Introducing Learning Life’s New Board of Advisors

Learning Life is pleased to present our inaugural Board of Advisors!  

For most of our existence since founding in 2012, Learning Life has been a fiscally-sponsored program of a larger nonprofit called United Charitable. This has allowed Learning Life to quickly change and experiment to develop our three programs: the Family Diplomacy InitiativeInternational Mentoring Program, and Democracy Dinners. Now, in 2021, we are in the process of forming our own independent nonprofit, and expanding our volunteer base, programming and fundraising. 

The new Board of Advisors (BOA) will advise Learning Life in specific matters of their expertise, such as communications, fundraising, program design, monitoring and evaluation.  In addition, BOA members will help as they can in making connections that facilitate partnerships and collaborations to help Learning Life advance its mission.  “We are honored and excited to be working with such connected, caring, and experienced advisors, and look forward to working with the BOA to strengthen and expand our operations and programming,” said Paul Lachelier, Learning Life’s founder and director.

The inaugural BOA members’ photos are shown below.  Learn more about each of them at Learning Life’s staff page.  Interested in serving on Learning Life’s BOA, or know someone who might be?  Check out our call for board members and/or share this page with someone you know who may be interested.  We are currently especially, though not exclusively, interested in identifying (1) a retired ambassador, (2) business executives in relevant industries like diplomacy, internet communications, social media, and online education in metro Washington DC and beyond, (3) communications, marketing and fundraising specialists, and (4) an attorney specializing in nonprofit law.  

 

Introducing Learning Life’s New Board of Directors

Learning Life is pleased to present our inaugural Board of Directors!

For most of our existence since founding in 2012, Learning Life has been a fiscally-sponsored program of a larger nonprofit called United Charitable. This has allowed Learning Life to quickly change and experiment to develop our three programs: the Family Diplomacy Initiative, International Mentoring Program, and Democracy Dinners. Now, in 2021, we are in the process of forming our own independent nonprofit, and expanding our volunteer base, programming and fundraising. “This year promises to be an exciting year of growth for Learning Life. We are blessed and honored to have a bright, skilled, connected and dedicated new Board of Directors to lead us forward,” said Paul Lachelier, Learning Life’s founder and director. Learn more about each of the Board members below.

Dandan Chen, Board Representative to Fundraising Team

Dandan Chen is an instructor and Ph.D. student in educational psychology, with a focus on large-scale assessment and survey, at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. With a master’s degree in international education policy from the George Washington University, Dandan has two years of work experience with international organizations, including UNESCO, the Education Commission and the World Bank Group, three years of research experience in academia, and stints across multiple sectors, including media, nonprofit management, and social entrepreneurship. She has worked in China, Uganda and the United States. Dandan envisions learning/education as a powerful means to societal change and an end in itself for humanity.

Khadija Hashemi, Treasurer

Khadija Hashemi is an experienced financial and accounting professional with 20+ years of demonstrated success in the nonprofit sector, and extensive experience managing U.S. Department of State Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA) project awards with over $50 million in grant value for World Learning. Khadija’s professional knowledge, skills and commitment to excellence ensures high-quality accounting management, timely reporting, contractual compliance with laws and regulation of U.S. government funded international exchange programs–all contributing to trustworthy relationships that World Learning has built as a reliable U.S. government partner.  Khadija’s personal belief is that peace and prosperity in the world is achievable through citizen and public diplomacy, fostering greater understanding, respect, common interests and ideals among people of different countries, cultures, and faiths throughout the world. As an immigrant herself who was born in Kabul, Afghanistan and moved to the United States after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, Khadija believes that meaningful cross-cultural communication will bring people from all parts of the world together. There is an old Afghan proverb that she believes sets a good standard for citizen diplomacy: “It takes two hands to clap.” Khadija lives in Herndon, Virginia with her husband Dr. Sayed B. Hashemi and their two children. In her spare time, Khadija likes reading, hiking, swimming, and spending quality time with her family and friends. One of her hobbies is international cuisine. Khadija wrote an Afghan cookbook which will be published in 2021. She holds a BA in economics from George Mason University (2005) and is certified by the Center for Public Management for completing OMB’s Circulars and Agencies’ Guidance training (2011). She speaks English, Farci, Urdu, and understands Turkish.    

