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2013 Catalytic Leader Award: Kat Kempe

kat_kempe.jpgBack in April, Kelly Rowan wrote a YNPN blog post about the importance of recognizing leadership in our peers, and encouraged readers to nominate a colleague for the Minnesota Council of Nonprofit’s Nonprofit Leadership Awards. One of our very own YNPN members, Kat Kempe, won the Catalytic Leader award, which is given to someone who “effectively leads from the middle…, understands how to move change forward in an organization…, and has helped shape his/her organization through strategic change.” Kat works for Think Small as a Senior Policy Advocate, which entails community organizing and communications for the early childhood advocacy, education and resource nonprofit.  In their words about Kat’s award,

“Most recently Kat has spearheaded the organizing efforts of the MinneMinds campaign, a large and growing coalition of foundations, early childhood program leaders as well as a wide range of civic and educational organizations. MinneMinds focused in the 2013 legislative session on significantly expanding access to quality early learning through early learning scholarships. Kat’s leadership generated hundreds of calls to legislators, creating strong support for passing the $40 million increase in funding of scholarships that occurred.”

Kat shared with me some of her leadership wins from the past year, as well as challenges and advice for others hoping to make catalytic change in their work. This past legislative session was a good window for a big advocacy push, with Race to the Top and other federal grants helping drive momentum for early childhood issues. In her role as Senior Policy Advocate, Kat doesn’t represent one specific early learning sector and had the ability to pull together early childhood care providers, professional groups, and the Start Early Funders Coalition (funders interested in the issue) to advocate the Legislature with a united and coordinated message. She also was able to be a “translator” - to step back and hear things from all sides, enabling programs to talk to one another.

In a “lead from the middle” moment, Kat also realized the MinneMinds campaign plan didn’t have any grassroots organizing, and wrote the proposal suggesting adding it. Think Small got the contract for that part of the campaign, and Kat organized statewide efforts to persuade legislators to increase the early childhood scholarship fund from $6 million to $46 million. She credits the trust she and her supervisor have with each other as key in being confident to speak up and suggest adding grassroots organizing to the campaign plan. Kat also helped people realize that a decrease of funding in one legislative committee will impact programs and funding in another committee, keep the budget big picture in mind.

Now in Kat’s own words…

Advice for others?

“Build trust by being trustworthy." 

If you were in a buddy cop movie, who would be your partner?

“Jon Stewart. My leadership style is to shepherd people, and a good foil is someone to be in front and inspire. Jon Stewart would be the pied piper to my shepherd.”

Dream job?

“Set designer on a TV show. The littlest detail really sets the mood, like in True Blood.”

If you had to re-gift this award to someone, who would it be?

Katie Boone from the Sowelu Instutute. She’s gifted with group facilitation and the Art of Hosting.”

Congratulations, Kat! Thank you for the work you do, and enjoy the hard-earned recognition!


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