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.


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.

Free e-Books on World Food Cultures & Families!

Learning Life is pleased to share two free, colorful e-books resulting from our 2020 food culture project. The project engaged participants from 25+ countries across the world in sharing and learning about their families’ and countries’ food cultures. You can watch a short video introduction to the project below, see some of the participants’ responses to the six food culture questions we posed (e-Book 1), and/or learn about the participants and their families (e-Book 2). Enjoy!

Thanks to Learning Life volunteers Olivia Chavez and Alexia Vega for respectively creating the e-books and video introduction.

This project was part of Learning Life’s Family Diplomacy Initiative (FDI). 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. You can join FDI on Facebook to connect and share with a growing number of families across the globe.

e-Book 1
e-Book 2

2020 Food Project Impact Report

Learning Life is pleased to release the impact survey results of our 2020 international food culture project.  The project, part of our flagship program, the Family Diplomacy Initiative (FDI), ran from April to December 2020, engaged over 60 people in 35+ nations across the world, and yielded considerable improvements in surveyed participants’ warmth toward foreign populations as well reductions in feelings of national superiority and discomfort with cultural differences. These results offer modest but promising counters to the resurgent nationalism and xenophobia in a number of nations worldwide as we move to expand FDI in 2021. 


Since August 2016, through FDI, Learning Life has engaged families in different countries in learning together online with an eye to democratizing diplomacy and developing a family form of citizen diplomacy for a more caring world.  In August 2017, we completed a community photo project which engaged 24 participants from eight lower-income families in Washington DC, USA, San Salvador, El Salvador, and Dakar, Senegal.  The family participants took photos of their respective communities to share and discuss online to learn about community differences and social change, culminating in an international photo album and a project report published in the professional journal, Childhood Education.

In 2018, Learning Life collaborated with the Georgetown University School of Medicine’s Community Health Division on two supplemental qualitative studies that compared the food culture of lower-income families in Washington DC, USA, San Salvador, El Salvador, and Dakar, Senegal.  Those studies showed that richer is not necessarily better: while the Salvadorans and Senegalese families live in poorer countries, their diets tend to be healthier, containing more home-cooked meals made with whole foods (click here and here for details on these studies).

In October 2018 to May 2019, we carried out our second project, which, following on the above-mentioned 2018 studies, focused on improving participants’ knowledge of food culture and nutrition.  In addition, participants answered questions about their interest in world affairs plus their tolerance for cultural differences and feelings of national superiority in the same survey completed before and after the project.  Twenty-four participants from eight families in Washington DC, USA, San Salvador, El Salvador, and Dakar, Senegal, all with household annual income below their nation’s median, participated in the project. The project resulted in a 7% increase in participants’ interest in world affairs and engaging foreigners, a 9% decrease in nationalism and intolerance, and a 23% average improvement in their knowledge of food culture and nutrition*. Click here for the full project impact details.

Starting in summer 2019, Learning Life began scaling up FDI on Facebook.  By December 2020, we had doubled the number of members of our FDI Facebook Group from about 200 to 400+. By late August 2020 the group had doubled again to 800+, and by mid-December to 1,600. Not only has the pace of FDI growth thus accelerated, but the group has gone from majority American, to majority from other countries across the globe.  As FDI grew in 2020, we launched a third, larger-scale project in April. The details and results of that project follow.

Project & Survey Details

In February this year, Learning Life announced our second food culture project. Food is vital to human life, interests many people worldwide, constitutes an accessible way to share and learn with others across lines of difference, and connects to culture, politics, economics, the environment and more in informative ways. We thus reasoned that exploring world “food culture” — that is, how people gather, prepare, eat food and dispose of food waste, and more precisely for our project this year, what families eat and the food culture they perceive in their country — would be a good topic for a scalable project fully implemented online through our FDI Facebook Group in 2020.

From April through October, we posted the following six questions to the Facebook Group, and invited Group members to answer, though we focused our efforts on a subset of recruited members who agreed to answer all six questions:

  1. April: What does a typical breakfast look like in your family?
  2. May: What does a typical dinner look like in your family?
  3. July:What is a food trend happening in your country?  A food trend is any new and popular food or way of eating.
  4. August: What is a “comfort food” (food that your family finds comforting to eat) that your family often eats?
  5. September: What is a food people eat in your country that you think foreigners may consider odd or unusual?
  6. October: What is a holiday your family celebrates, and what is a dish your family likes to make or buy for that holiday?

