Jahan Sharif: “Every overnight success is at least 10 years in the making”

We believe that if given the chance and the guidance, people will choose to live their life in ways that serve themselves and their communities. We find ways to reduce the barriers to impact change. As part of my series about “individuals and organizations making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing, Jahan […]

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We believe that if given the chance and the guidance, people will choose to live their life in ways that serve themselves and their communities. We find ways to reduce the barriers to impact change.

As part of my series about “individuals and organizations making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing, Jahan Sharif.

For nearly a decade, Jahan Sharif has leveraged his political campaign organizing experience to translate human stories for cable, network, and broadcast television.

What began as a chance volunteer opportunity, soon evolved into a staff position as a field organizer for President Obama’s re-election campaign in Broward County, Florida. Over 9 months, his volunteer staff mobilized their neighbors, and together turned out nearly 30,000 votes for the president. The following spring, he was recruited by then-mayor Cory Booker’s Senate campaign to lead the voter turnout effort in Newark, and Essex County. With a team of 13, Jahan developed and executed a strategy to organize nearly 250,000 voters and deliver all 22 municipalities in the county to Booker.

Since leaving political organizing, Jahan has written and produced non-scripted television in New York City and Los Angeles. While he specializes in launching shows and interviewing, Jahan is always looking for ways to bring people closer to stories that are meaningful, and maybe, at times, a little unfamiliar.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

My time working for President Obama’s re-election campaign connected the dots for me. I come from a family of organizers and community activists, but it wasn’t until I personally got involved that I truly understood the power of grassroots movements. After almost a year on the campaign, I spoke with thousands of people; gathering stories and seeing first-hand how policy decisions made far away can have a direct — and frequently disproportionate — impact on an individual’s life. Politics is the mechanism by which we decide the rules of the game, and my work is in the service of making sure as many people as possible are able to participate in that process.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company or organization?

Everything We Can and Commit2Five started with a good idea and a lot of ignorance! I had big ambitions early on, and it quickly became apparent that I wouldn’t be able to do it alone. I thought it would take months to develop a plan and a workable timeline, but the universe had other plans. In just 2 weeks we were able to attract enough volunteers to make my ideas come to life! People were passionate about this election and it showed. This initiative is made up completely of volunteers and it’s important that we set clear expectations for what we can and cannot do. We have one simple rule: If you can’t do something, say “No” and you’ll never be questioned. But if you say “yes” then commit to getting it done.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

I feel like I’m just starting and so I am sure the best is still to come, but I think the funniest one I’ve made so far is thinking that I can do anything big alone. Not only are we able to do more things faster, and with better quality, the whole effort is just a lot easier and more fun doing it with a team.

Can you describe how you or your organization is making a significant social impact?

We believe that if given the chance and the guidance, people will choose to live their life in ways that serve themselves and their communities. We find ways to reduce the barriers to impact change.

Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?

In 2018, a friend of mine who’d taken the Commit2Five challenge called me up with a story so shocking to him that he just had to share. He told me that one of his “five” answered the phone, confirmed that he was registered to vote and planned to “vote on Wednesday, the day before Election Day.” Election Day is TUESDAY! My friend then insisted on checking everything else. Turns out that his friend’s polling location had changed, and he didn’t know — wrong place AND wrong day! After they got that all sorted what did my friend do next? He hung up with him and called the next person on his list….

Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?

Community: Organize. Organize. Organize.

Society: Sometimes, because we experienced something, it’s easy to think that it’s true for everyone. That’s bad thinking. Don’t believe that your lived experience is the only truth that exists.

Politicians: Center women and marginalized people when writing and implementing legislation.

How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?

I define leadership as helping others set and achieve goals that are beyond what they could do alone, resulting in people’s improved lives.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

I’m doing them, and they work!

Build a team.

Listen to your users and adjust based on their feedback, not your biases.

Do the work.

Have a sense of urgency, but don’t be in a hurry.

Communicate until you feel you can’t communicate any more…then communicate more.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

Poverty, at its core, is a man-made math problem that is destroying people’s lives. Someone doesn’t have enough money to live, because over generations people in power have repeatedly made choices that failed others. Poverty is an injustice. I would inspire a movement to end poverty by directly giving anyone who needs it, enough money to be a meaningful participant in capitalism.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“Every overnight success is at least 10 years in the making.” It’s a reminder to do things for the right reasons, because it’ll probably be a long time before you “make it”.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them.

Dr. Martine Rothblatt, because she’s used her life to invent things that have contributed to the well-being of people in our society. She’s the founder of Sirius satellite radio, but she left that company in the early 90s when her young daughter was diagnosed with a rare disease. Unable to persuade anyone to invest in finding a cure, Dr. Rothblatt, a lawyer by trade, decided to figure it out herself. Going back to high school biology textbooks, she self-taught her way all the way to the molecule that would ultimately save her daughter’s life. She didn’t stop there. She then created a pharmaceutical company of her own to produce and distribute the drug globally saving an untold number of lives. Today her company, United Therapeutics, continues to invest in curing rare diseases as well as developing an unlimited supply of transplant organs that can be delivered carbon-neutral to any patient, anywhere in the world. This is a woman who used her personal experience and intelligence in service of others. What greater good can there be?

How can our readers follow you on social media?

I’m most active on Instagram: @JahanSharif

Or by subscribing to my newsletter on

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