DAILY SIGNAL: How Forge Leadership Network Is Training, Mentoring Young Conservatives

Adam Josefczyk, the co-founder and president of the Forge Leadership Network, says the network, which was founded in 2015, “exists to mentor, train, and connect the next generation of conservative leaders” who are 18 to 25 years old.

“We equip them in timeless principles, practical skills, and the legislative process in order to help them become the next statesmen and stateswomen in office, defenders of the Constitution and law, culture-shapers in ministry, and innovators in the marketplace,” Josefczyk adds.

The Forge Leadership Network has also “trained 500 young conservatives, ages 18 to 25,” and has also “mentored the top 250 of those,” according to Josefczyk.

Josefczyk joins today’s episode of “The Daily Signal Podcast” to further discuss the Forge Leadership Network, two upcoming leadership summits in Nashville, Tennessee, and Columbus, Ohio, and how many students and young professionals the network has worked with since its founding.

Listen to the podcast below or read the lightly edited transcript:

Samantha Aschieris: Adam Josefczyk is joining today’s episode of “The Daily Signal Podcast.” Adam is the co-founder and president of the Forge Leadership Network. Last November, the Forge Leadership Network was a recipient of The Heritage Foundation’s Innovation Prize. Adam, thanks so much for joining us.

Adam Josefczyk: Hey, thank you so much for having me.

Aschieris: So, first and foremost, can you tell us a little bit about the Forge Leadership Network?

Josefczyk: Forge Leadership Network exists to mentor, train, and connect the next generation of conservative leaders, ages 18 and 25. We equip them in timeless principles, practical skills, and the legislative process in order to help them become the next statesmen and stateswomen in office, defenders of the Constitution and law, culture-shapers in ministry and innovators in the marketplace.

Aschieris: That’s great. And I wanted to talk a little bit more about your founding. I know the Forge Leadership Network is relatively new, founded back in 2015. So walk us back to 2015 and what was going through your head that inspired you to create this network and why did you see a need for it in the first place?

Josefczyk: That’s a great question. My co-founder and I were doing local politics in Ohio together. We had basically made this pact. We were in our early 20s and we met through a pro-life campaign. It was a protest primary campaign that we had no chance of winning. Our candidate had $3,000 and we later realized we needed about 97 more in order to win that race. But we were doing it because of the life issue, which united us as our real motivation amongst the other conservative principles for engaging.

But basically, through that campaign, we learned how dirty local politics and state politics could be. And basically we had decided, “All right, if I’m going to do this, I need to have friends who hold me accountable, who care more about my soul and my marriage than any success I might achieve.” And basically, somebody, brothers and sisters in arms who you could walk through these opportunities with.

And so we had made this pact to do this politics thing together. And through it, we had started collecting friends all over the country and mentors. And we were just working really hard at networking to find people who were both principled conservatives and really excellent at what they did, whether that was in campaigns, whether that was in nonprofits and think tanks, whether that was constitutional law, etc.

And we were having these amazing mentors, building these friendships in this network—we were now in our mid-20s—but what we realized was the average 21-year-old in Ohio, and then what we heard reiterated by friends across the country that were having the same experience, the average 21-year-old was getting involved in politics. They had big dreams to change the world.

And then next thing you knew, they were spit out and burned up. They were disillusioned or they were compromised either morally or politically. And he looked at them and said, “Well, 10 years ago you believed in something, what happened to you?”

So we realized a couple causes of that. First, there really was a dearth of an ability to find mentors who were both principled and effective.

So a lot of people in the states would find somebody who’s very good at something in the public arena, but not a person of integrity or of strong conservative conviction. Or they’d find somebody who, wonderful person, but maybe not the most strategic face or maybe the best, most effective leader. And so they would just think they were wasting their time, that nothing could ever really get changed.

The other thing is that there were lots of great conferences going on. There were a lot of great training programs nationally, but none of them, or none of the ones we could find, had a really long-term follow-up or long-term investment.

