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The aging of the boomer generation is accelerating - an average of 8,000 women and men turn 60 each day, a wave that will only grow in the coming decades. Will the aging of our society drain precious resources as some predict, or will it be a tide of talent, purpose, and experience that lifts us up and leaves us better off?
The Purpose Prize, which recognizes adults over 60 making extraordinary contributions in their community, shows the latter to be true. In the four years since the program was launched, nearly 4,000 adults have been nominated, more than 200 have been named fellows, and nearly 50 have been named Prize winners, taking home up to $100,000 to support and expand their work.
The old notions of retirement defined by the “golden years of leisure,” are being replaced by entirely new definitions of what’s possible in the second half of life, both personally and for our communities as a whole. Purpose Prize winners are helping to create this entirely new stage of life and work.
Take for example Judith Broder, who watched a play documenting the mental anguish some veterans experience after coming come from war, and felt something click. As a psychiatrist, she knew that without help some soldiers would never get past what they had seen and done. She also understood that a veteran’s distress can painfully affect loved ones, particularly their children and spouses. Taking action, Broder created The Soldiers Project, an organization that supports free, confidential, unlimited therapy to service members and their families.
Broder’s encore career fully utilizes her accumulated talents, contacts and training to leave the world a better place. But, is her case an aberration?
When we started The Purpose Prize, we weren’t sure how many nominations to expect. Since then, the sheer number of nominations and the high quality of so many of them forced us to find additional ways to recognize candidates’ accomplishments. We’ve created opportunities to develop a powerful network of older innovators, encouraged them to tell their stories to the press and, along the way, elevated a new set of spokespeople for their generation.
Catalino Tapia, an immigrant who launched a small gardening business, couldn’t have known he was pointing others towards a new vision of the second half of life when he watched tearfully as his eldest son graduated from law school. Struck by the power of education and the American dream, Tapia began asking his clients for donations to help young Latinos attend college. Now Tapia has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars in scholarship funds for low-income students with his organization, the Bay Area Gardeners’ Foundation.
And a recent survey shows that millions more want encore careers that combine personal meaning, social impact and continued income. The 2008 Encore Career Survey of Americans between the ages of 44 and 70, found that half of those surveyed have a strong interest in encore careers. Working with youth, preserving the environment and teaching topped the list of interests. The survey also found that as many as 8 million adults are already in encore careers.
Already in an encore career or know of someone who is working for the social good in post mid-life? Consider nominating yourself, a friend or a colleague for The Purpose Prize, which provides a total of $750,000 in awards to ten individuals in encore careers who are inventing new solutions to major social problems. Nominations are due March 5th at Encore.org.
Guest blogger Alexandra Céspedes Kent is the Director of The Purpose Prize, a program of Civic Ventures.