IAM645- Sociologist Innovates Education and Citizen Engagement

Podcast Interview with Paul Lachelier

Paul Lachelier is a sociologist, and founder and director of Learning Life, a Washington, DC-based nonprofit lab innovating education and citizen engagement. Learning Life’s flagship program, the Family Diplomacy Initiative is developing a family form of citizen diplomacy to help democratize diplomacy. Paul holds a B.A. in sociology from Georgetown University and an M.A. and Ph.D. in sociology from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Before founding Learning Life in 2012, he taught at Stetson, Harvard, Tufts, and the University of Wisconsin. Paul’s writing, research, and programmatic work focus on the intersection of democracy, culture, and education. His writings have appeared in academic journals as well as popular media including the Boston Globe, Chicago Tribune, Orlando Sentinel, Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, Albuquerque Journal, and truthout.org. More at Paul’s LinkedIn page and his website.

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Website: http://learninglife.info/


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Intro 0:02

Do you want to learn effective ways to build relationships, generate sales, and grow your business from successful entrepreneurs, startups, and CEOs without listening to a long, long, long interview? If so, you've come to the right place. Gresham Harkless values your time and is ready to share with you precisely the information you're in search of. This is the I AM CEO Podcast.

Gresham Harkless 0:29

Hello. Hello. Hello, this is Gresh from the I AM CEO podcast and I have a very special guest on the show today. I have Paul Lachelier. of Learning Life. Paul, it's awesome to have you on the show.

Paul Lachelier 0:38

Great to be here.

Gresham Harkless 0:39

Super excited to have you on and what I want to do is just read a little bit more about Paul so you hear about all the awesome things that he's doing. Paul is a sociologist and founder and director of the learning life in Washington DC-based nonprofit lab innovating education and citizen engagement. Learning Lives' flagship program, the family diplomacy initiative, is developing a family form of citizen diplomacy to help democratize diplomacy. Paul holds a BA in sociology from Georgetown University and an MA and PhD in sociology from the University of Wisconsin Madison. before founding Learning Life in 2012.

He taught at Stetson Harvard Tufts and the University of Wisconsin. Paul's writing research and program programmatic work focuses on the intersection of democracy, culture, and education. His writings have appeared in academic journals as well as popular media including the Boston Globe, Chicago Tribune, Orlando, Sentinel, Milwaukee Journal, Sentinel, Albuquerque, journal, and truth out.org. Paul, are you ready to speak to the I AM CEO community?

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Paul Lachelier 1:34


Gresham Harkless 1:35

Awesome. Let's do it. So to kick everything off, I wanted to hear a little bit more about what I call your CEO story to hear what led you to get started with your organization.

Paul Lachelier 1:41

Sure, so I'm going to I usually give kind of like a whirlwind tour through my life. So it'll be relatively brief. I was born and raised in France, up until age 11, in the Paris area, my father's French American, and my mother's Spanish American, which helps explain why I do the kind of culture slash international work that I do now. We moved to the United States, and I moved around for school and ended up at Georgetown as an undergraduate, as you indicated, and then graduate school at the University of Wisconsin, Wisconsin, all of my degrees are in sociology, and I love sociology, clearly.

And then I taught for a while at Stetson University in Florida from 2008 to 2012. But essentially, I left academia in 2012 and started learning life, at this educational nonprofit, because I want to be more directly involved in social change. So basically, kind of my animus in life is to try to make the world a better place, and improve life for other people, but particularly to empower people lower down the socio-economic scale, who don't have as much voice. And so that's essentially what we do in 10 different ways before any life.

Gresham Harkless 2:49

I definitely appreciate that. And I think that, um, I feel like in this day and age, we have a lot more of a voice than we've ever had. But I think that sometimes if you don't know that you have a voice or you aren't aware of that, or even aware that you can voice your opinion. And sometimes it's basically the same as not even having a voice. So I appreciate you for you know, all you're doing to help, you know, especially those people in this lower socio-economic ranges, be able to understand that and understand that they can make changes and take action towards, you know, having a voice and being part of the change, I want to say.

