What Happened in 2022, and What’s Coming in 2023
This annual report lays out our activities and accomplishments in 2022, from launching our Democracy & Diplomacy Community, releasing our first animated video, and successfully completing our first international family diplomat training, to transitioning our mentoring program. As Executive Director, I conclude with thanks to a lot of volunteers, participants and donors who were instrumental in making 2022 a year of continued growth for Learning Life. Throughout this report, I also share some pictures and collages of our people and activities.
Democracy & Diplomacy Community (DDC)
The DDC is a new Learning Life community that encompasses all our democracy and diplomacy initiatives. As the DDC’s webpage notes, our divided yet interdependent world needs “not demagogues and strongmen, but rather citizens and diplomats,” so building on the 30,000+ people worldwide connected with Learning Life’s work, the DDC offers “learning and networking events, opportunities to share your work with a wider audience, and to help advance democracy and diplomacy at local to global levels.” Developing more of the caring citizens and diplomats our world needs takes work, and learning communities, properly designed, provide the learning, opportunity and social support ordinary people worldwide need to thrive as such.
On September 17, 2022, in collaboration with the Eisenhower Institute at Gettysburg College, Learning Life launched the DDC with our first in-person event in more than 2.5 years as the Covid pandemic waned. The event featured a panel of three speakers followed by a participatory discussion on one of the most salient political issues in America today: polarization. You can learn more about the event and speakers here, and watch the three panelists’ full presentations here via the Eisenhower Institute’s Youtube Channel.
In 2023, Learning Life will grow the DDC’s membership as we offer a variety of events, including in-person Democracy Dinners (more on these below), and new online Citizen Diplomacy International (CDI) meetings. Citizen diplomacy (CD) can be defined as communication or collaboration among citizens (not government diplomats) across national borders for shared economic, political, cultural, educational, environmental, health, or other purposes. Due to globalization, the internet, rising education levels, and long-term democratization across the world, CD is growing, and becoming a more important part of diplomacy and international affairs. I launched CDI in June 2020 as the Citizen Diplomacy Research Group (CDRG) under the aegis of the Public Diplomacy Council, now the Public Diplomacy Council of America (PDCA). The Group’s email list has since grown to over 1,000 students, scholars and practitioners from 108 countries. Since June 2020, CDRG meetings have been held every two months for 1.5 hours online via Zoom, with each meeting comprised of two presentations of CD research or practice followed by discussion then announcements. Since October 2020, the CDRG has also published a CD Bulletin with every meeting, offering CD-related news, events, articles, books and resources. Happily, these meetings and resources will become part of the DDC’s offerings as the CDRG becomes CDI, and moves from the PDCA to Learning Life in January 2023. More about this development here.
Democracy Learning Community (DLC)
In response to growing threats to democracy in the USA and abroad, in June 2019, Learning Life launched the DLC in metro Washington DC (the “DMV” or DC-MD-VA capital region) with our Democracy Dinners. The Dinners gather democracy (broadly defined) professionals, elected officials, activists and academics in metro Washington DC to nurture deeper conversation about the challenges and possibilities for democracy at local to global levels. Then, due to Covid, from early 2020 to the end of 2022 the Dinners were held online. Starting in January 2023 though, Learning Life is excited to return to in-person Dinners, and plans to hold at least six in the new year as part of our broader Democracy & Diplomacy Community.
In 2022, Learning Life began a second step in the development of the DLC with a series of planning meetings, interviews and online research in preparation for a vision and action plan to be published by June 2023. To expand our imaginations of what a vibrant democracy can look like, the plan will describe a wide variety of existing and proposed ways to develop a DLC in metro regions like DC, in different domains of life, from families, to schools and workplaces, to libraries, malls, parks, media and associations. Further, the plan will suggest how a day in the life of a child, working adult, retiree and unemployed person could look different in a DLC. Lastly, the “action” part of the plan will lay out next steps in the growth of the DLC. This includes the third step in building a DLC: a first DC Democracy Festival. Our hope is that the Festival will ultimately occur annually on the National Mall, and spread in other metro regions in the United States and abroad as a fun, family-friendly, financially self-sustaining collaboration between arts, business, education, philanthropy and democracy sectors that helps widen and deepen participation in democracy.
Family Diplomacy Initiative (FDI)
While our DLC work is local, our Family Diplomacy Initiative is global. In our increasingly interconnected yet divided world, FDI connects people online worldwide across country, class, race, religion, age and other lines of difference to share and learn together with an eye long-term to empowering families to participate in decision-making for a more caring world.
