Help Build A More Caring, Connected World: Join a Learning Life Board

Want to help build a more caring and connected world?

Do you have skills, experience, and/or connections that could help?

Help Learning Life build family diplomacy worldwide by applying to join our founding Board of Directors (BOD), or Board of Advisors (BOA).

Learning LifeAbout Learning Life

Learning Life is a Washington DC-based, nonprofit lab devoted to spreading learning beyond school walls.  In our increasingly interconnected yet divided world, we develop innovative learning communities in order to nurture more caring, capable and connected global citizens.  Learning Life runs three programs: (1) our flagship program, the Family Diplomacy Initiative, connects families online worldwide to share and learn together with an eye to developing a new form of citizen diplomacy for a more caring world. (2) Our International Mentoring Program connects caring mentors with youth in DC and abroad to help open the world to children from lower-income families. (3) Our Democracy Dinners bring together metro DC academics, professionals, activists and elected officials to talk about democracy’s local to global challenges and opportunities amidst authoritarian resurgence.

Board Members We Seek

Learning Life is preparing to form our own federally-registered 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization in early 2021, so we are now recruiting members for our founding Board of Directors and Board of Advisors.

For the Board of Directors: We seek 4-6 accomplished and connected professionals to serve on the founding BOD.  We welcome all interested candidates, though we are especially interested in finding an accountant or bookkeeper, an attorney, an international education specialist, a diplomacy professional, and professionals with substantial fundraising experience.  No fundraising experience is necessary, but BOD members must be willing to help meet fundraising goals.  BOD members do not need to live in the metro Washington DC area, but should live in the USA.  Learning Life seeks BOD diversity by gender, occupation and race.

For the Board of Advisors: We seek up to 30 accomplished and connected professionals to serve on the founding BOA.  We are looking for individuals with substantial work experience and/or research-based expertise in one or more of these areas: nonprofit planning and administration, fundraising, communications, marketing, program management, research and evaluation, youth mentoring, online collaborative learning, educational technology, international education, educational psychology, diplomacy, democracy and governance, and citizen, youth or family engagement.  BOA members can live anywhere in the world.  We seek BOA diversity by gender, occupation and race.

Board Member Duties

Founding BOD and BOA members will serve for at least one year, starting in January 2021.

BOD members are expected to:

  1. Attend BOD meetings every three months.
  2. Participate in Fundraising & Administration, or Programs & Evaluation Committee mtgs once per month.
  3. Fundraise as a BOD team, with assistance from Learning Life staff.

BOA members are expected to:

  1. Attend BOA meetings every three months.
  2. Advise Learning Life’s staff and/or Board of Directors as needed.
  3. Donate at whatever level you are comfortable with to help advance Learning Life’s work.
Benefits & Contact Information

BOD and BOA members have the opportunity to deepen their nonprofit leadership experience, make valuable local to global connections, and help build an innovative international educational nonprofit in its next phase of development.  If interested, please send your resume to email@learninglife.info, and indicate 2-3 times in the next 1-2 weeks that you are free for a two-way interview to learn more about you and us.  Learning Life’s Director, Paul Lachelier, will email you to schedule the interview if there appears to be a good fit.

Founder’s Blog: Toward Family Diplomacy for a More Caring World

The following essay was published as a chapter in the edited volume, Social Justice and International Education, published this month by NAFSA.  You can learn more about the book here.

Nearly 3 years ago on a sunny spring day, I stepped out of a school with two children participating in our program, The Family Diplomacy Initiative. I had recently met the children’s family and introduced them to our program. The girl, who I will call Sarah, was 8 years old, and the boy, Peter, was 11 years old. I looked at the clear, expansive view of the city before us and spontaneously quizzed them, “What’s that big pointy monument over there?” Neither knew the answer. We stepped into my car, and within a couple of minutes, Sarah and Peter were singing along to a pop song they pulled up on my smart phone. They knew all of the lyrics.

Social Justice & International EducationThis story is ordinary enough. Plenty of kids don’t know monuments but do know pop songs. However, this was the Washington Monument, arguably the most conspicuous monument in Washington, D.C., and that was Peter and Sarah’s school overlooking the monument, so they could see it in plain sight every time they stepped out of school.