Paul Lachelier 3:17

Yeah, you know, I'll notice it because we're in the current Coronavirus epidemic right now I just actually got off the phone with my mentee. So one of the things that we run through learning life as an international mentoring program, and he's a 14-year-old, he's going to be 14, the 18, African American kid from Ward eight, says Portsmouth, Washington, DC. And he's, you know, looking for stuff to do because, of course, he's out of school. And so we've been basically meeting for more than half an hour, originally was planned for just 15 minutes, but we're like meeting for this time, we met for like, 49 minutes. And it's great. It's been, it's been awesome, because because he's got less going on. He's much more focused on our conversations. We're learning lots together, we're learning about drones, because he's interested in learning about all our mentoring is all about international learning. And he's learning about drones. And so we're learning together about this stuff. And next time, he's basically going to be teaching me about some video that he we're gonna watch together, and then he's going to lead the discussion. So yeah.

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Gresham Harkless 4:16

Yeah, it's definitely, uh, you know, great to have those opportunities. And I love how you talked about it like, you know, sometimes, obviously, it's a difficult time, you know, for everybody. But I think that sometimes when we reframe certain things that can sometimes help us to see the silver lining and things that you said, he's allowed to be, he's able to be a lot more kind of focus, because there's not as many distractions. So it allows us to really kind of drill down on the things that are most important to us and sometimes sharpen our saw in certain areas as it could be drones or anything else that anybody might be listening to, but I definitely appreciate that. So I know that's one aspect of you know, what you're doing with learning life. Could you take us through all the other kinds of things that you're doing and programs that you have for people?

Paul Lachelier 4:53

Yeah, so basically, as I mentioned, Learning Life is an educational nonprofit. So if anybody wants to learn the details, they can go to learning Life dot info. We are an unusual educational nonprofit in the sense that our broad mission is to innovate education and citizen engagement outside school walls. The reason for that is that a lot of inequality is generated, not just in schools, it's generated actually neighborhoods and families. And so, we started in 2016, the programs that we now operate on, so we started in 2012, but we kind of refocused towards international education in 2016. And so we have three programs. The first, which was started in 2016, is the family diplomacy initiative, which you mentioned early on, that is an effort at kind of citizen engagement education.

Using internet, we use Facebook to connect families from different parts of the world, these offenses are not related to each other, they connect from different parts of the world to our Facebook group, and Facebook groups are now expanding, we did a couple of pilot projects involving lower-income families in Washington, DC, El Salvador, Senegal, and Jordan. Those were the community photo project and the nutrition and food culture project. We're now scaling up. And this year, we're gonna be asking six questions focused on food, like, what does breakfast look like in your family? What does dinner look like in your family? What's a comfort food in your family and that kind of thing?

And we're going to be getting answers from a panel of families across the world. And they're going to be giving photographic answers. So the idea is to get families to learn together across borders from each other. And that's kind of the next stage in the development is family diplomacy Initiative, where we're essentially trying to, in the long term, elevate the profile of families in and the needs and their concerns and aspirations to try to develop more caring in international relations and in a not so caring world. So that's our family diplomacy initiative. The second program that we have is an international mentoring program.

So it is international in two senses currently, one is that some of our kids are in El Salvador in Senegal, and some of our kids are here in Washington, DC, the other sense of International is that we're trying to open up the world to kids from lower income backgrounds, precisely because international affairs tends to be the province of more privileged people who could afford to travel, middle and upper-income people, the internet presents a wonderful opportunity to bring the world to people, but you need programs like ours, to do that. And so we match kids up with professionals in the metro DC area, and in some cases, students as well, usually who have some interest in international affairs or who are professionals in international affairs, but they don't have to be there anybody in Metro DC as a caring adult who wants to help out a kid to learn about the wider world can participate.