And then the last thing was there seemed to also be a conservative brain drain to D.C. No offense, we’re in this wonderful, wonderful Heritage Foundation building right here in D.C. But it seemed like all of the talented, smart young conservatives were headed to D.C., which was important and very helpful, especially for those going into certain policy areas like national security. However, most of them had no vision for their home state or their home community where 90% of them could have more impact on the 80% of issues that are actually more decided on the state and local level.

So that birthed an idea of what if we could actually combine mentors who were both principled and effective and actually bring those mentors into relationship with these young people who were not even sure that they were looking for those mentors but needed them. And then, what if we could actually build a state-based pipeline to produce these innovators, these defenders of the Constitution, these principled statesmen in office.

And so that’s really where Forge was sparked.

Aschieris: That’s great. I’m curious, too, as we were just talking about, founded in 2015, so about eight years. Eight years is a long time in D.C., feels like a lifetime sometimes. I’ve only been here three years and it feels a lot longer than that. So I’m curious to see and to hear your thoughts on how the network has changed with the culture and landscape changing here in D.C. and even throughout the country.

Josefczyk: How the Forge Network has changed or adapted?

Aschieris: Yes.

Josefczyk: Absolutely. Well, we’re excited that in one major way it’s changed is thanks to The Heritage Foundation’s Innovation Prize and the vision of [Heritage Foundation President Kevin] Roberts and more. We’re excited that our Forge supporters have made it possible now eight years in to really grow and scale this across the country.

So we’re right on the precipice of that, having doubled our programs this year in 2023, which will allow us to double the amount of young conservatives that we train this summer and then that are with us for a yearlong mentorship intensive.

But other ways it’s changed is that we really have refined our belief and the importance of how we build a farm team. I’m using a term that’s normally used in Major League Baseball. Major League Baseball teams are only as good as their minor league development teams at raising up the talent needed to make it and be successful on the big league level.

Well, just as Major League Baseball relies on these talent pipelines in the minor leagues, the conservative movement is dependent on a farm team, a similar pipeline, but we haven’t had one in the states.

And so the more we’ve built out Forge, the more we’ve trained students and then mentored them for a year or more and then plug them into an alumni network that is meant to collaborate, strategize, and then work together for impact, the more that we’ve done that, the more we’ve realized how to help refine that farm team so that we can have the most impact on the most states going forward.

Aschieris: Yeah, definitely. And just speaking of impact, I wanted to ask, how many students and young professionals have you worked with over the last eight years and where have they gone on to?

Josefczyk: We have trained 500 young conservatives, ages 18 to 25. We’ve mentored the top 250 of those. And what we’re excited about is this year, that number will jump quite a bit to 160 that are trained and then 80 that are mentored.

And so you asked where are they? About 40% of them are working in policy and politics, about 20% of them in law, 20% in the marketplace. And then the other 20% are doing things as diverse as communications and media and the arts, engineering, even nurses and farmers.

So we’ve equipped young Americans who want to be engaged in their community, whether or not they ever directly want to work in politics, or maybe they say, “You know what? I might want to run for local school boards someday, but in the meantime, I’m going to provide for my family, build a family, build a life in my community, and be a community leader. And I want to know how to impact culture in my country.”

So it’s a great mix in terms of those different professions. We believe it resonates with what our Founders believed about having engaged citizens and patriots in all aspects of life.

And all of these young people are passionate about impacting the public arena. But we’ve had the amazing opportunity to have eight of our graduates have been elected to public office, including one who was the youngest female state representative in the Midwest in Ohio and more who are doing some amazing things locally, on the state level and then even globally.

Aschieris: That’s great. I know that you have two leadership summits coming up, one in June and then one in July, Nashville, Tennessee, and then Columbus, Ohio. Can you tell us a little bit more about the summits and if someone is looking to apply or maybe attend, what can they expect?