Suzanne Lachelier, Secretary

Suzanne Lachelier has 30+ years of legal experience working in all three branches of government, with specialization in criminal justice and national security. She began her career as legal counsel to a subcommittee of the U.S. House Energy & Commerce Committee. She then served as a federal public defender, legal trainer, appellate attorney, and U.S. Navy Judge Advocate, developing expertise in criminal and military justice practice, including complex cases involving terrorism, RICO, wire fraud, drug conspiracies and immigration offenses. In her service with the U.S. Navy Reserves and as a French-American dual-national fluent in French, Suzanne has facilitated military justice diplomatic missions from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Mali to Washington, DC, and led rule-of-law trainings for military lawyers and soldiers in the DRC and Chad. Since 2008, Suzanne has served as Supervisory Defense Counsel on Guantanamo Bay capital cases, developing deep knowledge of the complexities of death penalty work as well as the U.S. national security apparatus around terrorism investigations. As a volunteer, Suzanne has served as a consultant for the American Bar Association’s International Legal Resource Center-U.N. Development Program, a guest lecturer at the Boston University and Thomas Jefferson Schools of Law, a Moot Court Judge at the George Washington University Law School, keynote speaker to the Florida Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, and a Learning Life mentor helping to open the world to girls from lower-income families. 

Nancy Overholt, Co-Chair

Nancy Overholt, Principal and CEO of Overholt International, is an expert in creating long-lasting impactful public diplomacy programs, and has 30+ years in international professional training. In her previous position at the Institute of International Education (IIE), her work focused on IIE’s high visibility public diplomacy programs: Department of State, Hubert H. Humphrey Fellowship Program and International Visitor Leadership Program; USAID and the US Department of Agriculture; and the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST).  Prior to joining IIE, Ms. Overholt designed and administered trend-setting programs for international professionals through appointments at the University of Pennsylvania and University of California, Santa Barbara. She is licensed to administer the Cultural Intelligence Certificate.

Linda Stuart, Co-Chair

Linda Stuart is the Head of Digital Education Innovation at AFS Intercultural Programs, Inc. She serves on the Board of Directors of the Building Bridges Coalition.  Linda most recently served as the Interim Executive Director of the International Volunteer Programs Association. She  is President of Alma, Inc. – a cross-cultural leadership development consultancy and previously was Global Citizens Network’s (GCN) Director (2005-2015), where she tripled the size of GCN and gained national recognition by National Geographic, The New York Times, Oprah, and USA Today as “One of the Best Family Volunteer Experiences.” She is a qualified administrator of the IDI, GCI, IES, and holds an executive coaching certificate from the Carlson School of Business at the University of Minnesota. Linda has an MA from the University of Chile, and a BA from Augsburg University.

Profile: Agi-Otto Family (Nigeria)

This is the latest in a series of profiles of some of the family diplomats (FDs), family diplomacy ambassadors (FDAs), and their families worldwide participating in Learning Life’s Family Diplomacy Initiative (FDI) on Facebook.  FDI connects families across lines of country, class, race and religion to share, learn and nurture a more caring, connected world. (Why family diplomacy?  Click here for five reasons. To learn more about the FD and FDA roles, click here.)  Below, FDA, Chirunim Agi-Otto, the oldest son in a family of six in Nigeria, answers our family profile questions.  We provide the questions and answers in English, Spanish and French.  

Este es el último de una serie de perfiles de algunos de los diplomáticos de familia (FDs), embajadores de diplomacia familiar (FDAs) y sus familias en todo el mundo que participan en la Iniciativa de diplomacia familiar (FDI) de Learning Life en Facebook. La FDI conecta a las familias a través de divisiones de país, clase, raza y religión para compartir, aprender y fomentar un mundo más solidario y conectado. (¿Por qué la diplomacia familiar? Haga clic aquí por cinco razones. Para obtener más información sobre las funciones de FD y FDA, haga clic aquí). A continuación, FDA, Chirunim Agi-Otto, el hijo mayor de una familia de seis en Nigeria, responde nuestras preguntas sobre el perfil familiar. Ofrecemos las preguntas y respuestas en inglés, español y francés.

