When Lisa Ellman was eight years old, she drafted a policy document for her family. She called it her Magna Carta—and it was primarily designed to keep her two annoying younger brothers in check. Ellman’s document levied a fine for saying mean words like “dummy” and for engaging in wild behavior like “pinching your older sister.”
“It was pretty effective,” Ellman says with a laugh. “My parents were responsible for implementing it and they did a great job.”
The Ellman household’s Magna Carta is no longer in effect, but its creator remains a policymaking junky. Now 36, Ellman has spent the past ten years working for Barack Obama. As a co-chair of Washington-based law firm McKenna Long & Aldridge’s Unmanned Aircraft Systems Practice Group, she’s currently working with the Obama Administration to encourage policymaking efforts that will allow commercial drones to be flown in U.S. airspace.
Ellman first met Obama when she was a student at the University of Chicago Law School. “Most people think of him as President Obama, but I got to know him first as Professor Obama,” Ellman says. He was teaching courses on constitutional law and, after Ellman was elected as the president of the Law School Democrats, the future U.S. president became her faculty advisor.
In their one-on-one meetings, Obama encouraged Ellman to get involved in local Chicago politics—including his own campaign for the Senate. She frequently quizzed him about his motivations for going into politics. “I was inspired by how strongly he believed that policy could change the world,” Ellman recalls. “That feeling was contagious.”
Obama also urged Ellman to help organize a 2004 Democratic National Committee event, which was held in Chicago. “At one event, the plan was for Senator Obama to present Senator [Hillary] Clinton with an award—but he went off-script and invited me up onstage to be the one to present the award to Senator Clinton,” she recalls. “He was always doing little things like that to encourage and inspire all of us.”
By 2007, Ellman was a newly-minted law school graduate with a joint degree in Public Policy and Law. Then a Senator, Obama began to set his sights on the presidency; he personally invited Ellman to join his presidential campaign as a senior policy associate.
She was tasked with translating Obama’s broad ideals into real world policies. “I handled all sorts of issues: open government, healthcare, education, the arts,” Ellman says. “For one nine-month period between 2007 and 2008, I lived out of a suitcases, traveling the country to meet the American people and learn how policy impacts them every day. I also met some amazing role models: Samantha Power stayed with me for a week in New Hampshire and I traveled the state of South Carolina with Susan Rice”
Alan is serial entrepreneur, active angel investor, and a drone enthusiast. He co-founded DRONELIFE.com to address the emerging commercial market for drones and drone technology. Prior to DRONELIFE.com, Alan co-founded Where.com, ThinkingScreen Media, and Nurse.com. Recently, Alan has co-founded Crowditz.com, a leader in Equity Crowdfunding Data, Analytics, and Insights. Alan can be reached at alan(at)dronelife.com