Josefczyk: The Forge Leadership Summit is the start of a young person’s journey in Forge. They are trained. An attendee of the Forge summit is an 18- to 25-year-old young conservative who wants to be faithful and effective. And we are equipping them with the timeless principles, the practical skills, media training, message crafting, public speaking, resume coaching, and interviewing, and more, and simulated experience of the legislative process, and even a team campaign competition—kind of like “Shark Tank,” but Mark Cuban’s not there to give out a million dollars.

We’re taking them through all those skills training, all the process, and then the speakers on these timeless principles that are the essence of what it means to be a conservative.

And through those five days, they’re gaining not only those principles, practical skills, and processes, but also, they’re starting to make these life-changing friendships that will continue in the mentorship program.

But this year we’ve got an amazing lineup of speakers, some incredible training opportunities, and two chances, two chances, for a young conservative to begin their journey and begin their on-ramp into the conservative movement through the Forge summit.

So the Forge summit in Nashville is June 12 through 16, and the Forge summit in Columbus, Ohio, is July 24 through 28 this summer.

Aschieris: Awesome. And if people wanted to apply for it or learn more about it, how can they do that?

Josefczyk: They can find us at forgeleadership.org/apply, forgeleadership.org/apply. They can also find us on any social media channel, @ForgeLeadership.

Aschieris: Awesome. I wanted to also ask you about any advice you have. Here at The Heritage Foundation, our internship program just began this week. So as the interns are getting adjusted to life in D.C., getting their tasks, figuring out what they’ll be doing, do you have a message, based on your experience and as the president and co-founder of Forge Leadership Network, any advice to them about what they’re doing or the outlook of their internship as, like I said, they just began it?

Josefczyk: Yeah, we’re thrilled. We’ve got a number of Forge graduates, I think, that are in this summer’s intern class. We’re excited. You’ll have to make sure they live up to the hype there.

But my advice to a young conservative is—gosh, it’s hard to narrow this down. I give a talk at the Forge summit that is seven principles of what a young conservative should know when entering public life or when entering politics. And those range from theological to “What is their motivation for impacting politics and life? How do they view themselves in their role?”, all the way to very practical.

And some of those very practical advice is find a group of friends who you can be vulnerable with, who can encourage you, who can lift you up, who can challenge you, who can hold you to your best motives and challenge you when the temptations of power and greed in public life rare up their ugly head. But there’s people who love you enough to hold you accountable and to encourage you and convict you and challenge you. Build those friendships.

And then also, find those mentors who have walked through those fires ahead of time. The people who have navigated that well, the people who are respected, someone you look up to for their marriage, for their parenting, someone in your church who you admire for their character and how they’re respected in the community regardless of the community member’s convictions, but this person is universally respected for their integrity. These are the type of people that you want to be mentored by.

And I think as young people, you can either go at it alone and there’s the pitfalls there without those friendships or you and your friends can rely on your combined knowledge, but that needs to be complimented and guided by the knowledge of folks who have already walked through the navigational journey that you’re going to walk through.

Aschieris: Yes, definitely. Adam, just before we go, I wanted to give you the opportunity to share any final thoughts, any more advice that you might have. Yeah, just anything that you want to say before we close.

Josefczyk: Well, we are thrilled for what The Heritage Foundation is doing and for Dr. Roberts’ vision for the conservative movement nationally. We think it’s an exciting time to be a young conservative.

The challenges in this country are prevalent. A young conservative does not have the blessing that our grandparents, even our parents might have had of a culture that understands some of their most foundational beliefs. This is now a culture that’s very skeptical, if not out rightly hostile to those beliefs.

So they need to know what they believe, why they believe it, and then how to communicate that with truth and grace. And Forge does just that.

And so if a young person is out there or if you’ve got a family member out there who’s listening, Forge is a yearlong on-ramp into the conservative movement. It’s really mentorship and in Christian terminology, we’d say discipleship for those who feel called to impact public life, for those who love this country and don’t want to see America’s best days be behind her, but instead want to help forge—if you’ll forgive the pun—a great future for our states and for our nation.

Aschieris: That’s great. Adam, thank you so much for joining us. I appreciate it.

Josefczyk: Thank you, Samantha.

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