Marci Harris graduated from Franklin in 1997 with a degree in International Relations and has spent her career creating a voice for people. She is currently the co-founder and CEO of POPVOX.
POPVOX is one of the first civic engagement startups that provides an online platform to help people learn about and engage with their government. In addition to providing basic information about the current bills in Congress, POPVOX includes real time legislative data, stories from other users and registered positions from advocacy groups and organizations on both sides of the aisle allowing users make informed decisions that can translate into action. Users are then prompted to share their support or opposition directly with legislators. The word POPVOX was derived by the Latin phrase “vox populi, ” and simply means “Voice of the People.”
The idea for POPVOX came about during Marci’s time as a congressional staffer where she felt frustrated by the flow of information between lawmakers and their constituents. It was then that she started on her mission to connect technology and policy to better represent people. Marci described the process of the idea similar to, “an alien in your belly that takes over your life until your ideas are reality.” Formally launched in 2011, POPVOX, has continued to grow and develop employing a small team and a number of interns that have helped make Marci’s dream a reality. Though POPVOX has been largely focused on federal government legislation, they are currently working to launch at the state level for 2017. In the future, Marci hopes POPVOX will reach a wider audience with many different languages and have a larger impact worldwide.
Despite the growing success of POPVOX as a leader in the technology and civic engagement field, Marci’s path was not always so straightforward. After graduating from Franklin, Marci went to Boston to work for an international magazine and later ended up back in her hometown in Tennessee working for a newspaper. While in Tennessee she also ran the campaign for her local mayor. She was given her first taste of government and civic engagement when a tornado came through her town and the mayor appointed her to lead the recovery. This experience allowed Marci to communicate with people in government and the community to raise funds and work together on plans for rebuilding. Marci likes to say that her “first startup was a town,” as the lessons of that time still inform the way that she and her team work to build POPVOX today. This learning experience pushed her to law school and eventually to Capitol Hill.
Looking back on her time at Franklin, Marci can’t imagine her life or her perspective on the world without it. She elaborated that, “Franklin has helped me default to a global outlook, to see the world through the eyes and experiences of the wonderful people I met there. I'm sure I am not the first to say that the years at Franklin were some of the most important in my life.”
Marci started her international experiences early, living for a short time in Australia and later as an exchange student in Paraguay. When it came time to apply to university, Marci only applied to Franklin. She fondly remembered her first academic travel on Professor Schlein's “magic bus tour” through Europe and the first Franklin trip to Kenya in 1996.
Marci says there is "much to miss" about her time at Franklin; at the top of the list are the friends from all over the world, "and you can't beat a Lugano view." Her advice for new graduates is to realize that “you can’t plan everything in life but you can be ready for anything. Franklin is a wonderful foundation to be built upon and to succeed, you must step confidentially forward into the unknown. It’s important in life to be open to new experiences and people. With this global network as your base, anything is possible.”