Welcome to SPN’s interview series where we connect with leaders from state think tanks to share their stories and learn how their insights might inspire our work.
In this interview, we chat with Nikki Richardson, Executive Vice President of the Alabama Policy Institute. Nikki first joined the Institute as their Senior Director of Development a few years ago, her previous nonprofit experience having sparked a passion to find solutions without government interference.
Don’t miss her insights and her most memorable moment at the Institute!
SPN: How did you first get involved in the freedom movement?
Nikki: As the CEO of a nonprofit organization in Alabama, I saw first-hand the lack of fiscal responsibility in our state agencies. I saw misappropriations at the federal and state level leave children amid crisis without adequate support (because we were trained to think government was the answer). This personal awakening led to my passion for finding solutions without government interference. Several years later I received a call from the Alabama Policy Institute and gladly joined this team.
SPN: Was there a moment or a role model that inspired you to choose work dedicated to the cause of freedom and human flourishing?
Nikki: Yes, the moment I just mentioned. We had written federal grants which provided services to hundreds of children across the state who had one or both of their parents incarcerated. I was/am so passionate about this work. However, 1 ½ years into a three-year cycle, one of our Senators called to let me know the money had been mismanaged, and we had just received our last check. They also mandated that we stop serving these children for liability purposes.
At that moment, I knew I would not allow that to happen again. My team took the private sector by storm and were able to sustain the entire program through individual and corporate support. That began the spark for me for the free-market, freedom movement.
SPN: Based on your observations, what do you think is the next big opportunity for the freedom movement?
Nikki: I think we are on the cusp of turning policies that make sense into policies that people want to hear about. We no longer just communicate about our movement as a policy movement, but also as a movement for individuals to experience liberty at her fullest. It’s people-centric, not just book-centric. We are getting better at telling the story of who those of us in this movement are.
SPN: What do you enjoy most about being a part of a network working to promote freedom?
Nikki: The resources available through this network related to peer experience and mentoring are the best I have experienced in my career. I learn every day from members, staff, and consultants in this network, and I believe it’s making me a better mentor in turn.
SPN: How did you wind up at your current organization?
Nikki: An executive head hunter called me. My husband and I own several companies, so I was working for myself and not looking for anything else at the time, but I quickly became intrigued with the Alabama Policy Institute. After I met the president, Caleb, I knew I wanted to be a part of the team and could help further their mission.
SPN: Where do you think the Alabama Policy Institute is making the biggest difference in people’s lives?
Nikki: Currently we are working to remove barriers to employment. We are doing this through policy changes, focus groups, and an initiative called Hiring Well Doing Good.
SPN: What is your current role and how long have you been in it?
Nikki: I was named Executive Vice President in January, prior to that I was the Senior Director of Development for two years.
SPN: In hindsight, is there anything you wish you had known before taking this job?
Nikki: That I would never not be exhausted! Ha. Seriously, it is a FULL life as a mom of four and working at this level, but I choose it every day because it is where I want to be. My personal and professional development has been huge through this role and I am grateful.
SPN: What has been the best, worst, or most memorable moment since you joined the Alabama Policy Institute?
Nikki: Staplergate is one worth sharing. There was someone on staff at the time who was particular about everything: the kinds of pencils he used, the type of paper, certain legal pads—and especially this one specific red stapler. It went missing and literally Armageddon happened. I didn’t think he could go on. Eventually it was found, but since then whenever someone moved away or any big event happened I, of course, had to buy them a red stapler.
SPN: What resources and sources of information do you find the most helpful for your work?
Nikki: The Bible, Good to Great, Asking, How to be a CEO, The 5 Dysfunctions of a Team, Crucial Conversations, The Giver & the Gift
SPN: What current issue or policy is nearest and dearest to your heart?
Nikki: Education reform in general—school choice, charter schools, and reforming the current public education system. I attended public school, and my four children do, as well. I believe in public education, access to options for all children, and running the education system like a business.
SPN: If you had one piece of advice for others considering a career like yours, what would it be?
Nikki: Identify your strengths and weaknesses early—be honest about them—and surround yourself with people whose strengths are your weaknesses. Also, always remain coachable. I love to coach and mentor others, but I also love to be mentored and coached myself. There is always more to learn and room for improvement!
SPN: When you’re not improving the world at work, where are you likely to be found?
Nikki: In my car, driving kids to/from football, soccer, dance, basketball, band, etc. Or, I’m exercising. I love to exercise, but 90% of my time away from work is with my family. When I can, I love a quiet moment with a book. It’s a FULL, fun life!