In 2017-2019, Learning Life completed two FDI pilot international learning projects with lower-income families in the USA, El Salvador, Senegal and Jordan, then in 2020, a food culture project. These projects collectively 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, Project 2 results, and Project 3 results for details). In 2021, Learning Life carried out a fourth dialogue project focused on the question: what do families worldwide need to be safe and healthy? With that question in mind, Learning Life carried out six live international dialogues via Zoom from June to November 2021 that each examined different forces shaping family health and safety in light of the Covid pandemic and the fundamental importance of health to us all (the following links take you to the recordings of each of those live dialogues): world trends in family life, health care, work and economics, the environment, politics, and education and leisure.
In 2022, we took a step forward in FDI’s development, moving from Phase 1 to Phase 2 (see the poster below), successfully launching our first family diplomat (FD) training. The training had two parts, and engaged nineteen FD trainees from fifteen countries every Sunday for 1.5 hours via Zoom from June 10 to October 30. Part 1 of the training took place over the course of seven meetings, and focused on developing trainees’ basic knowledge about citizen diplomacy, plus global family trends, patterns and issues. Part 2 occurred over the course of nine meetings devoted to learning about then practicing family storytelling given storytelling’s importance to giving voice and power to ordinary people facing myriad family issues.
The trainees were surveyed before and after Part 1 to measure their knowledge gains, and their stories were videotaped before and after Part 2 to assess improvement in their storytelling skill. Our analysis showed that their knowledge improved by 11% on average, and their storytelling skill by 24% on average. You can read the full analysis here, and watch their family story performances here and here. Caution: many of the stories are serious rather than light-hearted, and some deal with violence, including domestic and sexual violence.
Another significant development in 2022: a first Learning Life animated video about FDI. The less-than-three-minute video took ten months of steady work from late summer 2021 to late spring 2022, but that work by an all-volunteer team of interns — Yutong Jiang from George Washington University, Rachel Farzan and Maria Lujan from Virginia Commonwealth University (and me) — yielded a clear, visually appealing understanding of what FDI is about that will hopefully help spur people to get involved and financially support the Initiative for years to come.
Last but not least, thanks to Learning Life’s interns, we continue to rapidly grow FDI on Facebook. In 2022, our FDI Facebook group grew about 36% from over 10,000 to over 13,600 members worldwide. In addition, our interns have been systematically logging these new members, including their name, city, country, Facebook profile and other information, so as to detail our growth and cultivate engagement. For example, each new member gets a personal welcome message via Facebook that includes our FD application survey for those interested in becoming family diplomats. We also encourage new members to subscribe to our monthly Learning Life email news, and invite them to introduce their families in our Facebook group, and attend FDI events, notably the new FD trainings.
In 2023, we will continue to grow the FDI network on Facebook, and engage more people worldwide in the second annual FD training. The FD training will also be deepened to include more free online content and more individualized support for our trainees as they develop their stories.
International Mentoring Program
Learning Life’s International Mentoring Program started in 2018 as a supplement to our Family Diplomacy Initiative. The Program helped provide some of the youth ages 8-18 from lower-income families engaged in our FDI family dialogues in the USA, El Salvador and Senegal more connection to the wider world by matching them with mentors who read and talked with them about topics of interest to the youth — like dance, music and food — from an international perspective. Over the course of 2021 and 2022, we maintained the program for our youth in Washington DC, where Learning Life is based, meeting in-person and/or online to experience foreign foods, cultural festivals, museums, and other international goods, events and places (see the photo collage below of some of our 2022 activities). But, we did not recruit any new mentors in this period as we worked to focus more on democracy and diplomacy, and to accordingly shift our mentoring into FDI to help support our international FD trainees.
After five years in operation, with over 650 mentor-mentee meetings logged benefitting about thirty mentees in the USA, El Salvador and Senegal, our original mentoring program officially closed with our last monthly mentors meeting in November 2022. All six remaining mentors, including me, plan to continue mentoring our mentees independent of Learning Life, and FDI remains open and free of charge to all of them. You can view more of the activities of our mentoring program through the years since 2018 through our Facebook group, and learn how your family can become involved in family diplomacy at our FDI page.
Five Ways You Can Help
As we enter 2023, here are five ways you can get connected, support our work and help Learning Life grow:
2) Engage in our Family Diplomacy Initiative: If you are on Facebook, join FDI, and invite your friends and family to the group who may be interested as we continue to grow the Initiative in 2023. In addition, if you know youth, adults, and/or families that may be interested in engaging in international family diplomacy, invite them to apply to become Family Diplomats.
3) Join the Democracy & Diplomacy Community: Whether you live in metro Washington DC or elsewhere in the world, if you are interested in democracy and diplomacy, and think our world needs more citizens and diplomats than demagogues and strongmen, then join the DDC to learn, network, build bridges and support Learning Life. Learn more here.
