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Empowering the next generation of leaders.

For Gary Sheng, the year 2016 kicked off a deep exploration of civics, leadership, and the future of democracy—which ultimately led him to his calling. 

Gary Sheng is a Co-Founder and the COO of Civics Unplugged, a platform and movement focused on empowering the next generation to build the future of democracy. Its three-month civic leadership fellowship for high school students provides a civics foundation, teaches problem solving and effective dialoguing with others, and helps them build their “civics muscles.” With partnerships with National Geographic, Georgetown University, The Smithsonian, the Ethereum Foundation and more, the future for Civics Unplugged is bright.

The systems and processes that worked to get you to one stage aren't necessarily the systems and processes that will get you to the next stage.

Gary ShengCo-Founder and COO, Civics Unplugged


Katie Hankinson (00:00):

Hi, I’m Katie Hankinson and I’m Mickey Cloud. Welcome to Building While Flying a Sasha Group podcast, where we interview business leaders about how they tackle challenges, stay resilient and navigate ever changing skies. Welcome to Building While Flying my guest today is Gary Sheng man on a mission. You’re an ex Google software engineer, serial co-founder most written recently featured in Forbes, 30, under 30 of this year. So still under 30. Gary is currently co-founder and COO of Civics Unplugged, which is a two year old platform and movement focused on empowering the leaders of the future to build the future of democracy. And it’s described on the site as a global movement to catalyze human flourishing, which I think is a big deal. Welcome to the

Gary Sheng (00:57):

Show, Gary, thank you so much for having me.

Katie Hankinson (00:59):

Why don’t we start first of all, a little bit about your story, like where you started out and how you ended up, um, really at the home of Civics Unplugged.

Gary Sheng (01:10):

So once I graduated from duke, I went straight to Google in New York city. One of the biggest offices at Google is a New York city and I had no civic sort of app app appetite, aptitude, um, was pretty naive, I would say about civics and politics. Um, I like to say that the two things I really focused on my first just going into New York city was going to the best parties and just getting promoted, climbing the corporate ladder at Google.

Katie Hankinson (01:43):

They would always live in the same breath, so well done for getting both of those at one.

Gary Sheng (01:49):

Thanks. Thanks. Work hard, play hard, I guess. Um, and I think for a lot of people, the 2016 election really shocked me and it w it was less so much about, um, the result and it was more about the process and just what it said about the state of our democratic systems and democratic culture that really concerned me. Um, and the fact that I w what, what, what really concerned me was the fact that I didn’t expect how toxic it would be and how much, how many, how many friendships,

Katie Hankinson (02:27):

Right. There was so much a bit trill all around.

Gary Sheng (02:32):

Um, and I think I remember in November Thanksgiving break of 2016, I spent, uh, to my parents’ chagrin, I spent so much of that break, just researching what was going on. And that was the beginning of just a deep intellectual curiosity about how the world works. It was long overdue. Like at that point I was 20, um, 23 years old, just very little understanding of how the building blocks of just how our society function. Um, and, you know, I guess three years later of just deep exploration, uh, networking with social entrepreneurs that we knew way more than me, uh, heads of banks, actually, uh, Harvard professors, Princeton, professors, other, you know, thinkers in the space. And well, two things. One, I w I found myself surprised about how many people would just were kind of throwing their hands up about, you know, they didn’t know what to do about all this.

Gary Sheng (03:37):

And the other thing I discovered was, you know, we’re dealing with all sorts of crises. I like to call it like we’re facing a cascade of existential crises, mutually exacerbating, existential crises. Um, we have a reality crisis where we can’t even agree on what is true or real, right. We have a meaning crisis where, you know, young people especially are really struggling to figure out what to find a sense of purpose. Um, we have a climate crisis, we have democratic institutions crumbling. Um, we have, uh, you know, all sorts of all sorts of ecological issues, and that can be really overwhelming to just list the laundry list of crises. Right. But one thing that we, uh, that identified that I was lucky to have met people that also identified as sort of like a root cause to all this, or at least if we didn’t address this crisis, we wouldn’t be able to address any of these crises.

