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Jan 14, 2016

92Y, Stanford’s Hoover Institution, Citizen University Launch Ben Franklin Circles

92nd Street Y, the Hoover Institution at Stanford University, and Citizen University today announced the Ben Franklin Circles ( – a 21st-century community-building initiative inspired by Benjamin Franklin’s “club for mutual improvement,” launched more than 300 years ago. The initiative aims to bring people together to discuss 13 core virtues and how they can be catalysts for personal, social, and civic change. Franklin’s club became a launching pad for civic initiatives such as the post office and volunteer fire department; today’s Circles encourage 21st-century citizens to consider ways to implement positive change in their own communities from the ground up.

“Research has shown that people from all walks of life, young and old alike, can benefit from opportunities to talk face-to-face about meaningful issues with others from their communities, and such opportunities have become all too rare at this time in our society.”

Tweet this, the initiative’s online hub, provides the infrastructure and tools for individuals and organizations to start their own Circles. The first Ben Franklin Circles are launching in the states of New York, Washington, South Carolina, Colorado, Utah, Minnesota, Massachusetts and California. Participating groups include The Family Dinner Project, The Village Square, Roosevelt Institute, and many more. Individuals who want to find an existing Circle or start their own can visit for more information.

“At 92Y, we are committed to thinking about new and creative ways to foster community and renew our values for the globally connected, digital world in which we live,” said Henry Timms, Executive Director of 92Y. “We are all inundated with information, but what people crave are meaningful interactions and real connections. We hope the Circles will allow diverse groups of people to come together, to listen and better understand each other, and to create new connections that will enrich both their personal lives and their communities.”

Ben Franklin Circles is a program within the Mary Jo and Dick Kovacevich Initiative at the Hoover Institution, Educating Americans in Public Policy, which seeks to equip citizens with accurate facts, information, and a discerning analytical perspective, so they can better perform their civic duties, hold their elected leaders accountable, and “secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity.”

“Ben Franklin Circles offer people a chance to discuss their vital concerns and aspirations with fellow citizens,” said William Damon, a professor at Stanford University and Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution. “Research has shown that people from all walks of life, young and old alike, can benefit from opportunities to talk face-to-face about meaningful issues with others from their communities, and such opportunities have become all too rare at this time in our society.”

“This project aligns deeply with Citizen University’s broader mission of spreading the values and skills of powerful citizenship,” said Eric Liu, founder and CEO of Citizen University. “With this project, we have a powerful opportunity to take the ideas of one of our country’s most iconic figures and build a platform for person-to-person engagement - the kind that strengthens communities and builds networks of engagement and participation. This is an essential project that fosters and teaches the values and skills of citizenship.”

How Ben Franklin Circles Work

Ben Franklin Circles meetings are dedicated to exploring the 13 virtues identified by Franklin: Temperance, Silence, Order, Resolution, Frugality, Industry, Sincerity, Justice, Moderation, Cleanliness, Tranquility, Chastity and Humility. The suggested size for a group is 5-12 individuals; together, they engage in conversations on what each of these virtues means today on a personal and societal level.

Six Guidelines for launching a Circle:

  • Pick a diverse membership (aiming for no more than 12 members)
  • Find the right time and place to meet regularly
  • Reach out to your members and identify a club facilitator
  • Prepare with the toolkit at
  • Kick off with a call to action and
  • Create a conversation-conducive space

Ben Franklin Circles is the newest initiative from 92Y, through its Innovation Center, designed to build community and meaningful, values-based discussions around the world. Other innovative initiatives launched by 92Y are The Social Good Summit; the global day of philanthropy #GivingTuesday; and the 7 Days of Genius Festival (the third festival kicks off this March).

About 92nd Street Y

92nd Street Y is a world-class, nonprofit cultural and community center that fosters the mental, physical and spiritual health of people throughout their lives, offering: wide-ranging conversations with the world’s best minds; outstanding programming in the performing, visual and literary arts; fitness and sports programs; and activities for children and families. 92Y is also a community that stretches across the world, reimagining what it means to be a community center in the digital age with initiatives like the award-winning #GivingTuesday. These programs are transforming the way people share ideas and translate them into action both locally and around the world. The organization, founded in 1874, is a center for innovation and the visual and performing arts; a convener of both people and ideas; and an incubator for creativity. 92Y is built on a foundation of Jewish values: the unparalleled capacity of civil dialogue to change minds; the unlimited potential of education and the arts to change lives; and the eternal commitment to welcoming and serving people of all races, religions and ethnicities. For more information, visit

About Hoover Institution

The Hoover Institution, Stanford University, is a public policy research center devoted to the advanced study of economics, politics, history, and political economy—both domestic and foreign—as well as international affairs. With its eminent scholars and world-renowned Library & Archives, the Hoover Institution seeks to improve the human condition by advancing ideas that promote economic opportunity and prosperity, and secure and safeguard peace for America and all mankind.

About Citizen University

Citizen University is a national non-profit based in Seattle that works to help Americans cultivate the values, systems knowledge, and skills of powerful citizenship. Programs and initiatives include the Civic Collaboratory, a civic leadership network; Sworn-Again America, a project on civic rituals; a series of programs and resources to teach civic power; and a new initiative, the Joy of Voting, that aims to reinvigorate a culture of participation and engagement around voting. The Citizen University National Conference features hundreds of change-makers, activists, catalysts, and students from across the country, and is an annual civic gathering unlike any other. This is a time when citizens are solving problems in new ways, bypassing broken institutions, stale ideologies, and polarized politics. Citizen University is part of a movement to rekindle citizenship and remake the narrative of America.



Jovana Rizzo, 646-200-5329
Jovana [at] ()
Beverly Greenfield, 212-415-5452
bgreenfield [at] ()
Hoover Institution:
Jenny Mayfield, 650-723-0603
jennymayfield [at] ()