All of us get lost in our own little worlds, especially kids. But our little worlds are inextricably bound with our larger world, for better and worse. Contemporary American philosopher Michael Sandel (1992, 92) once observed: “In our public life, we are more entangled, but less attached, than ever before.” We are more entangled, in part, because increasingly, what we buy and see on our screens is made all over the world, because people travel and talk more across borders, and because more and more pressing issues, from terrorism to climate change, are transnational. Yet, we are simultaneously less attached because we don’t see, feel, or speak much of such connections, let alone our obligations to this complicated world to which we are increasingly tethered. This is why what Sarah and Peter see, and don’t see, matters.

Good schools do their best to nurture equal opportunity, even as their selection and tracking processes often create inequalities. But families and neighborhoods worldwide mostly produce inequality because of segregation. Segregation may not be written in law so much anymore, but it is inscribed in privileged parents’ visceral desire for the best for their kids. From that powerful and understandable desire springs exclusive neighborhoods, networks, and schools to protect and advance privileged families, leading to the exclusion, frequently unintended, of their impoverished counterparts throughout the world. The poor and privileged often live within walking distance of each other, but dwell in radically different worlds with, commonly, very different outcomes.

How can we connect these worlds and address our pressing paradox of entangled detachment? Some will argue, rightly in my view, that the answer is political. We need governmental action to desegregate housing, raise minimum wages, expand public transport, provide low-cost and high-quality child care and education, etc. But alongside those governmental solutions, there is a need for feeling solutions, or creative ways to extend that visceral desire to protect and promote our own kids to other people’s kids, wherever they are in the world. I believe one such feeling solution is family diplomacy.

In summer 2016, Learning Life, the nonprofit I direct, launched its Family Diplomacy Initiative. We began by connecting small numbers of lower-income families online via Skype to learn from each other about the world. We did so with the conviction that the internet can help open the world to those who cannot afford to travel. In 2017, we completed a community photo project engaging families in Jordan, Senegal, and the United States. In 2019, we completed a food culture and nutrition project involving families in El Salvador, Senegal, and the United States. We are now developing a Facebook group to engage thousands of families worldwide in sharing and learning from each other.

Family diplomacy is a novel form of citizen diplomacy and an accessible way to engage in global learning and citizenship. Across our globe, most people live in families and strongly value families. In our complicated world, people feel and understand the family better than any other institution. Families, at their best, are exemplars of caring in a world that needs far more caring. Families are also highly vulnerable and often directly impacted by world issues, from poverty to terrorism to climate change.

Families thus have the power to connect minds and hearts worldwide. Of course, families are never perfect, and some are downright oppressive. But we at Learning Life believe that by connecting people worldwide around family life, and sharing the most tolerant and caring forms of family, we can help build a more just and caring world, a world in which we all become more attached to each other, a world in which Sarah and Peter see the monuments and more.

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

Reference:

Sandel, Michael J. 1992. “The Procedural Republic and the Unencumbered Self.” In The Self and the Political Order, ed. Tracy B. Strong. New York, NY: New York University Press.

What Is Family Diplomacy?

Family Diplomacy InitiativeOur world is becoming more complex and interdependent as more people, goods, services and interactions flow across national borders.  This changing global reality has triggered xenophobic, sometimes violent reactions that have been validated and amplified by political activists and opportunistic leaders.  Diplomacy is rightly upheld as an important response to the mounting tensions within and between some countries, but diplomacy should not be left strictly to professionals.  The internet and smart phones open exciting possibilities for citizens to be involved in diplomacy to help promote peace, prosperity and justice, but success and our global future depend in part on fresh approaches.   This is the third in a series of posts intended to develop family diplomacy as a new form of citizen diplomacy for a more caring world.  Read the first post here.  

This post, in the form of a Q&A, succinctly answers some basic questions about family diplomacy.

Why family diplomacy?

Families are widely valued across the world, and deeply impacted by international affairs, from global trade, to immigration, to climate change.  Yet the voices of families are hardly heard in intergovernmental bodies like the United Nations, even as the voices of youth and women are rightly being amplified.  Allowing families to connect, share, learn, and speak publicly to their needs, concerns and aspirations in and to governments across the world is vital to nurturing a more caring world.  Learn more about why families should be involved in diplomacy here.

What is family diplomacy?

Family diplomacy is two things:

  1. Families connecting, sharing and learning across lines of country, class, race and religion.
  2. Families actively and publicly helping to build a more caring and connected world.
We Are Family Diplomats Poster
How do you define family?