Gary Sheng (04:36):

And that’s a leadership crisis. I think that almost like no matter where you fall, I don’t even like the word political spectrum, but like almost like ask anyone. Right. I think they can agree that we can do a lot better in terms of putting, putting forth and training better leaders almost at any, any part of our society. Certainly one that really care about are really thoughtful about, um, the strengths of our communities, the strength of our democracy and how America’s standing in the world, and also just the health of humanity in general. Um, so, and, uh, it took several months in early 2019 for, uh, for me and my eventual co-founders to identify a nonprofit that was worth, uh, leaving our jobs for, but we did it right. And so June 1st, 20, 20, 20 19, we decided to plunge all the way in civics unplugged was born. Um, it’s been, it’s been a little over two years since we launched this platform and movements. Um, and it’s been really exciting ever since. So talk a bit about

Katie Hankinson (05:38):

How it works, what the moving pieces are to the victim

Gary Sheng (05:41):

Plan. Yeah, so we have a, the, the entry point into our community or movement is the civics unplug fellowship, which is a three month, uh, digital first civic leadership program. Um, in our first program, any anyone, any high schooler could have a 10. And that was really helpful during the pandemic. We actually, that was actually part of our plan before the pandemic. And people were like, oh, you’re crazy for this. And then like March happened and were like, oh, maybe we have maybe at a point,

Katie Hankinson (06:12):

How do you do that again?

Gary Sheng (06:16):

Um, and so, so we, we, how I like to think about the fellowship is, um, kids are taught a lot of things in schools that are really harmful to their ability to realize their potential. And so we don’t, we don’t claim to, in those three months turn you into a leader, right? Leadership is a lifelong learning how to lead is like a lifelong process about what we do teaches a sort of self-awareness about what society has conditioned in you about how to learn, how to connect with others. Um, how does, how to see problem, how to, how to think about what civic engagement is productive, civic engagement is how to actually dialogue with people. And so that when you join, when you graduate from this program and you join this long, like lifelong community, uh, where you have year round civic, learning experiences and opportunities, internships, um, uh, consulting opportunities, uh, you’re prepared to do those things. You have unplugged from all these harmful, uh, mindsets, um, uh, potentially other programs that you could have been involved in that may have actually just plugged you into a broken machine. Um, so the fellowship is like an entry point into this lifelong community where you’re where the kids are constantly bettering themselves and figuring out ways that they can contribute to their own flourishing and the flourishing of the world around them.

Katie Hankinson (07:44):

So I, I hadn’t really, I hadn’t quite thought through the, the name meaning as it is. Yeah. That makes so much sense. The idea that you want to almost kind of on learn a certain amount of staff that may have been unconsciously sort of over time, and then obviously critical thinking, being a giant part of it. And then the engagement, you know, healthy debate, being able to disagree and, and move forward in spite of it that, that sort of element of being a good civic player.

Gary Sheng (08:15):

Yeah, sure. A hundred percent. So, one part of my story I didn’t touch on was the fact that my first civic education experience was Twitter. That’s like the worst place that you could learn, how to, to understand how the world works and how to connect with other human beings. Um, and I think that, like, I kind of laugh about it, like in retrospect, but it really, it was really harmful to me. Like, I, I w I became really paranoid about, about, about other people, and I became really pessimistic about the future and that in fact, instead of mobilizing me, it actually was like, what’s the point? It, it actually made me feel like what’s the point, right. And so we’re trying to think about what is the default, um, kind of a black hole that people are being sucked into and how do we unplug people from that so that they can be, uh, embodiments of the light, right. Embodiments of critical thinking and, and, uh, appreciation of different people that have different values in them.

Katie Hankinson (09:10):

So, two years in you have a fellowship program, that’s the centerpiece you’ve presumably have a number of like kids cycling in and out of the program. And then you’re now actually expanded to multiple countries now. So right.

Gary Sheng (09:24):

Um, word of mouth, really? Uh, it was a surprise to me. Um, I think we live in a really privileged country. I mean, obvious obviously. So the, the debate that we have in our country is not whether we have education or whether we have civic education. It’s like, how, what does that, what does it look like? How good can we make it versus in, um, I didn’t know this, like in India where we have like a really growing cohort. Um, they’re just so grateful for just put it bluntly adults that don’t be, ask them about how the world works and actually treat them with respect. Especially young people in a lot of countries are treated with disrespect by adults and young women, especially. And our community is actually 75%, uh, young women. And that has been, uh, that was actually, you know, that, that wasn’t engineered actually. But, but we, we, we did, we created a community that we like to call in a wasteless, which is funny because before we started recording, um, you call this, this room in a wastage. Oh yeah. Like it has to feel energizing, right. To be part of this community. Um, and again, sorry, Twitter, like, like it’s, it does it’s maybe just me, but, but Twitter does not feel like an Oasis

Katie Hankinson (10:44):

Necessarily leave a Twitter experience, feeling replenished

Gary Sheng (10:49):

Meme Twitters is great.

