National Service

What’s the “Unfinished Work” of National Service?

June 17, 2014  • Institute Contributor

Clinton Foundation Vice Chair Chelsea Clinton moderates a discussion called “Our Generation: Our Legacy” at the Summit at Gettysburg.

The Aspen Institute Franklin Project, which works to improve citizenship by providing every young person in the United States the opportunity to do a service year, hosted its second annual Summit June 4-6. Entitled “Our Unfinished Work,” the Summit, this year at Gettysburg, was designed to explore the work that the Franklin Project has done since its inception one year ago, and what is left to be done. Clinton Foundation Vice Chair Chelsea Clinton, Global Health Corps CEO Barbara Bush, and Franklin Project Leadership Council Chairman Gen. Stanley McChrystal joined other like-minded leaders in conversation about how to improve the level of and diversity of volunteerism among young people in the US.

“Young people think deeply about how they can take ownership of their communities and how they can lead,” said Zach Maurin, executive director of ServiceNation, in a panel discussion led by Clinton. “They want skills, they want experience and if we provide them with the opportunity, there’s no question that they’re going to step up.” He went on to explain why he believes that marketing civic service as a rite of passage (an idea discussed here) is ineffective. Instead, he said, “the idea of skills, leadership, and a pathway to a more successful, meaningful life is the best way [to reach young people].”

Cisco has developed a badge to attach to resumes of people who have participated in civil service. The corporation, like many others, aims to give young people who serve a further incentive and benefit. However, the demand for public service isn’t the problem — after all, applications for positions in the Peace Corps and Teach for America are often exponentially more plentiful than the spots available. Funding for these positions needs to be allocated.

There is also a diversity issue.”We’ve got to think, how do we find great community leaders, not just great leaders who come from campuses,” said Baltimore Corps CEO and Director of the Aspen Institute Impact Careers Initiative Fagan Harris. “Groups like Public Alllies have been true leaders in this respect, and something that we all can learn from and really take to heart. […] If we’re not marrying the great talent that’s in our communities in which we’re serving with the great talent that’s coming out of maybe more affluent or privileged backgrounds or college campuses or universities, [then] we’ve missed a transformative opportunity, I think. … If we have a million people serving and they’re all one kind of person, that’s a pretty hollow service.”

Going forward, the Franklin Project will continue to work on how to implement a nationwide service year for young people by putting together programs such as the Summit at Gettysburg to generate ideas and plans of action.

Learn more about the event, read press coverage, and contact Franklin Project staff by visiting the Summit at Gettysburg event page.