With each question, posted to the FDI Facebook group about 1.5 months apart, participants were asked to share one or more photos, plus text explanation of the ingredients in the food photos they presented.  To encourage submissions, we allowed participants to upload internet photos if they did not have photos of their own, though preference was given to the latter.  Participants were also able to read and engage with each other’s posts, commenting and asking questions, and some did just that.  (We estimate about 20% engaged with fellow participants’ posts, though we did not do a precise count.)  On November 15, we held a culminating live dialogue via Zoom with 22 participants and volunteers to discuss the project’s preliminary findings (click here for more about that dialogue, including photos and a video segment). A separate Learning Life report analyzing the participants’ food culture posts is forthcoming in January 2021.   

To assess the project’s impact, trained Learning Life volunteers and interns endeavored to conduct a “pre-survey” and a “post-survey” with each of the participants before (pre) and after (post) they engaged in the project.  Our pre- and post-surveys, conducted online via Facebook, Whatsapp or Zoom mostly in February-April and December, respectively, posed fifteen questions about respondent demographics and behavior (city, country, age, gender, marital status, family role, education, occupation, and frequency of contact with people in other countries), plus our factors or “dependent variables” of interest. While food was the vehicle for sharing and conversation, our focus in this impact study was not what participants learned about food culture worldwide, but rather a set of variables of central concern to FDI and to those who wish to promote international peace, understanding and cooperation: interest in world learning and citizen diplomacy, (lessened sense of) national superiority, comfort with cultural difference, and warmth toward foreign populations.  The post-survey, in addition, asked respondents what they liked about Learning Life, think can be improved, and how interested they are in participating in future FDI activities.

About the Survey Participants

Starting in February, via Facebook, Linkedin, email and our own social networks, we invited 1,000+ diverse people by country and occupation to participate in the project.  We identified 71 individuals in 37 nations who expressed interest in participating in the project.  Of these 71, 66 completed the pre-survey.  Of those 66, 22 failed to answer any of the questions, 8 answered one or more of the questions but did not complete the post-survey, and the rest – 36 – completed both the pre- and post-surveys.  Those 36 respondents’ pre- and post-survey answers are compared below in aggregate.  The other 30 who completed only the pre-survey are excluded in order to ensure an apples-to-apples comparison between the pre-survey and post-survey respondents.

Of the 36 individuals who completed both the pre- and post-survey, 25 responded to all six questions, 4 responded to five of the six questions, 1 responded to four questions, 3 to three questions, and 3 to two questions, for an average of 5.3 out of 6 questions answered per participant.

Demographics: At their pre-survey time, these 36 participants were mostly parents (20 of them) and older children (11), but there were also two grandparents, one aunt, and two who defined themselves as “other.” Twenty-three were women, thirteen men.  In age, the youngest was 23, the oldest 74.  Seven were in their 20s, 12 in their 30s, 10 in their 40s, 5 in their 50s, 1 in their 60s, 1 in their 70s, with the median age being 39.  Eighteen were married, fifteen single, and three divorced.  In terms of formal education, two were high school graduates, two had some university education but no degree, fourteen completed a bachelor’s or an equivalent university degree, sixteen a master’s or professional degree, and two a Ph.D.  Their occupational status ranged from unemployed, school crossing guard, seamstress and chauffeur, to government executive staffer, school vice-principal, university professor, but nearly half (17) were in education, whether as students, teachers/professors, or administrators. 

The 36 participants live in 25 countries worldwide. These countries, in alphabetic order, are: Australia (1), Belgium (1), Benin (1), Brazil (1), Burundi (1), Cameroon (1), Chile (1), China (2), Ecuador (2), Egypt (1), El Salvador (1), France (2), Haiti (1), India (1), Iran (1), Italy (1), Nepal (1), Pakistan (1), Palestine (1), Philippines (1), Senegal (2), Thailand (1), Turkey (1), United Arab Emirates (1), USA (8). Reflecting migration and globalization, it is worth noting that eight of the participants are not living in their native country, but answered the food culture questions with regard to their native country’s cuisine. Three of these eight are living in the USA but from China or Tunisia, one lives in Ecuador but is from Venezuela, one is in Belgium but from Ethiopia, one in Egypt from Jordan, one in Turkey from Pakistan, and one in UAE from Italy. Another one is an American living in Thailand, and in contrast with the eight others living abroad, focused his answers on his adopted country’s cuisine.