Katie Hankinson (10:53):

Wow. So there are so many examples of the kind of Building While Flying metaphor that you’ve just touched upon burst. You know, this is, this is manifesting as you grow it. You’re only two years in, it’s kind of turned, it’s already grown into a global level. And it sounds like the community is also something that’s building over time. And then that must be helping to shape the structure of civic farm plugin turn. Like now you’re discovering so much about the community itself. Talk a bit about, you know, your absolute core in terms of the people you want to go through. The leadership program are Jensey the, the leaders of tomorrow. Um, but as an a platform, you’re also obviously connecting into a lot of other entities, whether that’s donors, whether that’s big business, whether it’s some of these thought leaders in banks, how is that coming together in, in, within the community or building?

Gary Sheng (11:51):

Yeah, we’re a, um, our movement is very much a intergenerational intersectoral sort of thing. And I think that’s, uh, I think that’s beautiful. We like to, to think that, um, we can only really solve our greatest challenges if we bring all the superheroes to the table. Um, if we just look at the different generations, um, I love that it’s, it’s almost obvious that there there’s a lot of wise older people that have so much to offer in terms of understanding how to build movements, how to, uh, well, for our family, how to raise money, how to, how to talk to older people with respect. I think there’s, I, I actually very much understand the okay, boomer move meme, right. But if you, if that’s actually your like, life, uh, like motto as a young person trying to like change the world, you’re not, you’re actually not going to get it.

Gary Sheng (12:49):

Um, but also, uh, older people have a lot to learn from generations like gen Z, the way that they use, uh, digital media, the way that they connect with each other digitally is a really remarkable, I’d say like a good 50% of our community has found, uh, has made deeper friendships than they’ve ever had because of civics unplugged. Um, and I don’t part of it is because they’re just used to the technologies, but also, like, I don’t think that older generations fully took advantage of the fact that, um, there, that your best friend could be a thousand miles away, right. Or on a different continent. And that, that might actually be a better co-founder of a project you want to build than the, than your, than your high school classmates.

Katie Hankinson (13:46):

So if you, I mean, two years in big remit, big mission, the, the obvious the sort of vision of this is to teach the skills of leadership to the next generation. What are some of the things you hope to see coming out of civics unplugged in the near or medium term that will help you show and demonstrate that this is working for us? Do you and predominately some of those things you may not know yet, no. May surprise you, but are they things like, you know, collaborations or, or new teams forming or people are getting new ventures off the back of them, or,

Gary Sheng (14:23):

Yeah, so we have dozens of, um, youth led initiatives that have come directly from our community in just the last year and a half. Um, for example, we have Jonah from Missouri that created this initiative that made it easier to get a notary so that it’s easier to vote. Um, so that was a big hit in Missouri that got a lot of attention from a Kansas city star and all that. Um, we have another one of our community members, Zoe Jenkins, who, uh, credited in diversity and inclusion, uh, training program, essentially that started in the U S and now we have in India, a Southeast Asia, uh, division of it. Right. And like, we, we help, right. But like the amount of initiative that they show and they do 99% of the work, they just need a little bit of help and guidance. And it’s amazing what they can pull off.

Gary Sheng (15:17):

Um, I mean, I fully expect that we have Congress, people, senators, um, people from like elected representatives in other countries as well, come straight from our program, that they stay in touch over the course of this decade and beyond. Um, we’re already working with, uh, groups like national geographic. We’re working with, uh, big, um, philanthropy, big foundations. So in effect, we are a community of practice of young leaders. And what that means is like leaders that want to connect over a shared purpose and like do things together, learn from each other. And I’ll just say, I think we do it as well as anyone, if not, I mean, I think we’re probably top tier in terms of that. And all these adult communities of practice are actually, so many of them asked for our help that we actually formed like a consulting division. Right.

Katie Hankinson (16:10):

About to say that if you haven’t done that already, to me, it’s like the thought,

Gary Sheng (16:15):

Yeah. Since the last time we chatted, I think, which was just a few weeks ago, we landed, uh, Facebook, national geographic. Um, we just did a huge initiative with the Smithsonian. Um, we’re working with the Ethereum foundation. Yeah. Like, um, I’m, I’m really, I’m just excited about the possibilities.