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And so, we currently have about 25 mentor-mentee pairs. And the mentors go out when there's no pandemic going on. They go out to embassies, cultural festivals, foreign restaurants, museums, libraries, etc, and so forth to help open the world to our kids. And if they're mentoring kids in El Salvador, Senegal, they're doing that online and trying to connect their interests to the wider world. So the last thing is we have a democracy, dinners. And those are, that's the only program that's not strictly International. And that basically brings together democracy activist democracy, people, we're studying democracies, academics, and then professionals who are operating different kinds of silos.

In other words, they have come to their own specialties. What we're trying to do is to get in this time of authoritarian resurgence, and concern about democracy, we're trying to get people in different areas of democracy in the metro DC region. And that's 10s of 1000s of people to talk to each other. We basically organized small dinners of six to eight people at a restaurant, each person pays their own bill, and we had a long, kind two-hour conversation about the possibilities and the challenges of democracy local to global. So that's, that's what we do.

Gresham Harkless 9:05

So I definitely appreciate each of those programs. And obviously, they each have different, you know, missions and goals, it sounds like But definitely, at least collectively, I hear like kind of getting the conversation and awareness about, you know, whether it be democracy or even opportunities outside of, you know, the school space, just getting that out there. And I think that I love that you have created this organization to be able to kind of facilitate that, whether it be you know, through on ones that you're doing with the kids, or whether it be through your Facebook group or the dinners that you mentioned, as well, too. But there's just so many ways that we can communicate. And I think that it's to our advantage if we're able to have and have opportunities to be able to do that. So I appreciate you for creating those opportunities.

Paul Lachelier 9:41

Yeah, sure.

Gresham Harkless 9:42

Awesome. So I wanted to ask you for what I call your secret sauce and it can be for yourself or your organization. But what do you feel kind of sets you apart and makes you unique?

Paul Lachelier 9:51

So we are quite unusual among educational nonprofits because most educational nonprofits focus on schools, and we are not focused on school. We're trying to innovate. As I mentioned, education and citizen engagement outside school walls, and there's a, there's a really important that are kind of worth elaborating reasons for that. And you can think about it in terms of like families and, and what. So I'll give you an example. In my own personal life, I'm dating, this woman who is a professor at George Washington University. She has two kids. She's African American, her kids are African American. And they have a very different experience than my mentee, who comes from a lower-income family, where the mom dropped out of school when she was in high school.

She has three kids, she completed high school and a GED, but nonetheless, she has very different resources. And the point is that through mentoring, right, we are able to provide some not all the opportunities and the resources and the knowledge, etc, and so forth that this woman who's a college professor provides to her kids. She, you know, assigns them to work when they're signs on like homework that she does herself because she's a teacher, she's capable of doing those things. She does that during her like, they have fifth spring break from school. She's giving them more assignments. So you can imagine her kids were nine and 15, at this point, have so much more knowledge of the world such a broad a broader vocabulary, etc, and so forth. And through mentoring, we're trying to provide a little piece of that.

So my conversations right now, during the pendant, this Coronavirus pandemic, that, you know, we're just 30 minutes with my mentee focused on learning about a topic and that leads to learning about other things like World War One and World War Two and you know, nuclear weapons and that kind of thing is giving some of that richness to my mentees' life, outside of school in that critical place where inequality is being deepened. Because some parents have so many more resources not just monetary, rights, but also knowledge, skills, etc, and so forth. That kids, unfortunately, lower down the socio-economic scale don't don't get to enjoy. So we're trying to as much as possible, distinguish ourselves by providing those resources that are so missing in everyday life outside of school.

Gresham Harkless 12:10

Appreciate you for breaking that down as your secret sauce. So I wanted to switch gears a little bit and I want to ask you for what I call a CEO hack. So that could be like an app or book or habit that you have. But what's something that makes you more effective and efficient?