Where participants are located worldwide

About a dozen other people from other countries, including the USA, United Kingdom, North Macedonia, Nigeria and Egypt, participated in the project, answering one to six of the questions, and contributing to the food culture dialogue in our FDI Facebook Group, but were not surveyed since they joined too late or did not respond to our survey solicitations.

Engagement with world affairs and people abroad: In the pre-survey, most participants communicated often with people they knew abroad: nine every day, ten a few times per week, five every week, four every month, five 1-6 times per year, and three did not have any family, friends or acquaintances abroad.  When asked how much they engaged with world affairs – consuming world news or talking about foreign affairs, participating in and donating to international groups or causes – respondents generally reported high engagement, especially in consuming and talking world affairs, less so in participating and donating.  These high-engagement patterns held in the post-survey as well.    

Thus, our 36 participants overall tilted female, high in education and engagement with world affairs and people abroad, and were diverse in age and country. Now that we have discussed the demographic and behavioral characteristics of our respondents, let us turn to the pre- and post-survey comparisons that help us assess the impact of the food culture project on our respondents.

Jeannot Diouf and members of his family in Dakar, Senegal

Survey Results: Interest in World Learning and Citizen Diplomacy

We asked participants to rate their interest in learning about foreign affairs and families, and engaging in citizen diplomacy as follows:

“On a scale from 1 to 10 (1 being least, 10 being most), how interested are you in the following”

  1. Pre: 9.14 / Post: 9.31 (+2%*)  Learning about things outside your country
  2. Pre: 8.75 / Post: 8.75 (+0%)  Learning about families in different countries
  3. Pre: 8.61 / Post: 8.72 (+1%)  Engaging in citizen diplomacy, that is efforts to strengthen relations between countries through citizen-to-citizen dialogue and collaboration

Thus, respondents on average reported slightly more interest in the first and third in the post survey.  The average for all three statements was 8.83 in the pre-survey versus 8.93 in the post-survey, representing a 1% average increase in interest overall.  Clearly, participants self-selected into the project and were highly interested prior.  The project did not change their interest.  Indeed, as the project feedback section below will reveal, participants are generally eager to continue with FDI.  

Survey Results: Discomfort with Difference & Feelings of National Superiority 

We asked participants to respond to five statements, the first three measuring their comfort with those who are culturally different or foreign, the fourth and fifth gauging perception of their country’s superiority.  Here are the results:

“Please indicate how much you agree or disagree with each statement below, on a scale from strongly disagree to strongly agree. There are no right or wrong answers. Just answer quickly the way you feel.”

  1. Pre: 2.19 / Post: 1.83 (-16%) “People who look and act differently from me make me uncomfortable.”
  2. Pre: 2.78 / Post: 2.47 (-11%)  “I prefer to live in a community of people who are like me than people who are unlike me.”
  3. Pre: 1.81 / Post: 1.69 (-7%)  “Foreigners who come to live in my country more often cause trouble than do good.”
  4. Pre: 2.89 / Post: 2.97 (+3)  “My country is probably the best country on Earth.”
  5. Pre: 2.92 / Post: 2.8 (-4%)  “Most people would be happier if they lived as we do in my country.”

Note that in this question, the lower the number, the more comfortable with difference and the less superior respondents feel about their country.  Thus, on all but one of the five statements, respondents on average exhibited more comfort with difference, and less sense of national superiority in the post-survey.  The overall average for all five statements was 2.52 in the pre-survey versus 2.35 in the post-survey, or a 7% decrease in feelings of national superiority and discomfort with cultural difference.

