The Encore Movement is shifting expectations for aging.
Back in 1960, U.S. President John F. Kennedy convened the first White House Conference on Aging with this challenge: “We’ve added years to life. Now it’s time to add life to those additional years!” A booming economy responded with a retirement living industry that supported “graying as playing.”
From 1960 until now, another 15 years have been added – not to the end of life but to the middle of life as healthy, active years. As the Encore Movement leader, Marc Freedman, stated this week at the Encore Nation Summit Conference held in Arizona, “The challenges of the 21st century call for a new vision of aging.” Freedman referred to another famous quote from President Kennedy, “It’s not about what we can we do for ourselves. Instead, it’s time to ask, ‘What can we do for our country?’ The challenges created by rapid aging in a churning economy require older adults to put their talents to work for the greater good.”
Marc Freedman has been celebrating productive aging since he and John Gardner, an outstanding national civic leader, founded Civic Ventures in 1997. Now deceased, Gardner then talked about aging as a “breathtaking opportunity disguised as an insolvable problem.” He was optimistic about “versatile, innovative, self-renewing men and women who would renew society in their later lives.”
In 2006, supported primarily by the Atlantic Philanthropies, Civic Ventures began presenting annual monetary awards to a half dozen Purpose Prize winners and recognizing Purpose Prize Fellows, the runner-ups for the prize. Now in the ninth year, over 400 leaders over the age of 60 have been celebrated. Leading by example, the Purpose Prize recipients have all brought their wisdom, experience and passion to solve community problems.
Civic Ventures was renamed “Encore.org” three years ago. The Encore vision is to establish engagement in work that combines personal meaning with social impact as a new social norm for the second half of life – titled “Second acts for the greater good.” To further the Encore Movement, Encore.org has assembled resource materials, networked organizations around the nation that are linking candidates with encore work opportunities, and funding Encore Fellows who help spread participation by older workers and employers. Lots of relevant information is located on the website, http://www.encore.org .
What does it take to create a successful social movement? Adria Goodson, an expert on community organizing from Prime Movers, described the essential elements: 1) its timing fits with a felt need; 2) prospective participants identify with the movement; 3) participation leads to individual transformation; 4) the movement is broad-based and “leader-full”; 5) the movement faces and overcomes opposition; 6) the movement is innovative but messy; and 7) the movement leads to a shift in power.
Key to the Encore Movement is Encore.org’s encouragement of leadership by example. Whereas the first Purpose Prize celebration involved 50 people in a restaurant, 500 attended last night’s Purpose Prize Awards presentation, held in a theater. As the “voice of the Encore vision,” Marc Freedman welcomed participants to this first Encore Nation Summit by saying, “You have joined the movement to create an Encore Nation.” The next goal will undoubtedly be to create an Encore World! Perhaps participants in the Pass It On Network can be helpful with that effort.