Stakeholder Spotlight: Denise & Bethany

The “Stakeholder Spotlight” is an occasional series of posts highlighting people who are helping to advance Learning Life’s work.  Our latest post in this series features Denise Bodman and Bethany Bustamante Van Vleet, a mother and daughter who graciously help Learning Life’s family diplomacy trainees learn about global family trends, patterns and issues.  For ways you can support Learning Life, click here

What are your current occupations?

We are both Teaching Professors at Arizona State University in the School of Social and Family Dynamics.  Bethany is also Director of ASU’s online Master’s in Family and Human Development.

Can you share something interesting about your family?

We get to be both family and colleagues!  Being a mother and daughter who work together in the same field and program allows us to easily collaborate on projects that are meaningful to us and we have had a lifetime to learn how we most effectively work together. This has allowed us to study and present together on topics such as kindness, hope, and family narratives as well as write a book together on family processes: Introduction to Family Processes: Diverse Families, Common Ties.  

We have also had the joy of bringing children, and grandchildren, into our family through birth, adoption, and foster care, which has given us unique up-close insights into how families function, grow, and change. The children in our families also have diverse needs and abilities, which has required learning how to best advocate for not only our children, but for other children in the community and schools who may need additional support and resources. 

Why are you passionate about families?

Because, as George Santayana has said, “the family is one of nature’s masterpieces”! Most people start life in a family.  Family is where we first encounter the world and where we are first taught how to function in the world.  Additionally, as our book subtitle suggests (“diverse families, common ties”), families can look and function in incredibly different ways, and yet families around the world tend to share common goals!  

Why do you support Learning Life?  

We have been incredibly lucky to work with Learning Life by leading family diplomacy trainings related to family (defining family, demography and globalization, rituals, traditions, and routines, family storytelling). We have enjoyed working with Learning Life because, given the power of the family unit, it only makes sense to help equip families with knowledge and skills that will help them advocate for not only themselves, but for their communities as a whole.  Additionally, it is amazing to see families brought together from around the world – connecting over family ties, family voice, and social change.

Family Diplomacy Stories October 15 & 22

Mark your calendars, and join Learning Life on Sundays, October 15 and 22 live via Zoom for this special event featuring the family stories of our 2023 cohort of 15 family diplomacy storytellers from 12 countries (see their story topics in the attached poster, below their name). There will be live, participatory discussion of their stories, and we want your feedback!  Persons with personal passion and connection to their story topics, and/or who come from the countries our family diplomacy storytellers represent are particularly encouraged to attend.

Learn more about Learning Life’s Family Diplomacy Initiative and how you can get involved here.

Panel Discusses Fierce Civility, Democratic Philanthropy & Citizen Assemblies

On Thursday, September 21, Learning Life and the Eisenhower Institute at Gettysburg College co-hosted a panel discussion on the theme “Democratize America,” with panelists speaking on fierce civility, democratic philanthropy and citizen assemblies.

The event featured three speakers:

Joe Weston, author of the book, Fierce Civility, and founder of The Weston Network, which provides “training, consulting and coaching for individuals, groups, leaders and organizations….with the goal of fostering cultures of respect, civility and mutual empowerment.”

Ben Wrobel, co-author of the book, Letting Go, and co-founder of Proximate, a nonprofit media platform that produces “solutions journalism about innovative participatory models that shift decision-making power to people with lived experience – those proximate to the problem at hand.”

Pam Bailey, Communications Director at People Powered, a nonprofit that supports “organizations and leaders around the world who are building a more participatory democracy, through programs such as participatory budgeting, participatory policy-making, participatory planning, and citizen assemblies.”

In this politically polarized period in the United States and other democracies, Joe argued, drawing from his book, for “fierce civility” against “chronic niceness” that avoids hard conversations across lines of difference.  Joe speaks of four ailments: breakdowns in civil discourse, civic engagement, personal agency, and critical thinking.  Fierce civility aims to address these ailments by developing skills to move beyond polarities of chronic niceness and aggression.

Drawing on his own book, Letting Go: How Philanthropists and Impact Investors Can Do More Good by Giving Up Control, co-authored with Meg Massey, Ben Wrobel made the case for “participatory grant-making” whereby grant decisions are made by those communities most affected rather than by wealthy donors whose privilege often distances them from the problems they seek to address.

Pam Bailey spoke of People Powered’s work to advance participatory budgeting, planning and policy-making, legislative theater, and citizen juries and assemblies.  Pam focused on citizen assemblies, which have been organized in Europe especially, and which bring together statistically random samples of citizens to hear from experts and those affected by the issue at hand (e.g., from abortion to environmental policy), deliberate, then make policy recommendations that governments take into consideration or implement.

The Eisenhower Institute’s Executive Director, Tracie Potts, moderated the panel, including a rich, participatory audience discussion following the speakers.

Readers can view the speakers’ full presentations here via the Eisenhower Institute’s Youtube Channel.

This event followed on Learning Life and the Eisenhower Institute‘s first co-sponsored panel discussion in September 2020 on American polarization.  The panels are part of Learning Life’s Democracy Dinners series, and the Eisenhower Institute’s Democracy Week every September.  The Dinners are, in turn, part of a broader Democracy Learning Community (DLC) Learning Life is developing in the Washington DC area.   The DLC is devoted to making democracy more fun by developing events, products, services and spaces that entertain as well as nurture learning, networking, collaboration and wider, deeper citizen participation.  Learn more and contribute to building the DLC here.