Work with people that, when they tell you they will do something, they will follow through. If they cannot do it, they will look you in the eye and say, sorry, I can do that. And when you find it, hold onto that, that is a special thing.

As part of our series about ‘Helping to Bridge the Partisan Divide’ I had the pleasure to interview Rye Barcott, Co-Founder and CEO of With Honor, a cross-partisan political nonprofit that fights polarization in Congress with principled veteran leadership, at the 2023 South by Southwest Festival (SXSW) in Austin, Texas.

Rye has built his career in service and entrepreneurship by building bridges across often difficult divides. While in service in the Marines, he co-founded the non-governmental youth leadership and public health organization CFK Africa in Nairobi, Kenya. The memoir he wrote for students, It Happened on the Way to War, juxtaposes military service in the Marine Corps and social entrepreneurship. Dartmouth awarded Rye an honorary doctorate in humane letters following its release.

After serving in the Marines in Iraq, Bosnia, and the Horn of Africa, Rye Barcott earned his MBA and MPA at Harvard as a Center for Public Leadership Social Entrepreneurship Fellow. Prior to founding With Honor, he co-founded and led the solar power investment firm Double Time Capital, and served as Special Advisor to the CEO of Duke Energy, where he started and led a clean energy skunkworks investment platform. Rye serves on the boards of the CFK Africa, the Global War on Terrorism Memorial Foundation, NDI, Veterans Bridge Home, and the U.S. Institute for Peace.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series, Rye. Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

I served in the Marine Corps from 2001 to 2006. It was the best experience I could have asked for. My father had served before that. Service unites you across demographic lines, across racial lines, and certainly across political lines. It instills in you a commitment to doing something that is larger than yourself. And so when I left the military, I felt like I lost a sense of purpose. I asked myself what was I serving that was going to move the needle and impact others? I went into the private sector for some time and was fortunate to build a company that was mission driven with a friend of mine, who then got motivated to run for office. When he was doing that, I said I want to help him, but I also want to help more veterans.

The polarization dysfunction in our Congress is at record levels. And what’s really interesting is when you look at the numbers, Congress used to be over 70% veterans across party lines, not too long ago. Now it is about 20%. When you look at voting records over that 50 year period of time, the veterans, as a group, voted in a more bipartisan fashion. And so that became part of the real thesis to my company, With Honor, which supports principle veterans who take our pledge to serve with integrity, civility, and courage. And then walk the walk. Once they are in office, they participate in the bipartisan For Country Caucus. They have real trust that exists across party lines. And to date, that group of veterans, which is now about 30 in the US House of Representatives, has passed over 79 laws. And so that was really the genesis and origin story of the work.

What are your “3 things I wish someone told me when I first started my career” and why?

Work with people that, when they tell you they will do something, they will follow through. If they cannot do it, they will look you in the eye and say, sorry, I can do that. And when you find it, hold onto that, that is a special thing.

The second thing is a great partner, somebody who will push you on your thinking. After each meeting, you’ll be able to look at each other and say, how can we do better? You’ll get real honest feedback. When you find that in somebody, do not take it for granted.

The third piece is communication. It is vitally important in order to drive impact. To drive change, especially social change,is not enough to just have a good idea. It’s not enough to just have funding. It’s not enough to just have a good team. You have to be able to communicate that mission and message, not only effectively, but also in a compelling way that can attract more folks that will support the mission and then help you amplify it.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are?

I think it is the ultimate advantage in life to be born to parents that love you. My father passed away, unfortunately, last year, but they surrounded me with that blanket of love. They challenged me. They pushed me to think critically, but most importantly, it was their love. So many people in the world don’t have that. My first social enterprise is called Carolina for Kibera, now CFK Africa, which works with young leaders in the informal settlements of Nairobi, Kenya. Kibera is one of the largest slum communities, and what you see there across the board are so many situations where kids either don’t have parents or a single parent family. Parents are just so stretched. So don’t take that for granted. Love your mom and dad and pay it forward.

Thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the main focus of our discussion. Can you describe how you are helping to bridge the partisan divide in the United States?

With Honor focuses on helping to recruit and train and then support to elect principled veterans who take our pledge to serve with integrity, civility, and courage, and run for Congress across party lines. Wes are mostly focused in the US House of Representatives. We do provide some support to veterans who take this pledge and run for state offices. One of the first ones that ran successfully was Governor Wes Moore, now the governor of Maryland who had served previously on our advisory board. Once they’re elected, the veterans reaffirm this pledge every two years. They participate in a caucus, the For Country Caucus that meets every two weeks. Congresswoman Chrissy Houlahan, an Air Force veteran, was here for our South by Southwest session and was a founding vice chair of that caucus. They make a commitment not to campaign against each. That group overall is the one that I refer to that passed over 79 laws in Congress.

Can you recommend three things the current political landscape would need to help promote a more inclusive society?

We need Americans who are politically independent to vote and be more civically engaged. Independents happen to be the largest and the fastest growing political movement. The number of independents has grown by almost 10% over the last 10 to 20 years. The challenge is that many of those independents do not vote, especially in primary elections. They need to still go vote and be active in primary elections. It matters. Voting is a crucial component of a healthy democracy.

The second piece is that we need more Americans who will actually get engaged and do more than vote. This is the United States of America. It offers more opportunities than anywhere else in the world, but we have to defend it. It can’t be taken for granted. We’re a relatively young experiment. So I think driving more civic education, driving more service opportunities is critically important to get right for the country. And that is one of the reasons why we’re pushing very hard this year for a civic education bill.

What is your favorite life lesson quote or book that has had a significant impact on your life?

The quote is from Colin Powell, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff who said, “Perpetual optimism is a force multiplier.” People want to follow people that have an optimistic look. Now you should still try to be a realist. But we’re moving forward, and that’s what the country is about. My father and mother instilled in me a real love for reading. A book that had a profound impact on me is called Matterhorn. It’s written by Karl Marlantes, who was a Marine infantry platoon commander in Vietnam.. He was rejected across the board by publishers for nearly 4 decades. He kept at it, chiseling away at every line. The book is a sledgehammer. It’s one of the only books I’ve read more than once in recent years.

Can you share with our readers how you have used your success to bring goodness to the world?

I’m now a parent, and my wife is a child psychologist and so in some ways I try to balance being a really good parent while building what I believe can be a transformative organization for the country

You have to be careful in any nonprofit work with burnout. I’ve now been with Carolina for Kibera — now CFK Africa — for over 20 years. I’ve been at With Honor for about five years. My advice to folks that are thinking about the path of social entrepreneurship is to make sure you have outlets where you can take care of yourself. Because you have to take care of yourself in order to also take care of others.

How can our readers find out more about your work and get involved?

Please check us out at and on Twitter @WithHonorAction.

This was a very meaningful interview, Rye. We wish you continued success. Thank you so much!


  • Savio Clemente

    Board Certified Wellness Coach (NBC-HWC, ACC), Media Journalist, #1 Best-selling Author, Podcaster, and Stage 3 Cancer Survivor

    The Human Resolve LLC

    Savio P. Clemente is a Board Certified Wellness Coach (NBC-HWC, ACC), media journalist, #1 best-selling author, podcaster, stage 3 cancer survivor, and founder of The Human Resolve LLCHe coaches cancer survivors and ambitious industry leaders to amplify their impact, attract media attention, and make their voice heard. He inspires them to get busy living in mind, body, and spirit and to cultivate resilience in their mindset.

    Savio has interviewed notable celebrities and TV personalities and has been invited to cover numerous industry events throughout the U.S. and abroad.  His mission is to provide clients, listeners, and viewers alike with tangible takeaways on how to lead a truly healthy, wealthy, and wise lifestyle.