Il s’agit du plus récent d’une série de profils de certains des diplomates de la famille (FD), des ambassadeurs de la diplomatie familiale (FDA) et de leurs familles dans le monde qui participent à l’Initiative de diplomatie familiale (FDI) de Learning Life sur Facebook. La FDI connecte les familles à travers les pays, classes, races et religions pour partager, apprendre et nourrir un monde plus attentionné et connecté. (Pourquoi la diplomatie familiale? Cliquez ici pour cinq raisons. Pour en savoir plus sur les rôles FD et FDA, cliquez ici.) Ci-dessous, FDA, Chirunim Agi-Otto, le fils aîné d’une famille de six au Nigéria, répond à nos questions sur le profil de la famille. Nous fournissons les questions et réponses en anglais, espagnol et français.

Tell us about your family, and what city and country you live in. / Cuéntanos sobre tu familia y en qué ciudad y país vives. / Veuillez nous parler de votre famille et de la ville et du pays dans lesquels vous vivez. 

We are a family of educationists. My father is a senior lecturer at the Department of Religious and Cultural studies, Faculty of Humanities, Ignatius Ajuru University of Education. My mother is an expert English teacher employed by the civil service of the Rivers State Government.

I have three siblings. My elder sister, Fortune, holds a bachelor’s degree in Home Economics and Hotel Management from Ignatius Ajuru University of Education. I am a final year student in the Department of Political Science, Faculty of Social Science at Ignatius Ajuru University of Education.  I have two younger siblings. Obuoma is a student of the Department of Human Physiology, College of Medical science, Rivers State University.  Etuoma is studying Petroleum Engineering at Rivers State University, Port-Harcourt.

We live in Port-Harcourt, the capital of Rivers State and the third most developed city in Nigeria.  My city is famous for producing global figures and it is why we are influential in Nigeria. Port-Harcourt has an International airport, a seaport, and houses a large number of foreign companies like Total, Shell and Agip.

Somos una familia de educadores. Mi padre es profesor titular del Departamento de Estudios Religiosos y Culturales de la Facultad de Humanidades de la Universidad de Educación Ignatius Ajuru. Mi madre es una experta profesora de inglés empleada por la administración pública del gobierno del estado de Rivers.

Tengo tres hermanos. Mi hermana mayor, Fortune, tiene una licenciatura en Economía Doméstica y Gestión Hotelera de la Universidad de Educación Ignatius Ajuru. Soy estudiante de último año en el Departamento de Ciencias Políticas de la Facultad de Ciencias Sociales de la Universidad de Educación Ignatius Ajuru. Tengo dos hermanos menores. Obuoma es estudiante del Departamento de Fisiología Humana de la Facultad de Ciencias Médicas de la Universidad Estatal de Rivers. Etuoma está estudiando Ingeniería Petrolera en la Rivers State University, Port-Harcourt.

Vivimos en Port-Harcourt, la capital del estado de Rivers y la tercera ciudad más desarrollada de Nigeria. Mi ciudad es famosa por producir líderes globales y es por eso que somos influyentes en Nigeria. Port-Harcourt tiene un aeropuerto internacional, un puerto marítimo y alberga una gran cantidad de empresas extranjeras como Total, Shell y Agip.

Nous sommes une famille d’éducateurs. Mon père est maître de conférences au Département des études religieuses et culturelles, Faculté des sciences humaines, Université d’éducation Ignatius Ajuru. Ma mère est professeur d’anglais expert employé par la fonction publique du gouvernement de l’État de Rivers.

J’ai trois frères et soeurs. Ma sœur aînée, Fortune, est titulaire d’une licence en économie domestique et gestion hôtelière de l’Université d’éducation Ignatius Ajuru. Je suis étudiant en dernière année au Département de science politique, Faculté des sciences sociales de l’Université Ignatius Ajuru. J’ai deux frères et sœurs plus jeunes. Obuoma est étudiant au Département de physiologie humaine, College of Medical Science, Rivers State University. Etuoma étudie l’ingénierie pétrolier à la Rivers State University, à Port-Harcourt.

Nous vivons à Port-Harcourt, la capitale de l’État de Rivers et la troisième ville la plus développée du Nigéria. Ma ville est célèbre pour produire des dirigeants mondiaux et c’est pourquoi nous sommes influents au Nigéria. Port-Harcourt possède un aéroport international, un port maritime et abrite un grand nombre d’entreprises étrangères comme Total, Shell et Agip.

