Midpeninsula Post

Meet the Gunn senior changing how youth engage in politics

Gunn High School senior Paul Kramer poses for a photo on the Stanford University campus. (Yoochan An)

Paul Kramer lives life like a double agent: Gunn High School senior by day, youth nonprofit leader by night. Sprinkle in his daily runs, morning mindfulness, trumpet practice and enthusiasm for cooking, and you have the full picture.

Kramer is the founder and CEO of the Institute for Youth In Policy, a nonpartisan organization run by leaders under 25 that focuses on youth engagement in politics.

It all started on TikTok, where Kramer said his now-private account had 64,000 followers at the time that YIP was born.

“I built a pretty big platform around this whole ‘no BS politics’ type of thing,” Kramer said. “Like, I literally started the hashtag ‘no BS politics.’ Regardless of if you were Republican [or] Democrat, I would just kind of destroy your take and what you’re saying was complete and utter BS or not backed by science or studies or just, you know, the basic hardcore truth.”

As more and more viewers approached him for advice on what they could do to fight “BS politics,” Kramer said he took a look at many available youth internships and quickly saw a need for an organization like YIP.

“Plainly put, they [the internships] were all crap,” Kramer said. “They were not helping American politics move forward. They were all, you know, partisan playing. … That’s when I was like, ‘Well, I’m just gonna start my own thing.’”

Kramer, then just 14 years old, started a Google site and Instagram group chat. But YIP really took off four months later, Kramer said, after it secured more funding and launching its official website.

“We had lots of really smart people with really good ideas, lots of great advisers, lots of resources, monetary wise,” Kramer said. “So we just started launching programs left and right, we’ve had over 40 different programs and kind of the four branches that came out of those were innovation, discourse, policy and education.”

Innovation, Kramer said, is the branch where YIP incubates miscellaneous projects from computer science to business that “improve the human condition”; discourse is the branch for conversation; policy is the branch sharing unbiased and nonpartisan content about policy; and education is the branch for creating and implementing curriculum about politics in public school districts across the country.

YIP has been a launching pad for youth leaders into the real world, Kramer said.

“It’s just incredible seeing how YIP has actually had material impact on people’s lives, and they’re now going to work on K Street, the Hill and Wall Street,” Kramer said. “We’re almost trying to radicalize people in our own way, right? Like, we’re trying to radicalize them to be in favor of strong democracy and effective government. Then they go out into the world and spread ‘YIP-ness.’”

A self-proclaimed “people person,” Kramer said a lot of his day-to-day tasks for YIP are to keep people happy, including donors, program participants and his team. According to Ethan Hsu, a fellow youth organization CEO who has advised Kramer on YIP matters for the past year, he does a pretty good job of that.

“He’s really, really good at networking, talking with people, that kind of emotional intelligence area of things,” Hsu said. “Very few people who have worked with him that I know, dislike working with him. Especially in the youth space, that’s fairly rare.”

Once upon a time, Kramer said he was putting in around 70 hours a week working on the organization — until he reevaluated his lifestyle. 

“The first time I missed any meeting was when I went to the ER in Europe,” Kramer said.

That’s when he shifted his energy to putting together a strong advisory board and produced the nonprofit’s structure separated into external and internal functions. Now, Kramer’s workload looks more like 30 to 35 hours a week, he said.

But YIP work hardly even feels like work, maybe because policy was almost an inherent interest for Kramer — it started with his upbringing.

“It’s growing up in a household where one parent is like a raging conservative economist and one parent is like a raging leftist,” Kramer said. “I got to hear them talking about the different perspectives. … I’ve always been like, ‘Oh, you know, that’s interesting,’ and look into it myself. And that’s kind of what prompted my own direct involvement, or at least interest in politics.”

Kramer has built a political resume of his own, with experience working for campaigns including congressional candidate Rishi Kumar, congressional candidate Ajwang Rading and Libertarian presidential candidate Jo Jorgensen. Today, he’s campaign manager for Palo Alto City Council candidate Alex Comsa.

“Being involved in political campaigns gives me a little bit of a thrill,” Kramer said. “I try to keep it very vanilla in terms of the amount of toxicity that goes on.”

Kramer has his quirks, too, like the sizable whiteboard in his house dedicated to YIP brainstorming, according to Chief Operating Officer and Barnard College freshman Sydni Faragalli.

“It’s split into different sections … and he’ll flip it around during meetings and he’ll scribble on it for hours,” Faragalli said. “I definitely like that he’s very grounded in his work.”

Kramer’s organizational skills show through in his daily routine, in which mornings involve recreational running and mindfulness. Kramer called the latter “cringy,” although he still swears by it. 

“I get up at six. I’m done with all that by seven including a shower,” Kramer said. “I’ve got an hour and a half of productive time. I get to school. I do school. I do all my schoolwork in school. I don’t do homework. Literally homework is not on my mind at home. Then I get back home. I do meetings … and then I relax.”

At home, Kramer said one side of his bedroom is used exclusively for YIP work and the other side for miscellaneous work, helping him maintain a useful balance.

Focus is key, Kramer said. He plays the trumpet in the Golden State Youth Orchestra, and is an avid recreational runner and cook, but YIP is his main activity at the end of the day.

“I think that focus is something not enough people have, whether you’re CEO of something or just [a] policy analyst,” Kramer said. “It’s important to put in a lot of time if it’s something you love, and this is what I like doing. I like looking like a crazy man, scribbling around on a whiteboard.”

Seriously, he likes it — and his passion is anything but superficial, Hsu said.

“Paul is definitively in that top one percent of people who aren’t only in it to get into college, but genuinely cares about the work that he’s doing, and genuinely cares about the people he works for and works with,” Hsu said. “I really do think that he’s unique in that sense.” 

Under Kramer’s leadership, YIP has pulled off an event with the California, Oregon and Washington Departments of Public Health, a summer fellowship program and a recurring SPEAK program where professors are brought in to review participants’ policy reviews. And the organization has big plans for the future that Kramer wouldn’t yet disclose.

As for himself? Kramer said he wants his future career to combine his three natural passions: politics, finance and solving problems.

“I’ve never met anyone like him just in terms of his capabilities and abilities to lead an organization with such consistency and love and high level of effort,” Faragalli said. “He’s going to do amazing things. And I’m not even saying that because I’m trying to hype him up or whatever. … I admire the kid.”

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