Franklin Project

About Us

Mission:  The Franklin Project envisions a future in which all young Americans are asked, “Where did you serve?” and can answer with pride.  National service would be voluntary, but expected, in the military or as a civilian for a full year or more at modest pay, and a rite of passage for every young American.  

Genesis:  At the 2012 Aspen Ideas Festival, General (Ret.) Stanley McChrystal, Former Commander of U.S. Forces Afghanistan, noted that for first time in history less than 1 percent of Americans are serving in our nation’s military.  He called for large-scale national service, either military or civilian.  Aspen creates the “Franklin Project,” after Ben Franklin, who believed service by citizens was central to our democracy.

What is “National Service”?  Americans can discharge their national service obligation by either serving in the military or as a civilian fulltime for a year or more through programs such as Teach for America, AmeriCorps or the Peace Corps.  For civilian service, a small living allowance is provided, so that all young Americans have opportunities to serve.

Leadership: General McChrystal chairs the Leadership Council, which includes a diverse group of leaders, including Madeleine Albright, Condoleezza Rice, Robert Gates, Tom Brokaw, David Gergen, Mellody Hobson, Melody Barnes, Barbara Bush, Wendy Kopp, and Wes Moore.  John Bridgeland, former White House Domestic Policy Director, and Alan Khazei, City Year Co-Founder, are Co-Chairs, and Jay Mangone, a former Marine and Teaching Fellow at Yale, is Director.

Theory of the Franklin Project:  We believe national service cultivates the  citizenship America needs and is the best solution to many urgent challenges afflicting the country. By challenging the nation to create a 21st century national service system that calls upon every young person to serve the nation, and by channeling these young Americans’ patriotism into impactful service, we aim to secure our nation’s future prosperity and cultivate citizenship that will bind the rising generation to itself and to the nation. We also believe that Americans are inspired by big ideas, and will support a plan if it promises to transform individuals and America.

Specific Goal:  To realize universal national service, we must dramatically expand the number of civilian service opportunities and make serving feasible for all Americans regardless of their family’s finances. In 2011, AmeriCorps received 580,000 applications for only 80,000 positions, only half of which are fulltime. To meet the existing demand, we will create 1 million civilian national service opportunities every year for Americans between the ages of 18 and 28 to get outside their comfort zones while serving side-by-side with people from different backgrounds.  A one million-strong civilian service corps would be on par with the more than one million Americans on active duty in our Armed Forces.

Achieving the Goal:  The Franklin Project will lead a coalition drawn from the private, public and nonprofit sectors, all of which must work together to provide the leadership and opportunities to achieve our mission. Our goal of reaching one million civilian service positions will rely upon the resources of a wealthy nation through crowd-funding, philanthropy and government.  Meeting the goal requires coordination among the ideas outlined below:

Increase Existing National Service Positions at Significant Scale:

  • Agency Corps:  We are working closely with the Administration to help federal departments and agencies use national service to meet their missions, such as FEMA Corps. The 21st Century Conservation Service Corps, a public-private partnership across 8 public land agencies and the private sector, could achieve significant scale.

  •  Re-integrating Veterans through national service:  Research shows civilian service helps improve the transitions of veterans back home, and models already exist, such as The Mission Continues and Team Rubicon.

  • Fulfilling the Promise of the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act: We support Presidential and Congressional action to ensure that at least 100,000 national service positions are provided in the next fiscal year, adding 25,000 positions.  And we support fully implementing the Serve America Act, which calls for growth to 250,000 national service positions annually by 2017.

Create Civilian National Service Pilots as a Challenge to Others:  The Franklin project is also working to catalyze a number of high-quality pilots, in concert with the creation of the National Service Certification System and Technology Platform that will serve as models to expand national service. The Franklin Project will allow key civic institutions to interact meaningfully with national service:

  • Colleges
  • Cities                    
  • States
  • Nonprofits
  • Military and Veterans Groups
  • Private Sector
  • Philanthropy
  • Faith Community
  • Young People
  • Parents

Unite National Service Through the National Service Certification System and Technology Platform:  With support of $2.1 million from Cisco Systems, the Franklin Project is working with the National Conference on Citizenship and the Corporation for National and Community Service to create a “national service certification system and technology platform” that will enable colleges, non-profits and social enterprises to create civilian national service positions and give many more young people the chance to serve.  Such opportunities could be supported by government, the private sector or crowd-funded.  

Next Steps: From June 4-6, 2014, the Franklin Project will convene the National Service Summit at Gettysburg. The aim is for the Gettysburg Summit to be an inflection point, where Americans decide that a renewal of citizenship through national service is required to meet the challenges of the 21st century. In addition, the Franklin Project created an Operating Plan for 2014 that includes three priorities.

  •  Building the Architecture of a 21st Century National Service System
  •  Building Public Support for the Big Idea of a “Service Year as a Rite of Passage”
  •  Unifying the National Service Field and Generating Resources