Katie Hankinson (16:39):

Yeah. And you already have some, like, I think, I think that’s important the way you describe it as a community of practice, but it’s not just about theory and ideals and ideology. It’s actually about connecting doers and making happen.

Gary Sheng (16:53):

Well, we call our community members, our fellowship alumni, we call them builders. What you mainly do as part of our community is buildings, right. And what are you building? You’re building, uh, yourself, you’re building relationships, you’re building projects. You’re building the future.

Katie Hankinson (17:08):

Uh, as you, as a, as a leader of this organization, you’ve come from, you know, well, the Google engineer into this, you’ve learned a lot. What, what, what have, what are the biggest learnings you’ve had as a, as a, a leader of an grower of teams as you’ve been building offline per personally

Gary Sheng (17:27):

Say that the systems and the processes that worked to get you to one stage aren’t necessarily the same systems and processes that will get you to the next day. I wish I had a list of, I wish I’d like a list that represents like the graveyard of failed experiments that we’ve run and not just experiments that I’ve like, thought of it’s our kids think of experiments, oh, the community would love this. It doesn’t work. Right. Or a lot of them, like a throwaway thing that we didn’t think would work that works really well. And it’s like, okay, we’ll do this every day. So like, one of them is like, we do a daily reflection. So in our slack, we just post a question that anyone in the community can reply to. And it’s been like a oddly really effective way to just remind people that they’re part of something we care about them. And we care about them sharing it and sharing with each other.

Katie Hankinson (18:20):

I love that. It’s such a valuable way to, it’s just like that those little nods to remind everybody, especially in this extremely remote digital world that we’ve lived in for the last year and a half. Um, it’s like that little opportunity to, to chip in.

Gary Sheng (18:38):

Yeah. And, and making it very clear that if their idea doesn’t work, it’s not a big deal at all. In fact, where we’re more happy that you propose it in the first place then about any one outcome. Right. And then actually then work, try not surprisingly

Katie Hankinson (18:56):

What’s next. What’s next for you in civic? Some plug unplug.

Gary Sheng (19:00):

It’s a great question. So there are, um, at least three different, uh, I guess, threads of evolution that we’re working on. So we’re constantly trying to refine our, our fellowship, which is sort of like the top part of our funnel. Like if the entry point into our community, there’s, there’s a lot of fun to be had and meaningful experiences to be had in this top part of the funnel. Right. But then the other of throw them to the evolution is what we call our civic gym. Right. So I don’t know if that metaphor immediately connotes something to you, but, um, it’s interesting that in America, at least we like to debate, oh, should it be one semester or two semesters of civic education, right. And that, that misleads people into thinking that you can just take a three month or six months of learning and you’re good, right? You, you know, everything you need to know about how the world works, how government works, how to exert your agency into the world, but that’s not true. The world is constantly changing. You’re constantly changing. Uh, so in order, really what, one way to think about sip like civic engagement is you want to constantly be finding your U shaped hole like that place in the world where the world’s needs, which are constantly changing, uh, your superpowers and your passions meet.

Gary Sheng (20:37):

And so in our civic gym, we provide tons of opportunities for you to, uh, learn about, to develop all sorts of civic muscles, uh, and this, uh, with, with our consulting arm, which we call unplugged strategies, uh, kids get all sorts of opportunities to work with organizations that they would have otherwise not been able to work with until like, after they graduated from college, which also was insane. So you shouldn’t just be able to test out whether an idea works to Gary’s point, right? You should be able to test out who you are

Katie Hankinson (21:18):

And keep refining and refining. It’s like, oh,

Gary Sheng (21:21):

Like, I can’t tell you how many times, um, one of our kids in our community was like, I’m, I’m this. And I want this type of opportunity. And they, they tried it, they try it out and they’re like, no, I actually hate this. It’s a great try, try this thing.

Katie Hankinson (21:35):

I really, really liked the term civic, Jim. Um, I think it immediately conjures up exactly what you’re describing, which is to be a good citizen is a lifelong exercise. It’s not something you kind of, yeah. You do a module of civic and then that’s it. Um, and I also think it’s interesting because we’re at this point now, and I’d be curious to know if there’s as part of what you’re building out, that where being a citizen is now that it’s, it’s about understanding how to, how to play in life and in work. But there’s also being a good global citizen. And there’s also like being a good digital citizen, but we’re trying to build digital communities now that need to be driven by the same sorts of civic discussion that we’re having. Now, are you, are you having those conversations to kind of as delineations between like how to operate in these, in these mediums and that kind of thing?