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Paul Lachelier 12:21

What I would like to recommend is this author slash coach slash speaker, her name is Dorie Clark, D is in David o r i e, Clarke C L A R K and you just go to dorieclark.com, you'll find our little resources, including she's written three books, I believe, I read two of her books. She somebody actually knew way back, like 20 years ago or so. In Boston, when she was not, it's a fairly well-known and accomplished author and coach and so on. And, she's an awesome person who has written some really useful books on how to do it one of our books is called Entrepreneurial You. And it's about how as entrepreneurs, we can basically fashion the life we want, by developing a variety of income streams.

Gresham Harkless 13:12

Appreciate that hack. So now when asked for what I call a CEO, nugget, that could be like a word of wisdom or a piece of advice. Or if you could happen to be a time machine, what would you tell your younger business self?

Paul Lachelier 13:22

So one of the things that I'm currently using a lot is LinkedIn. And I actually have so anybody who's interested, by the way, I'm doing, I'm beginning to do consulting, speaking of kind of independent income streams, because for the last several years, very successfully used interns, I don't pay them a red sense, I pay them in chocolate essentially when I get together with them. But I also give them a substantial, you know, meaningful experience. And, I have so I've used I've relied on insurance for doing the bulk of kind of some crucial work in our kind of shoestring operation nonprofit. And so if anybody's interested in that, they're happy to contact me you can reach me at Paul at learning Life dot info.

But one of my interns is literally in my given password and username for my LinkedIn. He is one of his tasks this semester, which is basically to move my contacts from I started with about 1600. And by the end of the semester, he's gonna bring it to about 5000. And we're on target for that to happen. It's targeted LinkedIn contacts, but he's basically an assistant who is using my LinkedIn to expand my network. And what I found as he's expanding my network is that more people are now requesting contact with me to request and connect with me. And I'm getting more solicitations than I previously got.

So for instance, I've gotten a couple of solicitations to join these networks of entrepreneurs in the metro DC area. I haven't seized upon them, but nonetheless, just the sheer act of increasing your network on LinkedIn which is free by the way, I don't have a paid subscription LinkedIn can actually increase your visibility. And I'm doing it in part because I'm trying to position myself in the long term to be kind of a thought leader for lack of a better term on democracy and citizen participation in education. And so that is kind of a very kind of practical, useful thing that I would recommend people do using LinkedIn. And it's totally free.

Gresham Harkless 15:24

I truly appreciate that nugget. And now I want to ask you my absolute favorite question, which is the definition of what it means to be a CEO and we're open after and quote-unquote CEOs on this show. So Paul, what does the CEO mean to you?

Paul Lachelier 15:33

You know, the first word that comes to mind is leader but leader can be leadership can be done in so many different ways. And to me the most important way what I define as the best kind of leadership is leadership, that empowers other people.

Gresham Harkless 15:49

Paul, truly appreciate that definition. I appreciate your time even more. What I wanted to do was passionate the mic so to speak, just to see how people can get in touch with you and hear about all the awesome things that you're doing.

Paul Lachelier 15:58

Great. So anybody I'll reiterate anybody who wants to reach me can reach me at Paul at learning Life dot info. And if they want to learn more about our programming, through our website, learning Life dot info.

Gresham Harkless 16:12

Awesome. Awesome. Awesome. Well, thank you so much again, Paul. We will have the links and information in the show notes so that everybody can follow up with you. But appreciate you know your time and all the awesome things that you're doing. So I appreciate you and I hope you have a great rest of the day.

Outro 16:22

Thank you for listening to the I AM CEO Podcast powered by Blue 16 Media. Tune in next time and visit us at iamceo.co I AM CEO is not just a phrase, it's a community. Be sure to follow us on social media and subscribe to our podcast on iTunes Google Play and everywhere you listen to podcasts, SUBSCRIBE, and leave us a five-star rating grab CEO gear at www.ceogear.co. This has been the I AM CEO Podcast with Gresham Harkless. Thank you for listening.

[fusebox transcript]_


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