Maria Yuan is the founder of IssueVoter, a civic engagement platform that creates a user-friendly way for Americans to be more engaged in Congressional legislation. IssueVoter users can follow the issues they care about on the site – like environment, healthcare, or education – and sign up to receive notifications when bills impacting these issues are approaching a vote in Congress. As a platform that connects voters and legislators, IssueVoter are making an impact on major decisions that are shaping the world around us today.
Name: Maria Yuan
Job Title: Founder
Currently based in: New York City
Originally from: Austin
Your superpower: I’m driven and I get results!
Name a woman in history that you admire & why:
I’ve always loved the Eleanor Roosevelt quote, “The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.” If I wasn’t an idealistic and optimistic person, then I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing now.
Quote/piece of advice that you live by:
Don’t give up. I have made several pivotal decisions in my life by asking, “If I don’t do this, will I regret it?” and when the answer is “yes”, then making the decision to move forward has led me to be able to live a life without regrets. That feels empowering!
What inspired you to start your current venture?
Growing up, my parents raised me to feel a sense of responsibility about being an engaged citizen, and they instilled the importance of voting in me from a young age. I still remember the mock voting activity we did in my second grade class. My parents always voted in elections – they saw it as their personal responsibility.
My dad moved to the U.S. from China, where democracy does not exist. I think it’s important to remember how fortunate we are as Americans to have the right to vote. I want more people in the U.S. to embrace their opportunity to have a voice in government.
Ten years ago, inspired by my parents, I decided to take a position as a campaign manager in Iowa. Iowans’ voting behavior aligns with the rest of the U.S. in that people tend to be very engaged in politics during the presidential election, but their interest in civic engagement wanes in the political “off-season”.
During my time as a campaign manager, I started to think about ways to get more people engaged in politics. I found myself wishing that there was an easier way for U.S. citizens to stay on top of the many bills being presented to Congress between elections. I wanted people to have a user-friendly way to monitor the voting record of their state’s congressional representatives between major elections. After all, that is the time when many of of the real decisions that affect our lives are made.
I figured that it was only a matter of time until we would have the technological capacity to build these platforms for civic engagement, and I assumed that someone else would jump on that opportunity, create the interface, and then I’d be able to use it!
Fast forward to ten years later – I was growing increasingly frustrated that the political engagement platform I wanted still didn’t exist. I spoke to hundreds of people who were also looking for an easy way to stay up on politics. I did my market research and couldn’t find anything in existence that aligned with my idea, so I finally stepped up and decided to create it myself. I knew I would regret it if I didn’t.
How does IssueVoter work?
IssueVoter gives users the opportunity to follow the issues they care about on our website – healthcare, education, taxes, alternative energy, etc. From that point forward, anytime Congress is about to vote on a bill that relates to an issue you follow on our site, IssueVoter will send you a notice that summarizes the bill and also includes an overview of what people on either side of the issue are saying.
IssueVoter includes another awesome feature: we give our users the opportunity to send their opinion to their Congressional representative with one click, straight from our website. Additionally, IssueVoter users can track their state representative’s voting record, which means that ultimately our users will be more informed voters at the next election.
On average, Congress introduces over 10,000 bills each session, and only about 1,000 are voted on. But how many of these bills do you actually hear about? One? Five? In that case, you’ve missed 995 bills, and at least some of those 995 bills contain legislation that has the potential to impact your life or influence the issues you care about.
There are approximately 200 million registered voters in the U.S., which incidentally is the same number of registered Facebook users in the U.S. today. What if every single one of these people used IssueVoter to be an active participant in the legislative process? Within just a few elections, our representatives would become a more accurate representation of the citizens of the United States than ever before.
What is your company doing to make history today?
One of the most exciting things about IssueVoter is how much potential it has to make a major impact on the course of history by giving U.S. citizens an opportunity for increased participation in politics and government. Increased civic engagement impacts the outcome of elections. It can be the deciding factor in whether or not a bill is passed. The decisions that the U.S. government makes shape the world around us today, and what happens today will continue to shape the course of things to come in the future.
What is one thing you and/or your company have accomplished that you are most proud of?
I’m most proud of how much our users love IssueVoter! In less than a year, our response rates are ten times the industry average. Our users continue to engage over time because IssueVoter gives them an easy way to stay on top of the issues they care about. Our users have given us feedback saying how much more informed our site has made them. Users have also thanked us for actually taking the time to educate them on both sides of the issue.
What is one project you are currently working on that you are most excited about?
I’m excited about what the future holds for IssueVoter, and I’m looking forward to some of our new projects and features to come!
On a personal level, I’m happy to say that my experience in building IssueVoter has enabled me to lend my newfound expertise as a consultant for a wide range of startups, corporations, and campaigns.
What is a trend in your industry that you foresee becoming popular in the future?
Traditional advocacy still has a place in American politics, but in many ways, government and politics have not been leveraging new technology that would make civic participation more accessible. In 2018, I believe that increased civic engagement will require user-friendly civic technology.
For example, during important elections, there are rarely enough staffers to answer all of the phone calls coming in from constituents and citizens. A platform like IssueVoter provides an alternative means of communication that easily resolves that issue.
Similarly, we no longer necessarily need to limit Town Hall meetings to the number of people we can fit into a brick-and-mortar space. By implementing better options for virtual participation, civic engagement would no longer need to be limited by physical constraints.
Overall, I hope that in the future, we will increasingly utilize technology to engage far more people in the political process.
What is one of the greatest challenges you have personally faced at this job?
Building IssueVoter with limited resources has forced me to prioritize what I am doing with our platform now versus what I would like to do with it eventually. That is often difficult to accept because I am so excited about the possibilities of IssueVoter. However, I know how important it is to operate within my means, both in terms of my time and my budget.
What were you doing before your current role?
My civic experience includes introducing and passing a bill in the state legislature as a constituent, working in the office of a U.S. Representative, and serving as a campaign manager in Iowa. I am proud to say that as a campaign manager, I helped my candidate to win one of the most targeted races: an open seat in a swing district.
Outside of my time in politics, I worked in the financial services industry for ten years in several different sectors: recruiting, social enterprise, investment banking, strategy and corporate development.
I believe that my experience in politics paired with my experience in the private sector gives me a unique perspective. It enables me to combine my insight as to how the legislative process works with realistic solutions that will inspire members of society – even those who don’t think of themselves as activists – to engage in the political process.
Fun fact about yourself:
I started a blog about huevos rancheros and tortilla soup, where I would review *only* these dishes at restaurants. The blog still exists, but I haven’t kept it active.
Where can readers go to find more information?
If you are:
- Looking for a user-friendly way to become more involved in politics;
- Interested in tracking the activity of your state representatives; or
- Wondering what you haven’t heard about on the news that is being voted on in Congress,
…then check out IssueVoter and start making a difference!
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