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A New Story About Later Life: The Atlantic Philanthropies’ Effort to Expand Civic Engagement Among Older Americans

Resource type: Research Report

Tony Proscio, Duke Sanford School of Public Policy |

A nearly decade-long effort by The Atlantic Philanthropies to promote Civic Engagement of Older Adults — a new field dedicated to developing programmes and policies to provide greater opportunities to work, learn and volunteer after age 60  yielded six broad lessons, according to this report.

The $120 million initiative was prompted by a stark contrast: older adults in the United States are a prime source of experience and energy for solving social problems, yet opportunities for them to use their skills decrease significantly in later life. Atlantic’s initiative, which took place from 2001-2010, aimed to remove obstacles to a more satisfying life in the later years while mining an untapped supply of talent and energy.

Key Findings

Reviewing Atlantic’s experience in the initiative, author Tony Proscio detailed the following lessons:

(1) Atlantic’s idea of “civic engagement” was defined broadly — encompassing not only community service, but also ordinary employment, education, and skills training later in life. This proved to be both a strength and a weakness.

(2) The initiative achieved many important and, in some cases, remarkable accomplishments including building credibility for the field, inserting civic engagement provisions into the Older Americans Act and helping 30 community foundations create or expand ageing programs

(3) The fundamental ideas of the civic engagement agenda are now part of the national discussion on ageing

(4)  While civic engagement has strong leaders, the field needs additional national leadership to continue its progress

(5) There are significant obstacles, including Atlantic’s abrupt departure in 2010, to evolving the field further

(6) The weak economy may call for a fundamentally new approach by those who lead the field, with increased emphasis on opportunities for which people can be paid.


The Work in Action

  • Encore Careers – Passion, Purpose and a Paycheck

    A social worker for over four decades, Dr. Hubert Jones won the Purpose Prize from Civic Ventures for his inspiring work creating the Boston Children’s Chorus, a dynamic group of young people from diverse communities that share the power and joy of music and inspire social change.

  • Older Adults Leading Community Change

    The Community Experience Partnership brings together U.S. community foundations to find new ways to engage the rapidly growing population of people over 60 in activities that benefit others and improve local quality of life.

  • Meeting Society’s Greatest Challenges with Experience

    AARP Experience Corps is an award-winning network of partners, schools and community service organisations in 19 U.S. cities. Its volunteer members — aged 50+ — tutor children who need basic literacy skills, mentor students and partner with classroom teachers to strengthen schools and communities.  

  • Next Avenue: A Website for the Booming 50+ Population

    Next Avenue is a PBS website designed to meet the needs and the potential of America’s “age boom.” It aims to engage, inspire and inform the more than 100 million people who are transitioning into what many see as a new life stage in human development – a stage between young adulthood and “old old.”

Download the Report

Report: A New Story About Later Life

Atlantic commissioned this report.