Survey Results: Warmth toward Foreign Groups

The following “feeling thermometer” question is intended to measure respondents’ extent of warm or cold feelings toward a variety of salient groups in the world.  The percentages below are means/averages for all the respondents in the pre-survey versus the post-survey, with changes up or down recorded in raw number and percentages in parentheses. Those highlighted experienced warmth increases of 5% or more. (Note: There were 36 respondents to this question in the pre-survey, 35 in the post-survey.)

“For each of the following groups, please choose any number between 0 and 100 to describe how cold or warm you feel toward the group. 0 means you feel the coldest or least favorable to the group, 100 means you feel the warmest or most favorable to the group, and 50 means you feel neutral (nothing one way or the other) toward the group.”

  1. Pre: 74% / Post: 78% (+4 or 5%) People from your country
  2. Pre: 61%  / Post: 59% (-2 or 3%)  Russians
  3. Pre: 68% / Post: 73% (+5 or 7%) Europeans
  4. Pre: 62% / Post:  61% (-1 or 2%) Chinese
  5. Pre: 74% / Post:  77% (+3 or 4%) Americans
  6. Pre: 70% / Post:  68% (-2 or 3%) Refugees
  7. Pre: 72% / Post:  78% (+6 or 8%) Legal immigrants
  8. Pre: 53% / Post:  58% (+5 or 9%) Illegal immigrants
  9. Pre: 67% / Post:  69% (+2 or 3%) Muslims
  10. Pre: 71% / Post:  76% (+5 or 7%) Christians
  11. Pre: 63% / Post:  67% (+4 or 6%) Jews
  12. Pre: 80% / Post:  79% (-1 or 1%) All people on Earth

Overall, warmth scores for all twelve groups rose from 68 to 70, a 3% increase.  For four of the above twelve social groups, respondents’ feelings grew colder, but by a relatively insignificant 3% or less. For the other eight groups, participants’ feelings grew warmer.  Six groups – people from the participants’ own countries (+5%), Jews (+6%), Christians (+7%), Europeans (+7%), legal immigrants (+8%), and illegal or undocumented immigrants (+9%) – experienced the largest warmth increases.  Further, the mean lowest score rose from 21 to 30, a 43% increase in warmth.    

Participant Feedback

In the post-survey, we asked some additional questions to garner feedback on the project and Learning Life more generally.  Here is what we found:

“How would you rate each of the following given these answer choices: (1) very bad, (2) bad, (3) fair, (4) good, or (5) excellent?”

  1. Learning Life staff: 4.75/5.00
  2. 2020 food culture project: 4.64/5.00
  3. The Family Diplomacy Facebook Group: 4.36/5.00
  4. Learning Life overall: 4.64/5.00

Thus, on average, respondents rated Learning Life highly, or 4.64 out of 5 overall. The next question addressed their interest in participating further:

“Overall, how interested are you in continuing to participate in the Family Diplomacy Initiative?”

  1. Definitely not interested: 0 (0%)
  2. Somewhat uninterested: 0 (0%)
  3. Neutral: 1 (3%)
  4. Somewhat interested: 6 (17%)
  5. Definitely interested: 29 (81%)

Thus, the large majority of respondents, 29 of 36 or 81%, were definitely interested in continuing with the Family Diplomacy Initiative.  The next question asked more specifically about their interest in participating our 2021 project:

“In 2021, Learning Life will be holding a series of live, international dialogues focused on the question: what do families worldwide need to be healthy and safe? We will also be leading discussion on this question in the Family Diplomacy Initiative Facebook Group. How interested are you in participating in these discussions next year?”

  1. Definitely not interested: 0 (0%)
  2. Somewhat uninterested: 1 (3%)
  3. Neutral: 0 (0%)
  4. Somewhat interested: 7 (20%)
  5. Definitely interested: 27 (77%)

Thus, as with the prior question, the strong majority, 27 of 35 respondents or 77%, were definitely interested in participating in our 2021 dialogue project.

Discussion & What Comes Next

The year 2020 was difficult for many people across the world due to the Coronavirus Pandemic.  Covid made this project both more challenging and easier.  On one hand, some people had a lot more time and the luxury to be online due to the pandemic shutdown, and this may have boosted some participants’ contributions.  On the other hand, Covid made many families suffer unemployment, plus distance, illness and/or death in their families, which understandably turned some of our participants away from this far less pressing project. In these difficult times, we are very appreciative of those who participated, and especially appreciative of those who answered all six food culture questions and/or engaged with fellow participants about their food posts.