Tell us one interesting thing about your family. / Cuéntanos algo interesante sobre tu familia. / Dites-nous une chose intéressante à propos de votre famille. 

My family is very ambitious. As little children every one of us was creating designs to be CEO.  It is in our genes from my Father.  He is visually impaired, mastered Braille in six months because he wanted to go back to school, and finally he created a good world for us because of his level of ambition. So, he made it clear to us that we must build on that.

Mi familia es muy ambiciosa. Cuando éramos pequeños, cada uno de nosotros estaba creando diseños para ser CEO. Está en nuestros genes de mi Padre. Él tiene una discapacidad visual, dominó el Braille en seis meses porque quería volver a la escuela, y finalmente creó un buen mundo para nosotros debido a su nivel de ambición. Así que nos dejó claro que debemos construir sobre eso.

Ma famille est très ambitieuse. En tant que petits enfants, chacun de nous créait des designs pour devenir PDG. C’est dans nos gènes de mon Père. Il a une déficience visuelle, a maîtrisé le Braille en six mois parce qu’il voulait retourner à l’école, et finalement il a créé un monde bon pour nous en raison de son niveau d’ambition. Il nous a donc fait comprendre que nous devons bâtir sur cela.

What language(s) does your family speak at home? / ¿Qué idioma(s) habla tu familia en casa? / Quelle(s) langue(s) votre famille parle-t-elle à la maison? 

Ogba language. My Father advocates that Africans should be Africans at home, and language is part of that. But all of us are also fluent in English.

Lengua Ogba. Mi padre aboga por que los africanos sean africanos en casa, y el idioma es parte de eso. Pero todos también hablamos inglés con fluidez.

Langue Ogba. Mon père plaide pour que les Africains soient des Africains à la maison, et la langue en fait partie. Mais nous parlons tous couramment l’anglais.

What do you think is the biggest problem the world is facing in the long-term? / ¿Cuál crees es el mayor problema que enfrenta el mundo a largo plazo? / Selon vous, quel est le plus gros problème auquel le monde est confronté à long terme? 

I consider terrorism to be the biggest problem the world is facing in the long term. I used to think the only place where terrorism happens is in America, until over 50 persons were shot in the Omoku massacre of New Year’s Day in 2017. Omoku is the town where I grew up.  It is a college town in River State, Nigeria. That event in 2017 explained to me in good detail how a person in Omoku and Port-Harcourt is just as unsafe as someone in London, or New York.

Considero que el terrorismo es el mayor problema al que se enfrenta el mundo a largo plazo. Solía ​​pensar que el único lugar donde ocurre el terrorismo es en Estados Unidos, hasta que más de 50 personas fueron asesinadas en la masacre de Omoku el día de Año Nuevo en 2017. Omoku es la ciudad donde crecí. Es una ciudad universitaria en River State, Nigeria. Ese evento en 2017 me explicó en gran detalle cómo una persona en Omoku y Port-Harcourt es tan insegura como alguien en Londres o Nueva York.

Je considère le terrorisme comme le plus gros problème auquel le monde est confronté à long terme. Je pensais que le seul endroit où le terrorisme se produisait était en Amérique, jusqu’à ce que plus de 50 personnes soient abattues lors du massacre d’Omoku du jour de l’An en 2017. Omoku est la ville où j’ai grandi. C’est une ville universitaire de River State, au Nigeria. Cet événement de 2017 m’a expliqué en détail comment une personne à Omoku et à Port-Harcourt est tout aussi peu sûr qu’une personne à Londres ou à New York.

What do you think is the biggest problem your country is facing in the long-term? / ¿Cuál crees es el mayor problema que enfrenta tu país a largo plazo? / Selon vous, quel est le plus gros problème auquel votre pays est confronté à long terme? 

The biggest problem Nigeria is facing is corruption. There is a lack of progressive leadership in the government and elsewhere, and so it creates a culture where we have plenty, but still not enough to satisfy us. Government officials earn big salaries, but they still find time to divert funds meant for public projects to their own pockets.  University professors are well-to-do, but they still find time to exploit students financially and sexually, in exchange for good grades. Religious leaders strive to get rich through the gospel, and so the system passes the message to the youth to get money at all cost, even if your integrity is at stake.  In Nigeria, everyone grows just like Oliver Twist, always wanting more.

