A boom in ‘encore careers’
Resource type: News
AmeriCorps, Civic Ventures, and City Year are Atlantic grantees.
By Irene Sege
When my parents retired, my father taught courses on linguistics and Kosovo and the philosophy of time at a volunteer-run institute for learning in retirement, and my mother picked up pocket money tutoring high school science and math. Me? My 401(k) is in shambles, and the economy and the Internet are wreaking havoc on my career. I’m still paying college tuitions, not even beginning to recover from them. I’ll be working for a long, long time. Then again, we baby boomers have always been bent on changing the rules, and plenty of us never thought we’d retire the old way anyway.
Three-quarters of boomers surveyed by Merrill Lynch plan to continue working, typically to “retire” at 64 and start a second career, often one that not only pays the bills but also gives back. The buzzword now is “encore careers,” and a number of vehicles are emerging to help boomers and their elders make the transition to second careers in nonprofit organizations or public service.
Time was when AmeriCorps was, by and large, the domain of the under-30 set looking to score credentials on the way to careers. No longer. The Serve America Act signed into law this spring aims to fill at least 10 percent of AmeriCorps openings with people 55 and older. It also establishes “Encore Fellowships” that place people 55 and older in management positions in nonprofits. It authorizes $11,000 apiece for 10 fellows per state, with host organizations providing matching funds. Think internships for people with resumes.
The federal program is modeled in part on the “Encore Fellowship” program launched in Silicon Valley in January by Civic Ventures, a self-described think tank on boomers, work, and social purpose. Fellows receive $25,000 to work part time for a year – or six months full time – in nonprofits. Since 2006, IBM has introduced programs to help older workers move into second careers in teaching, government service, or nonprofit organizations. The computer giant pays for courses needed for teacher certification and gives time off for student teaching.
“What we’re seeing emerge is a kind of hybrid of practical idealism that is an integration of the spirit of service that has long animated people in later life and the practicality of continued income and benefits,” says Civic Ventures founder Marc Freedman. “In the past people had to cobble together these opportunities. Now there’s a more aggressive attempt to meet people who want to do this work halfway.”
Internships aren’t the only outlet no longer reserved for the young. More and more social entrepreneurs these days have gray hair and decades of experience. A term that once described bright young innovators such as the founders of City Year, who married idealism with business principles, now applies to boomers and their seniors who bring actual business experience to the table. Civic Ventures instituted annual Purpose Prizes in 2006 to recognize social entrepreneurs over 60 who started their innovation after 50. Those honored so far include Dr. Donald Berwick, a pediatrician from Cambridge who at 57 launched the 100,000 Lives Campaign to reduce medical error, and Robert Chambers, a New Hampshire businessman whose program offers low-interest car loans and counseling to poor rural buyers.
Harvard Business School professor Rosabeth Moss Kanter this winter inaugurated the Advanced Leadership Initiative to do for people of substantial accomplishment late in their careers what other Harvard programs – the Nieman Fellowship for journalists, the midcareer program at the Kennedy School of Government, the Loeb Fellowships at the Graduate School of Design – do for people at the midpoint. The initiative aims, its website declares, to “change the concept of ‘retirement’ and help change the world for the better.”
The first class of 14 fellows includes a utility company executive, a retired general, and a few financiers. They spent last semester in courses and think tanks on education, public health, and poverty. They’re working on projects.
Jamie Kaplan, a 58-year-old former corporate lawyer from Maine who in 2003 cofounded the Cromwell Center for Disabilities Awareness, is using his fellowship to lay the groundwork for expanding his educational program beyond Maine. Thanks to connections made at Harvard, he’s launching pilot partnerships with City Year and Johns Hopkins University’s Center for Talented Youth. “If we’re really looking to have a major social impact,” Kaplan says, “then I want to do something that’s bigger.”
This doesn’t sound like a bad way to grow older.