Gary Sheng (22:39):

Well, I mean, we talk so much about the concept of human flourishing because it helps you connect all sorts of dots about helps. It really, really helps you in this really chaotic world. There’s tons of information. And it also things you can focus on, focus on human flourishing, focus on how do you allow yourself to have a good wellbeing and realize your potential to do what right. Again, to help yourself, but also to help your family, uh, your, your fellow classmates, um, your local community, like physical in-person community, your maybe your city, your state, your country in the world, but also digital community. Are you a, are you, are you having a positive impact in terms of human flourishing on all of the spaces and communities that you’re a part of? I don’t know if I can say that, honestly. And I, and I’m, I’m trying to, but, but getting kids to ask these questions is, uh, just incredibly important.

Katie Hankinson (23:49):

I am, you know, what it’s making me think about is we work. We work with a bunch of clients in the wellness space, and we work with clients who, you know, who are in life coaching or in spirituality, or, you know, have a mindfulness app. There’s a huge explosion in the area. And there’s actually a lot of crossover in the language that you’re using in terms of this is about human flourishing. This is about developing your own personal muscles and skills in order to make you a better member of society.

Gary Sheng (24:19):

I think there’s few things that are more important to teach young people than to, uh, to have frameworks that help them make sense of the world. And, uh, almost like in any context, identify at least a good default of what you could do, right? You, you at least want to be, uh, at least you want to not leave a place worse off than before you came there,

Katie Hankinson (24:49):

The room better than you left it, leave the day better than as a better person than you when you arrived in it. It’s kind of like fractal civics.

Gary Sheng (24:58):

I can’t believe you said that because that’s, uh, for anyone that doesn’t, hasn’t seen, like those like video fractal patterns, like, I mean, so what you’re saying is that like these like patterns of flourishing are they, they exist at different scales and, and they’re repeated, there are common principles of like human thought and behavior that can support the flourishing at any scale, right? At the end of the day, if America realizing its greatest potential or humanity, realizing its greatest potential, uh, won’t happen unless each individual like way more individuals basically have access to the tools, training community, they need to do that.

Katie Hankinson (25:52):

We love our building while flying analogy for entrepreneurs because it speaks to the nimbleness flexibility in foresight that’s needed to really operate in business today. What’s your personal process or mindset or approach that helps you to build? Well,

Gary Sheng (26:10):

There are processes that I adopt, like I do daily reflections. I do weekly reflections. I do monthly reflections and I, I, I do planning at different levels. So in the morning I do like what I need to accomplish, like during the weekly reflection, like, what am I doing this week? Um, what are you gonna pivot based on what I learned in the past week? And then like a month in the quarterly level, I did my first yearly reflection, like, uh, you know, in, uh, January. And that was amazing. Uh, we’ve shifted our plans like regularly based on how the world has. Uh, um, and that’s also how we do our, our sort of planning and execution as if it’s unplugged where we’re super nimble. We, we, we put forth a plan based on certain information, right. But on regular intervals, we’re constantly just assessing, uh, we’re doing a situational assessment, let’s say, and we are revising our strategy, uh, depending on information.

Katie Hankinson (27:11):

I love that. So you’re applying your own fractal processes.

Gary Sheng (27:17):

How can people

Katie Hankinson (27:18):

Participate in civic thugged, whether it’s on the kids’ level or potentially at company or,

Gary Sheng (27:25):

Yeah. So yeah, why don’t we break it on two buckets? So, um, on the donor or potential partner level, um, reach out to You can also connect with me on LinkedIn. I’m easy to find Gary Sheng. Um, let’s talk about how you can partner with us and maybe contribute a gift to, um, this, this movement that where kids are just hungry to be building meaningful things. Uh, we just, this is for people that may be interested in working with young people to be more in touch with and, uh, and, and reach a gen Z audience like that. Part of what we do is, is we’re growing really quickly. And so if you want to work with us on again, better resonating with gen Z and building something that gen Z, uh, would find mission, align where we are the organization that you want to talk to.