El mayor problema al que se enfrenta Nigeria es la corrupción. Hay una falta de liderazgo progresista en el gobierno y en otros lugares, por lo que crea una cultura en la que tenemos mucho, pero aún no lo suficiente para satisfacernos. Los funcionarios del gobierno ganan grandes sueldos, pero aún encuentran tiempo para desviar fondos destinados a proyectos públicos a sus propios bolsillos. Los profesores universitarios son acomodados, pero todavía encuentran tiempo para explotar a los estudiantes económicamente y sexualmente, a cambio de buenas notas. Los líderes religiosos se esfuerzan por enriquecerse a través del evangelio, por lo que el sistema transmite el mensaje a los jóvenes para que obtengan dinero a toda costa, incluso si su integridad está en juego. En Nigeria, todos crecen como Oliver Twist, siempre queriendo más.

Le plus gros problème auquel le Nigéria est confronté est la corruption. Il y a un manque de leadership progressiste au gouvernement et ailleurs, ce qui crée une culture où nous en avons beaucoup, mais pas encore assez pour nous satisfaire. Les fonctionnaires du gouvernement gagnent de gros salaires, mais ils trouvent encore le temps de détourner les fonds destinés à des projets publics dans leurs propres poches. Les professeurs d’université sont aisés, mais ils trouvent encore le temps d’exploiter les étudiants financièrement et sexuellement, en échange de bonnes notes. Les chefs religieux s’efforcent de s’enrichir grâce à l’évangile, et ainsi le système transmet le message aux jeunes pour qu’ils obtiennent de l’argent à tout prix, même si votre intégrité est en jeu. Au Nigeria, tout le monde grandit comme Oliver Twist, en voulant toujours plus.

Anything you would like to say to other families in the world? / ¿Algo que le gustaría decir a otras familias en el mundo? / Quelque chose que vous aimeriez dire à d’autres familles dans le monde? 

Yes.  Obodoegbulam Agi-Otto’s family: you will see us often, but remember you saw us first at Learning Life.

Si. Familia de Obodoegbulam Agi-Otto: nos verá a menudo, pero recuerde que nos vio por primera vez en Learning Life.

Oui. Famille d’Obodoegbulam Agi-Otto: vous nous verrez souvent, mais rappelez-vous que vous nous avez vus pour la première fois à Learning Life.

What Happened in 2020, and What’s Coming in 2021

The Covid Pandemic shut down much of public life across the globe for most of 2020, but it didn’t shut down Learning Life. Indeed, from quadrupling membership in our Family Diplomacy Initiative on Facebook, to achieving our largest scale world learning project yet with participants from 35+ nations, to releasing three new videos about us and four new video silent stories featuring an international cast, to logging over 250 mentor-mentee meetings and completing ten Democracy Dinners with 94 participants, 2020 was a very active year for Learning Life! This annual report lays out what we did in 2020 via each of our three programs — the Family Diplomacy Initiative, International Mentoring Program, and Democracy Dinners — and what’s planned in 2021. I conclude with thanks to a lot of volunteers who were instrumental in making 2020 a year of growth and success.

Family Diplomacy Initiative

Learning Life’s core mission is to innovate education and citizen engagement by spreading learning in everyday life beyond school walls. In our increasingly interconnected yet divided world, we develop innovative learning communities in order to widen access to world affairs, and nurture more caring, capable and connected global citizens.

Learning Life’s flagship program, the Family Diplomacy Initiative or FDI, connects families worldwide across lines of country, class, race and religion via the internet to share and learn together for a more caring world.  After completing two pilot international learning projects with lower-income families in the USA, El Salvador, Senegal and Jordan in 2017-2019 that yielded modest to significant improvements in interest and knowledge of international relations, comfort with difference, warmth toward foreign populations, and more (see Project 1 results, and Project 2 results for details), Learning Life carried out a third project focused on world food culture. From April to December 2020, the project engaged 60+ participants — adult children, parents and grandparents — in over 35 countries across the globe via our FDI Facebook Group. Through the project, participants shared photos and text explanations via the Facebook Group in answer to six questions we posed at 1-2 month intervals:

April: What does a typical breakfast look like in your family?

May: What does a typical dinner look like in your family?

July:What is a food trend happening in your country?  A food trend is any new and popular food or way of eating.

