She went to work for newly elected Gov. Janet Napolitano and, before too long, was involved in the governor’s regular early morning meetings with about a dozen senior advisers, even though she was just 22. “There she was at the table — articulate and not reticent at all about speaking her mind,” Napolitano, now secretary of Homeland Security, told CQ Roll Call.
In the spare time she didn’t have, Ward also co-founded Arizona List, a local version of EMILY’S List, along with Sutherland. As one example of their work, the duo and then-EMILY’s List regional representative Ann Liston worked with Giffords to lay the foundation for what would be the legislator’s election to Congress three years later.
“She quickly became a serious strategist in a short amount of time,” said Liston, who watched Ward work with candidates who abided by Arizona’s strict campaign finance laws to build the more robust fundraising operations they would need to run for higher office later.
While Ward stockpiled campaign experience, her time in the Napolitano administration got her more interested in governing and public policy. But higher education was “so not my world,” Ward joked, and she discovered Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government through a Google search.
Harvard was attractive to her, in part, because she could finish her degree and get back to Arizona in time for Napolitano’s re-election campaign. But the governor’s advisers paired the up-and-coming Ward with Harry E. Mitchell’s burgeoning congressional race in 2006. For three months she traveled 2,600 miles one way, from Cambridge, Mass., to Tempe, Ariz., to finish her master’s degree and manage Mitchell’s victory over GOP Rep. J.D. Hayworth.
“She sold me on what needed to be done,” said Mitchell, who was a first-time congressional candidate then.
Ward planned to stay in Arizona, and she was working as the executive director of the Project for Arizona’s Future, a 501(c)(4) focused on advocacy in the state, until she ran into social entrepreneurs Alan Khazei and Vanessa Kirsch at a Harvard reception.
According to Khazei, his wife is the “chief talent scout” of the family and immediately connected with Ward. They recruited her to return to the East Coast to direct America Forward, the new policy arm of Kirsch’s venture philanthropy firm, New Profit Inc.
“It was everything I wanted; a campaign and high-impact problem-solving” said Ward, who wrote her final Harvard paper on government working with nonprofit groups to solve major social problems. Sen. Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign embraced America Forward’s concept, which laid the foundation for what would be become the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act of 2009, and Ward moved to Washington, D.C., as the legislation was being discussed.