The encore career movement — compassionate and passionate people over 50 who are immersed in second acts to improve society — is on the march, gingerly.
More than 4.5 million Americans age 50 to 70 are working in encore roles today. And 500 encore leaders, along with a few journalists including me, just convened in Tempe, Ariz. at Encore 2014: Building an Encore Nation, the largest conference its host, Encore.org, has held. (The Encore.org 2014 Purpose Prize Awards and The Eisner Foundation’s 2014 Eisner Prizes for Intergenerational Excellence were also presented there.)
“The more you look around the corners, the more you find really interesting things being done,” former Disney CEO and Eisner Foundation co-founder Michael Eisner told me at the conference. As one wag at Encore 2014 put it: “We’ve gone from a notion to a nation.”
(MORE: Purpose Prize Winners Doing Great Work)
At the conference, part inspirational pep rally (its theme: Leave Your Mark; tongue-in-cheek hashtag: #unselfie) and part introspective meetup, attendees bravely addressed some of the big questions facing the encore movement, largely about how to grow it and make it more inclusive.
Addressing 3 Key Questions
If you’re considering launching an encore career or are already living one, I think you’ll be interested to hear what I heard. I've pulled together highlights by posing three questions and noting answers that were offered.
Why aren’t more companies and nonprofits hiring encore careerists or helping their current employees transition into encore careers?
Some — such as Intel, IBM, HP, Procter & Gamble, Boeing and Eli Lilly are. Intel, for instance, created Intel Encore Career Fellowships and offers pre-retirees advice about entrepreneurship in midlife. Said Amber Wiseley, who heads up retirement program design at Intel: “We are not in the business of picking the right encore careers, but supporting our employees when they are ready to retire and approach that transition.”
And Encore.org’s Encore Fellowship Network program has placed Fellows at more than 200 nonprofits. Encore President Ann MacDougall called the program a “roaring success,” describing Encore Fellows as “Trojan horses,” because they bring encore talent into organizations and, ideally, lead the nonprofits to hire more of them.
(MORE: How to Dip Your Toe Into the Encore Career Water)
Most employers, though, are still on the sidelines. “It’s not on their radar,” said Encore.org Executive Vice President Jim Emerman. (I’ll be writing more about this next week, when Encore.org releases a report on the subject.)
MacDougall said: “There has to be some ageism involved, some is inadvertent and some is just old-fashioned.” But, she added, some large nonprofits also “just don’t know how to access this talent.” Small ones, too, apparently. Ysabel Duron, a 2013 Purpose Prize winner who struggled trying to bring on encore careerists with the skills she needed said: “The real needs are at the small grassroots organizations.”
What might help, some attendees said, would be a national matching service connecting people who want to begin encore careers with firms and nonprofits that could use them. (Next Avenue blogger Chris Farrell recently wrote about a few local versions.) “But it’s labor intensive to make those matches,” said MacDougall.
How can we get more 50+ people to embark on encore careers helping America’s needy children?
“I think it’s one plus one equals four,” said Eisner, describing what happens when older and younger generations join up. “You see it in the faces of the older people who are given a shot of adrenaline and have a purpose. The younger person has someone with time to be considerate and patient with kids.”
Said Carol Larson, President of the David and Lucile Packard Foundation (whose focus is children under five): “It’s not a forced connection. You have rich human capital resources on one side — with experience, perspective and knowledge — and you have rich, deep human capital desires and needs on the other side with the children and parents.”
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Some organizations are doing terrific jobs making these matches, such as Eisner Prize winner Bridge Meadows, a community of adoptive parents, foster children and low-income elders in North Portland, Ore.
Its Executive Director, Derenda Schubert, told me that the 30 Bridge Meadows “elders” — age 55 to 91 — agree to volunteer 100 hours a week in community engagement. “They feel vibrant and alive” doing so, Schubert said. And more would like to. “There’s a waiting list. We could fill two-thirds of an additional community of elders,” she noted.
Asked Larson: “What if we motivated hundreds of thousands of people of our generation to become allies” with parents of young children, pediatricians and teachers? A good question.
How can we work better with Millennials to achieve social change?
This subject coursed through the veins of the Encore conference body. At one session I attended, Grant Kollet, Assistant Vice President for Alumni and Constituent Relations at the University of Washington said: “Encore sounds old. Encore comes at the end.”
Sarah McKinney, a Gen X’er who is a tech CEO and a Forbes writer, said the phrase “encore career” didn’t fit Millennials because many of its members — unlike boomers — won’t have a single career to encore out of. “They won’t have a second act; it’s more like 10 acts,” McKinney said.
Semantics aside, there was some disagreement about whether Millennials even cared about social purpose work. Said one boomer mom: “I have three Millennials and asked them when are they going to protest in the street. I told them, ‘My picture is in the file. When will yours be?’”
Others felt that plenty of Millennials were activists, noting that they tended to mobilize online and through social media. If boomers wanted to link up, they’d better follow suit, these observers urged. “We need to reach out to Millennials and be where they are,” said one.
Another suggestion: Prove yourself to Millennials to win them over. Said one participant: “I worked for a videogame company where I was responsible for business development and I was the oldest person there Once I proved myself, the whole dynamic changed. I became the respected elder statesperson.”
Perhaps it’ll just take time before boomer encore careerists and Millennials march in purpose together.
“I see parallel worlds, but I don’t see intersecting worlds,” said Kollet. However, he added, “I believe as we get critical mass with encore careers, the intersection will happen. It’s unavoidable.”