August: What is a “comfort food” (food that your family finds comforting to eat) that your family often eats?

September: What is a food people eat in your country that you think foreigners may consider odd or unusual?

October: What is a holiday your family celebrates, and what is a dish your family likes to make or buy for that holiday?

The project included a live international dialogue on November 15 via Zoom involving participants from nine nations in discussion on some preliminary food culture findings. You can view a video excerpt from the discussion.

Screenshot from the November 15 international dialogue

Two research reports are issuing from this project. The second report, focused on the participants’ food culture posts, is forthcoming in January 2021. The first report, focused on the impact of the project on participants, yielded (1) a negligible 1% increase in interest in international relations among respondents already highly interested, but a more significant (2) 7% decrease in feelings of national superiority and discomfort with cultural difference, (3) 5-9% increase in warmth toward Jews, Christians, Europeans, legal immigrants, illegal or undocumented immigrants, and (4) a 43% rise in the average coldest feelings toward foreign groups. We were also encouraged that 81% of project participants were definitely interested in continuing to engage with FDI, and 77% were definitely interested in participating in our 2021 dialogue project (more on that below). Read the complete first 2020 project report, including photos, for further details.  We also produced two free, colorful e-books, one featuring the 2020 project participants and their families, the other showcasing some of their answers to each of the six food culture questions we posed.  Thanks to volunteer Olivia Chavez for working patiently with me to produce these two e-books!   

2020 Food Culture Project e-Book 1

In addition, we are proud to have designed and completed four video silent stories about international issues with a global cast of Learning Life volunteers. Learning Life staff and volunteers began developing video silent short stories to creatively and collaboratively engage our youth and families in learning about international issues in 2019.  In the fall of 2019, we produced our first four video silent stories on international issues of poverty, labor and consumption, gender inequality, and school work featuring Learning Life mentors and mentees as the actors in the stories.

While the 2019 stories were recorded in-person in metro DC, our second four video silent stories, released in August 2020, were recorded online via Zoom with volunteer actors, most under the age of 18, from Australia, India, El Salvador and the USA.  Given the Covid Pandemic, the 2020 videos focus on widespread international health issues, including communicable diseases like Covid as well as diabetes, heart disease, and water scarcity and pollution. Thanks to Learning Life summer interns Ella Fasciano, Allison Miller, Emily Krisanda and Angeline Fry for resourcefully working as a team with me on these four videos.

Scene from “Sweet Moves” Video Silent Story

Also, we launchd a “We Are Family Diplomats” Poster Series (see below for one of the posters) to allow FDI participants and their families to publicly explain why they identify as family diplomats.

Lastly, we were also happy that our FDI Facebook Group quadrupled in size from 400+ to 1,600+ members from January to December, thanks in large part to our student interns’ outreach to people worldwide via Facebook and Linkedin.

International Mentoring Program

Established in 2018, Learning Life’s International Mentoring Program helps open the world to children from lower-income families through conversations and learning experiences with caring mentors online and in-person.  The Covid Pandemic forced us to meet mostly online or by phone, though some mentors have returned to meeting in-person with their mentees, at theirs and their mentees and parents discretion, while practicing standard Covid safety measures like wearing masks, social distancing and meeting mostly outdoors. In 2020, despite the pandemic, our mentors — currently 19 of them, down from 25 prior to the pandemic —  logged a healthy total of 273 in-person and/or online meetings with their mentees in Washington DC and San Salvador, El Salvador. (Learning Life collaborates with the Salvadoran nonprofit, FUSALMO, to recruit mentees from eligible lower-income Salvadoran families.)  Online or in-person, our mentors and mentees cooked and ate foreign foods together, interacted with foreign students, practiced foreign dances and sports, studied world desserts to world trade to drones, explored world geography and culture online and in libraries and museums, and more.  Some of our mentors and their mentees are featured below.

The Democracy Dinners

Our Democracy Dinners bring together metro Washington DC academics, professionals, elected officials and activists to talk about democracy’s local to global challenges and opportunities amidst authoritarian resurgence, with an eye to building a regional learning community around democracy. Like our Mentoring Program, the Covid Pandemic forced our Democracy Dinners online to Zoom, though we are pleased to have nonetheless completed ten Dinners in 2020 with 94 participants, including some repeat attendees.  