Families come in all shapes and sizes, so we define families broadly as two or more people who love each other, or one or more people and one or more pets who love each other (and preferably live with each other).   This includes same-sex and opposite-sex couples, unmarried couples, couples with or without children, single parents with one or more kids, single persons with one or more pets, siblings or cousins living together, grandparents living with grandchildren, and others.  The importance of family is love, not who loves.

What does family diplomacy look like, and how can we get involved?

Family diplomacy can take a variety of specific forms.  Currently, through Learning Life, families can:

  1. Join our Family Diplomacy Initiative (FDI) on Facebook to connect, share and learn about our world with and via a growing number of families across the globe.
  2. Answer learning project questions in our FDI Facebook group, like our 2020 world food culture project questions, and like, comment and ask questions in response to other families’ answers.
  3. Join other Learning Life families on one of our “We Are Family Diplomats” posters by emailing us at email@learninglife.info with your family’s country of residence, your own brief completion of the sentence “We are family diplomats because…” and a clear, high-resolution jpg or png photo of your family.

There will be more ways to participate and develop as family diplomats soon, so stay tuned!

FDI world food culture project

New Video Silent Stories Feature a Global Cast

In this global Covid-19 pandemic, Learning Life is pleased to announce the release of four new and innovative video silent stories to spur conversation on international health issues.  The videos, each linked below, were made with a cast of actors and producers from four countries worldwide, and are a project of Learning Life’s Family Diplomacy Initiative (FDI).

In line with Learning Life’s mission to spread learning and innovate education beyond school walls, FDI connects families worldwide to share and learn together via our FDI Facebook group.  This year, from April to October, 40+ selected families in 20+ countries across the globe are participating in a food culture project through which they are sharing photos and text explanations in answer to six family and country food culture questions (e.g., what does breakfast look like in your family?  What is a food trend in your country?).  Learning Life also posts content of interest to families worldwide including profiles of FDI families, We Are Family Diplomats posters, interesting perspectives on family life worldwide, and free and low-cost, online, multi-lingual resources for individuals and families.

In addition, starting last year, 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.  The stories are silent for two reasons: to stimulate viewer conversation about the stories’ meanings, and to allow anyone worldwide, regardless of their spoken language(s), to understand the stories.  In the fall of 2019, Learning Life produced its first four video silent stories on issues of poverty, labor and consumption, gender inequality, and school work.  These stories featured Learning Life Mentoring Program youth and adult volunteers in the metro Washington, DC, USA as the on-screen actors.

Those stories followed on an original pilot live Global Storytelling Challenge led by Learning Life staff and featuring 7th and 8th grade students at Saint Thomas More Catholic Academy (STM) in Washington DC in fall 2018.  The students created and performed their own plays about child labor and human trafficking before an audience of fellow STM students and Learning Life volunteer storytelling judges.

This summer, we took an ambitious step forward in the storytelling project by producing four new videos engaging FDI families and youth in four countries across the world: Australia, India, El Salvador and the USA.  While the 2019 stories were recorded in-person in metro DC, the 2020 stories were recorded online via Zoom, commonly involving actors, camera persons and directors in two countries at the same time.  Consonant with the Covid-19 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.  A report on the 2020 project’s impact on the health knowledge of the participating child actors is forthcoming later this year.

In 2021 and beyond, Learning Life plans to produce more video stories like these, and collect them in a growing library of silent stories on international issues on Youtube to spur conversation and learning in families, groups and classrooms across the globe.  The long-term vision is to develop an international silent storytelling competition that engages youth and families worldwide in making their own silent stories, or stories in collaboration with youth or families in other countries.  To learn more, or get involved in future Learning Life silent stories, please contact us at email@learninglife.info.

Learning Life wishes to thank the following volunteers for helping to bring the four 2020 silent stories to fruition:

Video and story production staff: Gina Dario Stringer, Debjani Bhattacharya Das, Trinabrata Das, Ella Fasciano (special thanks to Ella as video editor for the 2020 stories!), Angeline Fry, Emily Krisanda, Paul Lachelier, Allison Miller, and Kelly Pemberton.

Health education staff for the 2020 stories: Angeline Fry and Emily Krisanda. We also wish to thank the Georgetown University School of Medicine (GUSM), and the Director of GUSM’s Community Health Division, Dr. Kim Bullock, for their support of the 2020 silent story project.

Story actors: Diego Constanza, Leo Dario Stringer, Triggya & Trinabh Das, Lily Fasciano, and Kieran Lamb.