Fresh talk with Rana Kardestuncer

Rana Kardestuncer is the Executive Director of Creative Alliance, an arm of Civic Nation that brings together America’s top creative and communication talents to create campaigns for lasting social change. NUORI’s Founder Jasmi Bonnén sat down one morning with Rana in her New York loft to discuss Rana’s recent transition from corporate marketing to the nonprofit world, her definition of beauty, and much more.

WHERE IT ALL BEGAN  

What is your story? Where do you come from and what has made you the woman you are today?  

My parents were in academia, so we traveled around the world quite a bit during summer breaks and sabbaticals. So I always kind of considered myself - this was before the term became kind of dorky- “a citizen of the world”. But I'm actually just from Connecticut!

But I've always been adventuresome, and I love to travel. Once I finished college, I moved to Atlanta because I wanted to be part of the Olympics. I always thought that was my world. I was a swimmer and I thought, well, if I can't go there as an athlete, which was never going to happen, maybe I can go there and work.

THE MAGIC OF THE OLYMPICS  

The Olympics were in Atlanta in 1996. I went to Atlanta without a job, but I was just so determined to work there. I was so naive. It was kind of one of those handing-out-your-resume type things. But I'm pretty resourceful and opportunistic. I eventually got a job with the Atlanta Olympic Committee and that started a career in the Olympics. After the Atlanta Olympic Committee, I joined the International Olympic Committee.

The Olympics are magical. There's really nothing better. Traveling around the world, going to different Olympic games, and being part of that community, having access to the Olympic Village or the field of play if I wanted to, was a level of access and excitement that I will always look back on with some level of envy, because it's not going to happen again.  

The learning curve must've been insane at that age, being thrown into such a complex organization.  

There was a learning curve, but there's something to be said for naiveté. I look back at it now and I’m like, wow, I kind of winged it a lot. When I was young, the whole "fake it till you make it" was a mantra that I repeated to myself. Now I'm really annoyed when somebody says that. I think no, learn it properly and don't fake it!

I was managing $100 million sponsors. And I don't think I actually understood at the time the significance of that the way I would now, but maybe that was a blessing in some ways because I probably would have been too nervous to make any decisions.

So it was a massive learning curve, and I also learned how to manage a brand. Really, I was kind of like a brand manager for the five rings.

ENTERING THE WORLD OF NON-PROFIT 

I know you've had a really long, amazing career in marketing in the corporate world, but now you've suddenly joined the nonprofit world. How did that change come about?  

I started my career in the Olympics as I mentioned, which many people don't know is a nonprofit. I mean, you wouldn't really think of it that way. Our sponsor spent $75 million to sponsor an event every four years. But it was effectively a nonprofit. And so I always had an appreciation for that world. But I also wanted to really understand marketing. And so I went to Coca-Cola because that is kind of the equivalent of getting your PhD in marketing. And then I went to Anheuser-Busch.

I wasn't necessarily trying to get away from the corporate world. But the reality is when 2016 happened [the US presidential election], like many people I felt a little bit powerless. I felt like I wasn't able to use my skills to actually do anything meaningful. I'd volunteer here and there for causes I believed in, but very often when you volunteer, your ability to actually contribute is so minimal. The amount of time I was able to contribute didn't feel like I was able to move the needle.

So I started looking for ways to get more actively engaged in things that mean something to me. I wasn't actually looking for a new position full-time, but through my network, I stumbled upon this organization (Creative Alliance) and I met with them to actually volunteer. It was a lovely meeting. I really liked this team of people. And at the very end of it, the executive director said, you know, today's actually my last day. I’m becoming chief of staff to the Joe Biden campaign.

And I came home to my husband that night and I said, you know, I've got this consulting thing that I'm not that excited about, but I cannot help but be so excited about what I just heard. And I slept on it for a couple of days and then I reached out and I said, I want to put my name in the hat for this. I think I'm ready for this type of leap.

That was September of last year, and I could not be happier with the transition.

What does a work day for you look like at Creative Alliance?  

My office is 10 minutes away. I walk to office, I get my coffee, and most days it's pretty intense. We manage a lot of campaigns. Right now, it's 2020 so we have a lot going on with voting. We're managing a lot of different agencies to produce that work.

One of the nice things about being nonprofit is, I think people go into that field because they are mission driven. So people work very, very hard, but there's also an appreciation for life outside of work, at least in the organization that I'm part of.

A BRIGHTER FUTURE 

What inspires and drives you either professionally or in your private life? What things do you get energy from?  

I never thought I would be the person to say this, but I do get energy from my children. I have two kids. They're so much more raw and they're so much more exposed, and their emotions are what they are.

So my children actually do motivate me and inspire me. I want to be a good mother to them.  And I also want them to have a good future. And when I say a good future, I don't mean that they have good jobs and have a nice life. I want them to have an environment that is not burning. I want them to live in a culture that is inclusive and diverse. I know those are kind of broad stroke concepts, but it really comes from them.

It's such a joy also to see them develop their own views. My eldest son has now banned all red meat from the family because of environmental concerns. I think it's so healthy that this generation is so aware of what's happening to the environment. They are, I think, also bearing a huge burden unfairly on their shoulders for the mistakes of past generations. But at least they're aware and they're not just talking about it. They’re trying to make some choices in their own life that can hopefully help the world become better. I think it's really admirable.

WHAT IS BEAUTY? 

What's your definition of beauty?  

This is a tricky one for me.

Because it is so related to how you're feeling in any given moment. If I'm feeling good, or if I see someone who's feeling good, they just radiate in a way that makes them beautiful. And you can't force that. You can't fake that. There's no amount of cosmetic work or makeup that can influence that.

I think it's the Italians, have captured it really well when they talk about “the sparkle in an eye”, and I think that's basically tapping into someone's inner beauty that seems to come out through the sparkle.

And I feel like we know people who have that sparkle all the time. I wish I did. But that's what I really think of when I think of beauty.

Yes, I agree. That's a beautiful way to put it. Because that sparkle is something that you see is there, but it's coming from how they're feeling, how comfortable they are in their own skin, and that kind of energy radiates out.

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