I have attended and moderated all 17 Dinners since we launched them in June 2019, and the conversations have tended to focus on American democracy even when several participants at any given Dinner do foreign or cross-national democracy work.  Whatever the focus though, the conversations have proved stimulating to all participants, per written feedback we have received.  In August 2019, we began requesting that Dinner participants fill out a feedback survey, and 73 have done so thus far.  Asked to rate their Dinner on a 10-point scale, those 73 respondents have on average rated their Dinner an 8.3.  In open-ended feedback, participants most frequently said they enjoyed meeting and engaging in thoughtful conversation with new and diverse people engaged in democracy issues, local to global.  They also generally enjoyed the smaller groups (typically 9-12 people per Dinner), but sought more diversity, especially by race (82% of respondents defined themselves as White, 13% Asian, 9% Black, 4% Native American or other Pacific Islander), plus more time to discuss democracy’s challenges, and less on personal introductions. 

Lastly, in September, we established a Democracy Dinner Group on Linkedin to help connect our Dinner participants and interested others between the bi-monthly Dinners, and to allow Group members to share their democracy-related calls to action, publications, events, news, programs, and projects. 

Photos from many of our 2020 Democracy Dinners follow below. 

Lastly, before I discuss our plans for 2021, I am pleased to report that during the summer we produced three new videos that respectively explain Learning Life, our Family Diplomacy Initiative, and the International Mentoring Program.  You can click on each of the preceding linked names to view the three new videos.  Thanks to Learning Life summer intern Ella Fasciano for ably and patiently working with me to produce these videos! 

Our 2020 Planning & Plans for 2021

In summer and fall 2020, I convened a Learning Life planning group of experienced professionals to help shape our plans for 2021 and beyond, and to help recruit a Board of Directors.  From Learning Life’s inception in 2012 to 2019, Learning Life was a fiscally sponsored program of United Charitable, a national nonprofit based in Tysons, Virginia that among other things helps incubate new nonprofits.  The somewhat misleading term “fiscal sponsor” did not mean United Charitable financially supported Learning Life, but rather that we paid them fees to take care of administrative burdens while we experimented and developed our programs. Thanks in part to our long, patient work and the planning group’s guidance, Learning Life is now poised to establish our own independent nonprofit, and we are excited for the year to come. 

Over the last several months, with the planning group’s help, we identified five caring, connected, smart and experienced professionals who will constitute Learning Life’s inaugural Board of Directors (BOD): Dandan Chen, Khadija Hashemi, Suzanne Lachelier (my sister), Nancy Overholt, and Linda Stuart (thanks especially to planning group members, Michael Deal and Liudmila Mikhailova for their help in identifying three of our five BOD members!).  We may add more individuals to the BOD over the course of 2021, but following prevailing wisdom in nonprofit development, we are starting with a manageably small Board.  Importantly, the BOD will help chart the course of Learning Life in 2021, planning, strategizing, systematizing, connecting, and fundraising.     

Alongside the BOD, I have been busy over the last several months recruiting members of a larger and Board of Advisors (BOA).  As of this writing, I have identified 16 BOA members, with plans for a total of up to 30 advisors.  These individuals are smart, experienced, connected professionals in diverse, relevant fields, like education, diplomacy, law, business, government, and media.  In groups and individually, BOA members will advise Learning Life on strategy, marketing, fundraising, partnerships, program design, evaluation, and more over the course of 2021 and beyond.  A page of bios and photos featuring our staff, BOD and BOA members is coming by early February.    

Learning Life 2020 Planning Group

Our plans for 2021 will evolve as the BOD and BOA begin to meet, but for now, here is some of what we have planned for the new year:

  1. Learning Life: The BOD will work with Learning Life staff to systematize administration, shape the design, implementation and evaluation of our programs, establish fruitful partnerships, and develop our fundraising capacity.  Accordingly, a fundraising team will begin meeting weekly in January to, among other things, plan our first fundraising event in fall 2021.
  2. Family Diplomacy Initiative: We are forming an international team of Family Diplomacy Ambassadors (FDAs) to help grow our FDI Facebook Group’s membership, and recruit Family Diplomats worldwide to participate in our 2021 FDI project.  Following on the 2020 food culture project, our 2021 project will focus on the question “how can we have safe, healthy families worldwide?”  In June to November, we will hold a series of six live international dialogues, one per month, to learn about and discuss different facets of this question. Read more about our 2021 FDI project
  3. International Mentoring Program: Over the next couple of years, we plan to integrate FDI and the Mentoring Program so a group of motivated youth from across the globe will become Young Ambassadors for Family Diplomacy.  One of the first steps in this direction this year will be to encourage some of our most mature and motivated current mentees to participate in the 2021 FDI project as Family Diplomats.  In addition, we will develop our program evaluation to more systematically track the impact of our mentoring. 
  4. Democracy Dinners: The Dinners will continue online every two months in 2021, starting in late January.  We will not return to in-person Dinners because online meetings are less expensive and hectic given the Washington DC area’s terrible rush hour traffic in normal times, and because we can accommodate more than eight participants online without worrying about participants hearing each other, or breaking into smaller conversation groups as might happen in restaurant.  However, we plan one in-person meeting of Democracy Dinner participants to coincide with the fall 2021 fundraiser, if the Pandemic has sufficiently subsided by then.  In future years, we also plan on having in-person networking and collaboration meetings to deepen our regional democracy learning community, and to foster cooperation in metro DC’s large but siloed democracy sector.            
“We Are Family Diplomats” Poster Series

Five Ways You Can Help

As we enter 2021, here are five ways you can get involved and help Learning Life grow:

1) Stay tuned to Learning Life developments by following our FacebookLinkedin, or Twitter pages, and sign up for our monthly email news dispatches.

2) Get involved in our Family Diplomacy Initiative: If you are on Facebook, join FDI, and share the group with your friends and family who may be interested as we continue to grow the Initiative in 2021.  Also, become a Family Diplomat, or apply to become a Family Diplomacy Ambassador.  Details here.      

3) Become a Learning Life mentor: If you or someone you know would be interested in opening the world to a child in Washington DC or abroad, please read our mentoring page for more information, then send us your resume at email@learninglife.info.

4) Become a Learning Life donor: Contact us at email@learninglife.info to let us know you would like to donate to support Learning Life’s work in 2021, and we will let you know when we have set up our account to receive donations. 

5) Shop through iGive.com, and help fund Learning Life free. Shop more than 1,400 stores (Apple, Best Buy, Crate & Barrel, The Gap, KMart, Nordstrom, Sephora, Staples, Starbucks, Target, T-Mobile, Walgreens, and many more) through iGive, and if you make Learning Life your preferred charity, a percentage of your purchase will be donated to Learning Life at no cost to you.

Acknowledgements

Last but most importantly, we would like to thank the many volunteers and interns who were essential to our growth and success in 2020, including:

Our mentors: Marley Henschen, Cullan Riser, Marissa Hall, Paul Lachelier, Suzanne Lachelier, Kit Young, Josie Fazzino, Sherry Liu, Annika Betancourt, Brenda Lopez, Cassie Dick, Ciandra Gaston, Denis Chazelle, James Wholley, Janae Washington, Elle Lu, Ronda Capeles, Ciandra Gaston, Desmond Jordan, Alexia Vega, Marcia Anglarill, Yesica Sorto-Argueta, Marvin Fan, Yves Taylor-Potts, Amanda Matus, and Matt Nelson.

Our interns and program volunteers: Nima Majidi, Solana Gibson, Karmen Perry, Anna Hermann, Ariana Sierra-Chacon, Ishita Gupta, Estelle Brun, Diana Mubarak, Emma Bomfim, Hannah Trauberman, Samantha Giuntini, Shuwen Wang, Clara Geci, Angeline Fry, Allison Miller, Ella Fasciano, Alexia Vega, Maggi Chambers, Max Lieblich, Nikki Espinal, Noelle Curtis, Olivia Chavez, Yasmine Ezzekmi, and Sarah Leser.

Our planning group: Michael Deal, Liudmila Mikhailova, Darrell Irwin, Kelly Pemberton and Robert Bacon. 

My apologies if I missed anyone, and if I did, please let us know their name(s) at email@learninglife.info so that I may acknowledge them here!

Thank you all for your support!  Here’s to a happier, healthier, more caring and connected New Year 2021!   

Paul Lachelier, Ph.D.
Founder & Director, Learning Life

*All the percentages in this annual report are rounded to the nearest whole number.