Gary Sheng (28:27):

Um, when it comes to high schoolers in the U S and anywhere in the world, uh, apply to the civics unplugged fellowship. This is the first year where we’re going to have two fellowship cycles. So we wrapped up our spring fellowship a little over a month ago. We’re launching our fall fellowship starting in like late August or early September, but we launched our second, our two fellows, we’re launching two fellowship ships a year because we don’t want kids to wait, uh, potentially like, like 11 months. Um, so you can apply whatever. Uh, and it won’t, you don’t want to wait too long before a new fellowship cycle starts. But what is the fellowship? The fellowship is a really fun, um, potentially life-changing program three months long, where you learn a bunch of things that you won’t learn in college that are really important to your leadership. So fundamentals of personal development systems, thinking democratic theory, community building, um, and you’re going to meet all sorts of leaders from all across the world. This fall, we’re aiming to have 500 kids in our fall cohort. Uh, it’s gonna, you know, in what other circumstances are you actually going to be friends with kids across six continents?

Katie Hankinson (29:44):

Oh my goodness. I wish this thing had existed before I was like rushing off.

Gary Sheng (29:49):

I mean, it’s a big, it’s a big motivation for, um, myself and the co-founders like we’re building something that we badly wish existed so that I wouldn’t have had to have my civic education on Twitter.

Katie Hankinson (30:04):

And with that, it’s been such a pleasure to have you on the show, Gary I’ve, um, I think you have some lifelong fans in the Sasha group, and we’re excited to see where you’re going at

Speaker 3 (30:17):

Well, now that we’ve finished that thoroughly interesting interview, we’re getting ready to land, but before we do Mickey and I caught up on some of the themes and topics that stuck out to us,

Speaker 4 (30:27):

Yes, we liken this to the post game show where we break down the key lessons we all can benefit from, including us here. And Sasha group here is just Sasha sidebar. And you want an awesome conversation with, uh, Gary Sheng.

Speaker 3 (30:47):

I know isn’t that amazing from Google engineer to taking on the world’s toughest problems, right.

Speaker 4 (30:54):

To reshaping democracy. Um, and you know, certainly he, uh, took activism to heart over the past five years, and it is resulted in a really interesting new organization non-profit that is offering, you know, a fellowship, uh, a, you know, filling a gap of civics education. He called it a civic, Jim, you know, I think which is such a, such a cool term. Um,

Speaker 3 (31:20):

We talked a lot about, um, roles of brands and creating that kind of metaphor in people’s minds. And I thought that was absolute genius.

Speaker 4 (31:27):

That’s a great one. Yeah, that’s a great one. It’s like, oh, that’s my civics gym. I go to like, that’s so cool.

Speaker 3 (31:32):

Yeah. It’s funny. Cause on two levels, he’s like, um, he’s building while flying in terms of creating a nonprofit after coming from a totally different background and figuring out how to fund it, et cetera, et cetera. But he’s also essentially building the feature of democracy well flying because it’s the backdrop of like the, the world we’ve built and the challenges we have with social media today and all of those things. There’s this funny meta irony around the fact that we can point at social media as one of the reasons why so many things are broken today, but it’s also one of the greatest tools for civic awareness and seeing people

Speaker 4 (32:12):

Yeah. It’s people at the end of the day. Um, and he talks about kind of like, uh, the systems and processes that work to get you to one stage aren’t necessarily the same systems and processes that, that will get you to the next stage. And I thought that was such an important point he made. Cause I think it applies to the, like any organization that’s growing and thinking about like, just getting things done in the early days versus like right now, how do you start to scale? And, um, and you know, we certainly have felt that at the Sasha group, you know, we’re now 80 people in a world where two and a half years ago when we started a company, we were 25 30 people. And the systems and processes we used then are very different. And like the, of products that we have, the metal offerings we do, there’s just like, it’s so much more expensive. And so we’re looking at what’s our project, what are our project management tools? How are we handling new business? How are we bringing on new clients? You know, let’s start to standardize some of those things because we’re getting to a point where there’s a bunch of new people joining and then we need to be able to help scale that in a way that’s not just through osmosis.

Speaker 3 (33:13):

Yeah. It’s funny. I I’m sure that’s one of the kind of tenets that they probably teach in the fellowship around like society at the societal level, that those systems and processes need to be evaluated over time, but you’re right on a day to day, running of a business is exactly what you need to do and the importance of regularly getting together and evaluating whether you are still doing it, right. It requires a certain amount of kind of resilience and humbleness to kind of admit to, to admit that you’ve scaled past something being relevant or you’ve outgrown something. Um, but it’s such an important thing to have, to keep the pace of scale actually delivering in terms of, um, you know, healthy growth, um, as opposed to getting out of control.