4) Become a Learning Life donor or sponsor: Donate $100, $250, $500, $1,000 or whatever you can afford here to support our innovative democracy and diplomacy work. Individuals and organizations can also sponsor a family diplomat, or sponsor the DMV Democracy Learning Community.
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.
I would like to thank the many volunteers, participants and donors who were essential to our growth and success in 2022, including (all from the USA unless otherwise noted):
Interns: Jibbi Bah, Josie Belliveau, Anna Benson, Sarah DeCaro-Rincon, Janice Dias, Jenalyn Dizon, Yas El Argoubi (Morocco), Fatima Elescano, Nate Escobar, Kevin Espino, Allie Hechmer, Ninah Henderson, Aminata Keita, Chanel Leonard, Mae Long, Ava McClure, Sarah McInnis, Destiny Monegro, Anya Neumeister, Keilyhan Echevarria Padilla, Maryam Pate, Macy Pope, Alexandra Ravano, Ashley Slonecker, River Stone, Edward Taylor, Emma Tomaszewski, Avanti Tulpule.
FDI animated video production team: Rachel Farzan, Yutong Jiang, Paul Lachelier, and Maria Lujan.
Mentors: Chris Comer, Cassie Dick, Aileene Duyan, Marissa Hall, Marley Henschen, Paul Lachelier, Suzanne Lachelier, Sherry Liu (China).
Family diplomat trainers: Denise Bodman, Andreas Fulda (United Kingdom), Sangeetha Madhavan, Joe Toles, Ben Yavitz, Bethany Van Vleet.
Family diplomats: Chirunim Agi-Otto (Nigeria), Aaron Akomea (Ghana), Tenille Archie (Trinidad & Tobago), Gustavo Carvajal (Costa Rica), Ittie Chaunzar (Zimbabwe), Atenkeng Cynthia (Cameroon), Quanchao “Marvin” Fan (China), Mulbah Isaac Flomo (Liberia), Belle Gjeloshi (Albania), Esma Gumberidze (Georgia), Nusrat Jahan Nipa (Bangladesh), Lekshmi K (India), Tadiwa Mudede (Zimbabwe), Sami Noman (Pakistan), Leroy Quoi (Liberia), Mohammad Siavash (Afghanistan), Chloe Terani, Joe Toles, and Justice Umesi Onyekachi (Nigeria).
DLC planning participants: Doug Addison, Asia Alvarado, Pam Bailey, Mindy Burrell, Patrick Cole, Laurie Cooper, Kate Howard, Patrick McDermott, Fariba Parsa, Libby Pope, Jeff Prudhomme, Brad Rourke, Emily Samose, Devin Scanlon, Kathleen Schmermund, William Schneider, Ashley Warren, Scott Warren, Jim Williams, and more than fifty others who completed DLC input surveys in 2022.
Board of Directors: Khadija Hashemi, Suzanne Lachelier, and Joe Toles.
Board of Advisors: Golnar Abedin, Janine Branch, Bert Brandenburg, Dandan Chen, Matt Clausen, Maia Comeau, Loren Hurst, Darrell Irwin, Raymond Karam, Cindy Mah, Andreas Prauhart, Curtis Raynold, Emily Samose, John Schorr, Nancy Walker, Jim Williams, and Ben Yavitz.
Donors: Marcia Anglarill, Anders Beer, Shelley & Doug Antuna, Neme Bidjada, Bert Brandenburg, Michael Brown, Nick Burton, Ukiah Jacob Busch, Dandan Chen, Matt Clausen, Wally Clausen, James Coan, Michael Deal, Margarita Diaz, Pat Diaz, Brianna Dimas, Rachel Dungan, Nichola Dyer, Eric & Jeanne Evenson, Quanchao Marvin Fan, Craig Gusmann, Khadija Hashemi, Darrell Irwin, Desmond Jordan, Steve Kolb, Joe & Theresa Krettek, Eric Kurlander, The Lachelier Family, members of The Ladder, Steve Lainez, Cindy Mah, Zainab Mahdi, David Meskill, Daniel Moses, Sherry Mueller, Jaclyn O’Day, Nancy Overholt, Maryam Pate, Kelly Pemberton, Tony Perez, Thomas Ponniah, Seth Radwell, Christopher Raleigh, Kate Raftery, Curtis Raynold, Al Roca, Emily Samose, Jordan Sandman, John Schorr, William Schneider, Arthur Siebens, Yves Taylor-Potts, Joe Toles, Debbie Trent, Carmen & John Vaughan, Nancy Walker, Jim Williams, Ben Yavitz, and anonymous donors.
My apologies if I missed anyone. If I did, please let me know yours or their name(s) at firstname.lastname@example.org so that I may acknowledge you or them here.
Thank you for your interest and support! Here’s to a healthier, more caring, connected world in 2023!
Paul Lachelier, Ph.D.
Founder & Director, Learning Life