The above impact survey results are generally encouraging, with the most significant gains being (a) a 7% decrease in participants’ feelings of national superiority and discomfort with cultural difference, and (b) a 5% to 9% increase in their warmth toward people from their own countries, Europeans, legal and illegal immigrants, Christians and Jews, and (c) a 43% increase in warmth in the coldest scores on the feeling thermometer.  We believe that the food culture project at least partly explained these gains, but we cannot be sure of this because many other factors, like domestic and international social and political events as well as developments in participants’ own lives, may explain these gains.  Given resource constraints, we were not able to conduct the “gold standard” in impact evaluation research – a formal experiment – which would have helped give us more confidence in our impact.  Formal experiments compare otherwise similar “treatment” and “control” groups that respectively do and do not receive the treatment (in this case, our project) to more accurately isolate and measure treatment impact. In completing pre- and post-surveys, we were, however, able to go beyond the strictly post-survey method some organizations conduct, which does not allow comparison of respondents before and after project participation. 

For a copy of all the survey numbers, please email us at email@learninglife.info.   

What’s next?  In 2020, Learning Life quadrupled the number of FDI Facebook Group members in 2020, from 400+ to 1,600+.  In 2021, we plan to continue adding many more members across the globe on Facebook.  In the latter half of 2021 we will also be launching a new project: a series of live dialogues focused on the question: what does it take to have safe, healthy families worldwide?  We aim involve at least one hundred family diplomats worldwide in this new project, nearly triple the 36 involved in our 2020 project.  There’s more, and you can learn here about what is planned for 2021, plus what else we accomplished in 2020.  Thanks for reading, and for your support for Learning Life!   


We would like to thank the many volunteers and interns who helped grow the FDI Facebook group and make this project possible, including 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 and Yasmine Ezzekmi. Last but not least, thanks to Learning Life’s Founder and Director, Paul Lachelier, who led the project from design to implementation, research, write-up and dissemination.  Our apologies if we missed anyone, and if we did, please let us know their name at email@learninglife.info so that we may acknowledge them here!

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

Profile: Cao Family (China)

This is the latest in a series of profiles of some of the families worldwide participating in our 2020 project on food culture as part of Learning Life’s Family Diplomacy Initiative on Facebook.  From April to November this year, Learning Life posed six food culture questions, and asked the families to provide their photographic answers.  The project is intended to nurture sharing and learning between families worldwide, with an eye to promoting greater understanding, curiosity, and tolerance for difference in our divided and often violent world. (Why family diplomacy?  Click here for five reasons.)  Below, Shu Cao, the daughter in a family of three in China, 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 algunas de las familias de todo el mundo que participan en nuestro proyecto 2020 sobre cultura alimentaria como parte de la Iniciativa de Diplomacia Familiar de Learning Life en Facebook. De abril a noviembre de este año, Learning Life planteó seis preguntas sobre cultura alimentaria y pidió a las familias que dieran sus respuestas fotográficas. El proyecto tiene como objetivo fomentar el intercambio y el aprendizaje entre familias de todo el mundo, con la intención de promover una mayor comprensión, curiosidad y tolerancia por las diferencias en nuestro mundo dividido y, a menudo, violento. (¿Por qué la diplomacia familiar? Haga clic aquí por cinco razones). A continuación, Shu Cao, la hija de una familia de tres en China, responde nuestras preguntas sobre el perfil familiar. Ofrecemos las preguntas y respuestas en inglés, español y francés.

Il s’agit du dernier d’une série de profils de certaines des familles du monde entier participant à notre projet 2020 sur la culture alimentaire dans le cadre de l’initiative de diplomatie familiale de Learning Life sur Facebook. D’avril à novembre de cette année, Learning Life a posé six questions sur la culture alimentaire et a demandé aux familles de fournir leurs réponses photographiques. Le projet vise à favoriser le partage et l’apprentissage entre les familles du monde entier, dans le but de promouvoir une plus grande compréhension, curiosité et tolérance pour la différence dans notre monde divisé et souvent violent. (Pourquoi la diplomatie familiale? Cliquez ici pour cinq raisons.) Ci-dessous, Shu Cao, la fille d’une famille de trois personnes en Chine, 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. 

