being able to look at the data, to drill into the issues you care about but also to better understand what's happening in your community and to look at your schools or look at environmental practices or health in your community in ways that you might be surprised or dissuaded by what you see but then that gives you something to really take action on. And we don't always know, like you were talking about, the reading level. So I do encourage everyone to go and to look at this data, look at this information, better understand the world in which you're living in and to take action on the issues that really resonate with you.

0:46:24.0 PM: Thank you, Kristy. That's amazing.

0:46:27.1 Kristy: Yes. Yeah. Well, I think it's just really important, and I'll say it myself, we can go about our lives and live every day and take action at certain times if it's voting or what have you. But it's an everyday thing that we should be aware of what's happening and our impact to really create change to advocate, to speak up, to join a PTA if you want to or run for office. I always encourage all of our listeners run for office on the local level, there's school boards, there's council seats. I mean it goes... There's thousands of opportunities to become engaged. And certainly, there's resources like yours, Poppy, that will help you make informed decisions and really connect with the issues and the people you represent.

0:47:32.7 PM: Definitely, definitely love that call for people to get involved and run for office. And I've been involved with an organization called Running Start which is about getting more women to run. And it's not a partisan organization run under any political party you want, but it's inspired by the idea that women should be equally represented in politics. And I think that it hasn't been a calling for women to run for office because maybe there is a perception that it's about ego or being the loudest voice in the room. And for women, I think a lot of times the motivation is to serve and to create change and to be of service to their community. And I think that's exactly why we want more women engaged in the process and running for office. And as USAFacts, we don't wanna be the finger-waggy like, "Well you've gotta go get your facts." We just wanna serve as a resource. What's the issue you care about? We've got facts for you. So by no means do you need to read our entire a hundred page annual report that is the state of the country. Although if you want that kind of comprehensive view, we have a hundred page report at which is actually very visual, that you could really understand where do we stand?

0:48:47.1 PM: That said, if you just wanna go get the facts on healthcare and the cost of healthcare and access to healthcare, you can just dive right in there. So we really just serve to be as a resource for people based on what they care about to say, "Okay, I've got a trusted source where I can get the data that I need." And obviously hope that that will encourage further action. And just at the end of the day, we just want people to feel like they have a trusted source, and they feel empowered that they know where things stand.

0:49:22.0 Kristy: Excellent. Poppy, thanks so much for the work that you do and thanks for joining us today on the Ellevate podcast.

0:49:28.5 PM: My pleasure. It was so great connecting with you guys.


0:49:36.1 MH: Wow. That was very enlightening. The work she's doing, Poppy's doing is very very important.

0:49:39.9 JM: Oh extremely. Especially in the today's climate around the world but especially the USA.

0:49:47.0 MH: Yeah. I think it must listen for everyone. So I'm glad you... I'm glad we have the chance to talk to her. Coming up this week, if you want to have... If you have some time and are looking for a community, looking for some people to talk to, to go through some of your challenges and problems and everything with, tune into our round table. We have several coming up. We have about three or four each week. The executive round tables are always on Tuesdays at 1:00 PM. I lead those, so I shall be there if you wanna come and spend some time with me. Next, we're gonna be talking about courageous connections, healing from trauma and leadership. Our rising leaders meet on Thursdays at noon. They're a great, great, great group. And they're gonna be talking about something very relevant to our conversation before the interview, which is about setting boundaries at work to protect your time and sanity. I think that's super important and a conversation we should all be having and checking in on our boundaries all the time.

0:51:03.2 JM: Yeah, absolutely. Those lines can get blurry before you know it, before you realize that. Yeah.

0:51:08.2 MH: Our entrepreneurs, they meet Thursdays at four, and they'll be talking about publishing to boost your brand and client list and Women Seeking Confidence Roundtable is one that meets once a month, but it's a very special one, and they're gonna be talking about putting yourself out there. So check them out, they're all on the Ellevate website, Ellevate with two L's. So you can sign up and attend one of our round tables and we'll see you there. And so now, just we do this every week. We celebrate History Makers. This is our little segment where we call out people who are making history, who are shattering the glass ceiling even if I hate that phrase, but really doing some some cool stuff. So who do we have today to celebrate?

0:52:04.2 JM: Yes. So I'm very excited to call out this first one. She is my favorite Knowles' sister. So Solange Knowles will become the first Black woman to compose music for the New York City Ballet.

0:52:16.8 MH: That's amazing. I love her.

0:52:20.2 JM: Yeah.

0:52:20.3 MH: Jamie White became the first senior female pastor at Salt Lake City's First Presbyterian Church.

0:52:28.1 JM: Stephanie Allain became the first woman of color to be elected president of the Producers Guild of America.

0:52:35.1 MH: Alyssa Lang will become the first woman to guest host the Paul Finebaum Show.

0:52:40.8 JM: May Lor Xiong will become the first Hmong Republican to win a primary for US House state.

0:52:46.1 MH: This one is a long time coming because she's been on the show for a little bit, but Emma Grede is the first Black women investor in Shark Tank. I'm a big Shark Tank fan, I have to admit it. So I know that she's been on for a while.

0:52:58.9 JM: Yes. At that time.

0:53:02.7 MH: Well, thank you Jess for being with me. I know you're gonna join me next week as well, so we're gonna keep on chatting and hope you had some fun.

0:53:11.8 JM: Yeah, I did have lots of fun. Thanks for having me.

0:53:14.8 MH: Thanks for being...

0:53:15.6 JM: Thanks for listening out there.

0:53:17.0 MH: Yeah let us know what you think of the podcast. Rate, review, subscribe. It really helps. Next episode is actually Kristy's last interview that she did before she left, and it's with Jennifer Cassetta who's a nationally recognized speaker, coach and self-defense expert equipped with her third degree of black belt in Hapkido, master's degree in nutrition and health coaching certification. She develops programming that helps women feel strong, safe and powerful from the streets to the boardroom. Very, very, very much looking forward to Kristy's conversation with Jennifer next week. Thanks for joining.

0:53:57.0 JM: Thanks everyone. Bye.


0:54:03.1 Outro: Thanks so much for listening to Ellevate. If you like what you hear, help a girl out, subscribe to the Ellevate Podcast on iTunes. Give us five stars and share your review. Also don't forget to follow us on Twitter at EllevateNTWK, that's Ellevate Network and become a member. You can learn all about membership and all the great things that Ellevate Network is doing at our website, That's E-L-L-E-V-A-T-E And special thanks to our producer Katharine Heller, she rocks. And to our voiceover artist, Rachel Griesinger, thanks so much and join us next week.