Marya Stark

Marya Stark, Social Entrepreneur

“This year we flipped the legislatures of New Mexico and Nevada, and would have picked up Virginia but for a coin toss.”

Pronouns: She/Her/Hers

Meet Marya Stark. Marya is a social entrepreneur who has had a tremendous impact in creating a pathway for women to run for public office. She is the founder of Emerge America — which has trained over 4,000 women enter the political fray. Marya is also an advisor to Friend of Civic Hall Esther Dyson’s health startup Wellville, a national nonprofit project dedicated to demonstrate the value of investing in health by following five small U.S. communities over a ten year period. Marya channels some of her fierce competitiveness into sport. Earlier this month her team placed third in the Mighty Hamptons Triathlon. Check out her neat tattoos from the event, before they fade away. You can reach Marya via email and follow her on the Twitter machine.

How Did She Get Into This Work?

“He was always trying to work on systemic change, and behavior. I get that from him.”

While she grew up in a traditional Catholic family as the youngest of nine children, as a physician in the 1970’s her father pioneered bariatric medicine — weight loss. Decades ahead of his peers, he deployed alternative treatments, including meditation and hypnosis. “He himself was a world-class weightlifter, without an ounce of fat. I think he was simply interested in helping people lose weight and stop smoking, from his own public health orientation.” So it was from her father that Marya learned to forge her own path, and to be fearless. [Marya notes that while her mother “wanted all of the kids,” she frequently notes that had she been born at another time, she’d probably have had just two kids and become a lawyer.]

After college Marya pursed a fairly traditional path, working in investment banking. She then returned to school, not for an MBA, but for graduate work in statistics: “I thought the problem with the world was that we need to describe the world as it is.” So, as a quant jock, Marya was working in Big Data years before the phrase had been coined.

While Marya loved solving mathematical puzzles, it didn’t suit her Type A personality and once she returned to the States from living as an ex-pat in Paris, she reflected on what she had observed the last time she had lived in the DC area:

“My partner was part of the Federalist Society in Washington, DC. And, I was very impressed by the long term pipeline project for building the conservative movement. So, I knew the importance and impact of this work. Democrats are enamored of the big ideas, but not picking up the trash!”

Marya reconnected with her DC friends to find out who was working on local politics in the San Francisco Bay Area and came together with a group of women who wanted to help more women get elected. This became Emerge.

“Republicans had been doing political training for women since the 1980’s (most well known was the Richard Lugar Center for Excellence). They understood that this was an investment that would pay dividends over time. I thought that it would take us ten years to have someone run for Federal office. It took twelve. Suddenly, everyone agrees (training women to run for office) is needed. For us, you build a pipeline over time, power grows by adding to the network.”

Emerge remains the only organization that offers long-standing cohort-based training. “This year we flipped the legislatures of New Mexico and Nevada, and would have picked up Virginia but for a coin toss.” Daneka Roem, the first openly transgender person to be elected to state legislature, is an Emerge grad. Ayanna Pressley, Massachusetts’ first African-American Congresswoman, is a founding Board member of Emerge Mass.” “Our new class is probably the most representative class we’ve ever had.”

What Projects Is She Working On?

Marya remains focused on growing Emerge and achieving gender parity in electoral politics — she predicts we’ll come close to 30% in this cycle. To matriculate into Emerge candidates first submit an essay and agree to an interview. Twenty women are selected for each program in each of the 25 states where Emerge has a chapter. Training is over six weekends for six months, providing the nuts and bolts for what it takes to run for public office. This includes public speaking, campaign strategy, digital strategy, how to get endorsements, and fundraising.

She is also in the process of launching Underwire with Friend of Civic Hall Allison Fine. Underwire is focused on “what happens after women get elected.” “There are a dozen groups that help women get elected, but none that help women after they win their seats. Our first partner was the Westchester Black Women’s Political Caucus, and they were fantastic.”

How Did She Come to Civic Hall?

“My friend Heidi Sieck (an Emerge alum!) was on the original team as COO, so I was showing up at Civic Hall before it opened its doors.”

Marya is looking forward to Civic Hall’s move to Union Square and how scaling will enable more “flow”: “At the old space I ran into more of my “fellow travelers.” We had bigger and more events there. Friends coming in from all around the country, at a space that was incredibly valuable from a connecting point of view. I’m looking forward to the dynamism of having that kind of space.”

What Is Her Ask of Civic Hall?

  • For Emerge America: “Help us identify partners that we can work with on the ground – hyperlocally, for local county-by-county support. Help us host gatherings of newly elected after the election.”
  • For the soft-launched Underwire: “I’d love your ideas around scaling this work and partners. Also, if there are pro-choice Republican woman out there, we’d love to help you. I do want to see more Republican women, in particular at the Federal level. Ultimately, who are the Democratic women gonna work things out with?”

What is She Reading?

Marya recommends Soraya Chemaly’s new book, “Rage Becomes Her,” a just published book of essays that sets out to capture the anger behind the #MeToo movement, and how to leverage it. Coincidentally, Marya will be in conversation with Soraya at Civic Hall this coming October 3rd. You can get your tickets here.