Speaker 4 (34:00):

I think the fellowship is addressing things like that. Civics education maybe is not something that is a part of everyone’s, you know, educational journey is not offered at, you know, all the different levels. And so, you know, they’re, they’re kind of their answer to it was all right, let’s create a fellowship where you, where we can, um, you know, have, have this social where people are, are, are working on projects together and they’re, and they’re, you know, constantly being told, like, we just want your ideas. Like, don’t worry if it’s going to fail or not. Like it’s, it’s, it’s, it’s this idea of the gym, right? Like you’re going to, um, uh, you know, you’re, you’re, they’re, they’re constantly bringing up new ideas on how to engage in civics. And, and it’s just something that like, I think we’re seeing across the spectrum, you know, your conversation with Ruben Harrison and career karma earlier this year around, you know, like the re-skilling of people and just, uh, you know, entrepreneurs coming up with ways to address kind of the gaps in societal structures, um, and, and education.

Speaker 3 (35:03):

It’s fascinating. I, I, it gives me a lot of hope. I think it’s so exciting to think of the fact that leaders of organizations, both in nonprofit and for-profit, who are thinking about learning training and growing people who have these skills, that aren’t just the kind of traditional, like, can you build a car? Can you design a marketing strategy? Can you sell? But actually, can you communicate, can you negotiate? Can you reach out to people and find a middle ground? You know, those are such interesting, um, skills that are needed in business, just as much as in real estate.

Speaker 4 (35:49):

Yeah. This fellowship is providing them tools to how to engage in conversations, how to, how to be a model citizen, how to be a good citizen and like that kind of lifelong exercise. But to your point, there are trans translatable skills into how to be an entrepreneur, how to be in business, how to be, you know, an executive.

Speaker 3 (36:10):

And I think that takes me to a good question that I would love to put out there. Um, for those of you listening, like what, where are you thinking about growing those muscles within your organization? Like, do you have programs in place to train people in some of these softer skills that yes. Maybe to do with business, but actually might also be tied to making them better citizens. Thanks for joining us for building while flying today. I hope you learned as much as we did. We’ll meet you right back here next time for another flight.

Speaker 4 (36:49):

If you’d like to hear more about how business owners and brands are navigating these times, tune in to the next episode. And if you’re so kind, please rate and review us, plus we’d love feedback. So let us know what you think, what you’d like us to dig into next on building while flying, across brands, businesses, marketing, and more

Speaker 3 (37:04):

Original music by Fulton street music group.

Welcome to Building While Flying!

This weekly podcast is brought to you by Sasha Group. We’re the consultancy meets agency arm of the VaynerX family of companies. We help ambitious companies build strong brands that flex with the times through strategy, branding media and marketing.

In ever-changing times, businesses and brands have to shift and adapt. And across all sectors, there is an air of experimentation. Business owners are trying new things out in the wild;  building the plane while flying.

Our pilots, Katie Hankinson and Mickey Cloud, will be talking to a diverse range of business leaders and founders. They’ll explore how these guests tackle various challenges while staying resilient and committed to growth. Through these real-life examples of strategies put into practice, we hope to inspire you to experiment and develop your own strategies as we all navigate these uncertain times together.

For Gary Sheng, the year 2016 kicked off a deep exploration of civics, leadership, and the future of democracy—which ultimately led him to his calling. 

Gary Sheng is a Co-Founder and the COO of Civics Unplugged, a platform and movement focused on empowering the next generation to build the future of democracy. Its three-month civic leadership fellowship for high school students provides a civics foundation, teaches problem solving and effective dialoguing with others, and helps them build their “civics muscles.” With partnerships with National Geographic, Georgetown University, The Smithsonian, the Ethereum Foundation and more, the future for Civics Unplugged is bright. 

In this week’s episode of Building While Flying, Gary shares his personal journey from Google developer to nonprofit co-founder, and discusses why civics education and leadership development for Gen Z matters. He says that learning is a lifelong process, and being a good citizen is a lifelong exercise. He also discusses the role companies and corporations can play in civics, and how they can support organizations like Civics Unplugged to help build a better future.

Other in-flight topics:

  • How Civics Unplugged was born
  • Impacts of the 2016 election 
  • Building community around a movement
  • The role of corporations in civics
  • The future of Gen Z
  • What’s next for Civics Unplugged
  • …and more!

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