We were fortunate enough to sit down for a Chat with political campaign strategist and Atalanta Founder, Eva Barboni. It was fantastic to hear about some of her career highlights and the pivotal lessons she’s learned along the way. Here is a quick recap of our favourite sound bites..
What would you do if you weren’t afraid of failure or financial ruin?
Eva’s sister once challenged her to consider this very question – a conversation that ended up prompting the original idea behind Atalanta. Eva responded that if failure wasn’t an option, she would launch her own business focused on gender equality, an area that wasn’t yet getting much support or attention in the political consulting space. When Eva first started out in her career she was young and somewhat idealistic, but had a bold vision for how politics could be transformed for good. Increased citizen participation and the prospect of a new wave of digital tools were starting to give previously unrepresented people a powerful voice. But these cultural and technological changes also lead to a new set of challenges, ones that Eva and her political peers were forced to come to to terms with. For example, it became apparent that some of the new online organising tools that proved incredibly effective at raising political candidate profiles, could also be manipulated and misused to detract and distract from a campaign’s successes. With a bit more experience and hindsight under her belt, Eva now has a more realistic view of the political landscape but she still looks for ways to apply the evolving campaign toolkit to her idealistic aims.
Always be ready to think on your feet
A few years ago, Eva was working on a project in Africa, when instead of being driven to her campaign office she found herself unexpectedly driven 4hrs out of town and dropped in the middle of a village where she was asked to explain to an assembled crowd why they should vote for her candidate. This turn of events was neither expected nor particularly strategic, leaving Eva with no choice but to think on her feet. Instead of trying to convince the assembled crowd how they should vote, Eva turned the opportunity into an impromptu focus group, asking what they actually wanted from government. Eva learned three important lessons that day:
Always be prepared for the unexpected.
Whenever possible, try to find opportunities to really listen to people.
And always ask where you’re being driven before you get in a car!
One of the biggest challenges to women’s success are cultural perceptions of female leadership
From Nigeria, to Afghanistan, and even at home the UK – in Eva’s experience some of the common challenges faced by female leaders seem to be universal. For example, female leaders tend to be expected to do much more unpaid work than their male counterparts, they usually have disproportionately less access to finances to fund campaigns or launch their own businesses, and female leaders are often underestimated and undermined in both subtle and overt ways. Too often female leaders have to field incredibly sexist questions – questions about what they’re wearing, who takes care of their children and what their husbands do – questions very rarely posed to male candidates. In order to help combat some of these challenges, Eva’s team at Atalanta run training workshops where they prepare female candidates to answer a range of tough questions, including those that are totally irrelevant about their ability to lead. Sometimes Eva advises candidates to use humour to deflect, bridging techniques to pivot to address core campaign issues instead – and other times, depending on the cultural context, she advises women to be much more direct about what is and isn’t acceptable for people to ask. Atalanta also runs gender sensitivity workshops aimed at helping media outlets in different countries identify and overcome bias and to ensure candidates are covered in a more balanced way.
Some of the key factors that have lead to Eva’s success include:
Learning how to bounce back after difficult experiences has helped Eva build resilience, particularly when she has found herself being one of the only women on a team or in a room
Appreciating the value of hard work as well as a hunger for impact and experience
Maintaining integrity by treating people with respect and being honest about what you are and are not willing to do
Being prepared to take both personal and professional risks – in terms of safety given some of the countries Eva chooses to travel to and the professional and financial risk in starting her own business