My name is Shu Cao.  I am 24 years old.   My father, Jianping Cao, is 52.  My mother, Yulian Ban, is 49.  We live in Ordos, a city in the Inner Mongolia Province of China.

Mi nombre es Shu Cao. Tengo 24 años de edad. Mi padre, Jianping Cao, tiene 52 años. Mi madre, Yulian Ban, tiene 49 años. Vivimos en Ordos, una ciudad en la provincia china de Mongolia Interior.

Mon nom est Shu Cao. J’ai 24 ans. Mon père, Jianping Cao, a 52 ans. Ma mère, Yulian Ban, a 49 ans. Nous vivons à Ordos, une ville de la province chinoise de Mongolie intérieure.

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

The most interesting thing in our family is that we make zongzi (stick rice filled with dates, red bean paste, meat or other fillings, wrapped and steamed or boiled in bamboo leaves) during the Dragon Boat Festival, and we put coins in the zongzi. Those who eat them are said to have good luck in the year to come.

Lo más interesante de nuestra familia es que hacemos zongzi (arroz en barra relleno de dátiles, pasta de frijoles rojos, carne u otros rellenos, envueltos y al vapor o hervidos en hojas de bambú) durante el Festival del Bote del Dragón, y ponemos monedas en el zongzi. . Se dice que quienes los comen tendrán buena suerte en el próximo año.

La chose la plus intéressante dans notre famille est que nous fabriquons du zongzi (riz en bâton rempli de dattes, pâte de haricots rouges, viande ou autres garnitures, enveloppé et cuit à la vapeur ou bouilli dans des feuilles de bambou) pendant le Festival du bateau-dragon, et nous mettons des pièces dans le zongzi . On dit que ceux qui les mangent auront de la chance dans l’année à venir.

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? 

We speak Chinese.

Nosotras hablamos chino

Nous parlons chinois.

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? 

The biggest problem in the world is environmental pollution.  With the increase of population and the increase of garbage, the inadequate disposal of garbage leads to land pollution, water pollution and marine pollution, which leads to various diseases.

El mayor problema del mundo es la contaminación ambiental. Con el aumento de la población y el aumento de la basura, la eliminación inadecuada de la basura conduce a la contaminación de la tierra, la contaminación del agua y la contaminación marina, lo que conduce a diversas enfermedades.

Le plus gros problème au monde est la pollution de l’environnement. Avec l’augmentation de la population et l’augmentation des ordures, l’élimination inadéquate des ordures conduit à la pollution des sols, à la pollution de l’eau et à la pollution marine, qui conduit à diverses maladies.

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 in my country is that money worship is becoming more and more serious, which leads to the weakening of feelings between people. Money has become the standard to measure the relationship between people.  This indicates that we are seriously materialized and cannot realize the liberation of truly independent people because we are bound by materials.

El mayor problema en mi país es que el culto al dinero se está volviendo cada vez más serio, lo que conduce al debilitamiento de los sentimientos entre las personas. El dinero se ha convertido en el estándar para medir la relación entre las personas. Esto indica que estamos seriamente materializados y no podemos realizar la liberación de personas verdaderamente independientes porque estamos atados por materiales.

Le plus gros problème dans mon pays est que le culte de l’argent devient de plus en plus sérieux, ce qui conduit à un affaiblissement des sentiments entre les gens. L’argent est devenu la norme pour mesurer la relation entre les personnes. Cela indique que nous sommes sérieusement matérialisés et que nous ne pouvons pas réaliser la libération de personnes vraiment indépendantes parce que nous sommes liés par des matériaux.

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? 

I would like to say that we need to protect the Earth we all share, protect our common home, save materials, protect the environment, so that diseases will stay away from us.

Me gustaría decir que tenemos que proteger la Tierra que todos compartimos, proteger nuestra casa común, ahorrar materiales, proteger el medio ambiente, para que las enfermedades se mantengan alejadas de nosotros.

Je voudrais dire que nous devons protéger la Terre que nous partageons tous, protéger notre maison commune, économiser des matériaux, protéger l’environnement, afin que les maladies restent loin de nous.