National Service

The Franklin Project: Bringing a Conversation on National Service to the Forefront

March 3, 2014

This week, the Aspen Institute Franklin Project team took to the airwaves in New York, joining HuffPost Live and Bloomberg TV to discuss civic responsibility, the benefits of national service, and the Franklin Project mission.

At the 2012 Aspen Ideas Festival, retired Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal, former commander of US Forces in Afghanistan, noted that for the 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. Following the speech, the Aspen Institute created the Franklin Project, named after Ben Franklin, who believed service by citizens was central to our democracy. McChrystal chairs the Franklin Project Leadership Council. 

On Thursday, the team spoke with HuffPost Live host Ahmed-Shihab Eldin to address some of the questions at the heart of the Franklin Project. Amid the discussion, the team talked about what it means to be a US citizen. How can one best serve his or her country? And what are the benefits of expanding service-year opportunities? 

The conversation, which featured Franklin Project Director Jason Mangone, Program Manager Yasmeen Shaheen-McConnell, and I focused on outlining some of the concrete benefits of increasing service opportunities in terms of the impact such experiences have on individuals participating, local communities, our economy, and the world. Shaheen-McConnell discussed her own personal experience serving in AmeriCorps, where she served with the Arab-American Resource Corps in Dearborn, Michigan.

The Franklin Project team also discussed the fact that young Americans are showing a strong commitment to service, but often have too few opportunities to do so. For example, in 2011, AmeriCorps received 580,000 applications for only 80,000 positions, only half of which are full-time. Additionally, studies show that 30 percent of millennials identify meaningful work as the single most important factor in a successful career, while 71 percent identify meaningful work as one of the top three most important factors. As Mangone pointed out, “Young people are volunteering in greater rates than they ever have in our nation’s history.” The civic spirit that is so engrained in young Americans is already creating a reservoir of service that needs to be given more outlets for real action and impact. 

On Friday, Mangone appeared on Bloomberg TV’s “Bottom Line” with host Mark Crumpton. The segment focused on some of the benefits of national service from an economic perspective and pointed out the ways the private sector could be more engaged. Crumpton and Mangone also discussed some of the ways expanding service opportunities could help to ameliorate high unemployment numbers among young people. 

In addition, Mangone talked about the development of a national service technology platform that is currently underway. The Franklin Project is working in partnership with the National Conference on Citizenship (NCoC) on the platform, which is being supported by $2.1 million in funding from Cisco. “We have the technology that allows you to bring together the people who want to serve with the organizations that can host… We’ve had a huge partner step up in Cisco who is helping us to create a technology exchange, where young people, organizations, and funders can get matched up,” Mangone said. The YouServe.Org site is currently in its earliest version and offers the opportunity for those interested to sign up for further announcements. 

The media has an enormous role to play in the Franklin Project mission. At the heart of the Franklin Project mission is a desire to catalyze a cultural transformation in how our nation views and carries out national service. The program envisions a future in which all young Americans are asked, “Where did you serve?” and each can answer with pride. The Franklin Project aims to create an opportunity for every single American to complete a service year. 

The Franklin Project aims to make the issue of service in this country a part of the national conversation in the same way as issues such as education, immigration, foreign policy, and the economy are. McChrystal and the leadership of the program strongly believe that increasing the conversation surrounding the ramp up of national service in the way the Franklin Project envisions is innately linked to our ability to meet future domestic and foreign policy challenges.

Prominent mentions of recent Franklin Project activities can be found here:

To learn more about the Franklin Project, visit us at:

You can follow us on twitter at @FranklinProj.

Tara Maller is associate director of strategic communications for the Aspen Institute Franklin Project.