Profiles in Innovation

Since Encore.org’s founding, we have been a hub of social innovation. We have successfully created new programs, refined and demonstrated their effectiveness, and often spun them off to a new home with the institutional capacity and commitment to take them to scale.

Experience Corps and the Purpose Prize, two programs we launched and developed, clearly demonstrate this trajectory. Both are now signature programs of AARP –one sign that what was once innovative, even unique, is becoming mainstream. Encore.org and AARP share a common goal of re-envisioning aging in America, and have enjoyed a long history of collaboration. Encore.org is deeply grateful to AARP for its commitment to take these two programs to scale, with a much broader reach.

“Experience Corps makes a significant difference building a positive environment for learning, helps students achieve,” and serves as “a cost-effective way to improve the quality of education and supplement overworked teachers.”
— The Center for American Progress

Experience Corps

IDEA: Mobilizing the 50+ Population for Social Change

The first Baby Boomers hadn’t yet turned 60 when Experience Corps was launched in 1996 as a five-site demonstration program of the National Senior Service Corps (now Senior Corps). The model, co-created by Marc Freedman, Founder and CEO of Encore.org, and Dr. Linda Fried, Dean of Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, was based on a 1988 concept paper by John Gardner, former Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare and founder of Common Cause. Gardner envisioned the creation of a new institution – Experience Corps – that would mobilize the time, talent, and experience of older Americans to revitalize their communities.

INNOVATION: From Startup to Scale and Sustainability

Over almost two decades, Encore.org developed, refined and grew the Experience Corps model, working with local partners across the U.S. Now serving over 30,000 students in more than 20 cities across the country, Experience Corps is the largest AmeriCorps program engaging adults 50+ to serve young children. In 2011, Experience Corps became part of AARP and is now AARP Experience Corps.

IMPACT: A Proven Win-Win for Kids and Older Adults

  • For kids — increased literacy skills: Rigorous evidence-based research from Washington University in St. Louis found that students with Experience Corps tutors achieved as much as 60% improvement in critical literacy skills compared to their peers. Researchers conducted a randomized, control-group study of the program. Learn more.
  • For 55+ tutors — sustained improvement in health: Studies conducted by researchers at Washington University in St. Louis and Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine found that Experience Corps tutors and mentors who volunteer on a regular basis experience positive physical and mental health outcomes. Learn More.

Experience Corps Philadelphia 2000 – 2001

Photos by Alex Harris, documentary photographer, author and faculty
at the Center for Documentary Studies, Durham, NC.
©Alex Harris

The Purpose Prize

IDEA: Recognizing Social Innovation in the Second Half of Life

The Purpose Prize was launched in 2005 to tell a new story about social innovation in the second half of life. Traditionally, the field was viewed as primarily—if not exclusively—the province of the young. The Purpose Prize helped to to rectify this imbalance, demonstrating that older people comprise an undiscovered, and still largely untapped, continent of problem-solvers addressing an array of pressing societal challenges.

INNOVATION: A Game-Changing Prize

When we launched the program in 2005, we wondered how many social entrepreneurs over 60 would come forward with ideas.The verdict is now in. Over 10 years from 2005-2015, Encore.org received nearly 10,000 Purpose Prize nominations, recognized more than 500 people, including nearly 100 winners and hundreds of fellows, and invested $5 million in social innovators over 60. Started and and operated with major funding from the John Templeton Foundation and the Atlantic Philanthropies, in 2016 the Purpose Prize became part of AARP, which is providing the funding and institutional support increase its reach and impact.

RESULT: Awareness and Understanding of Social Entrepreneurship in Later Life  

The Prize showcases how older social innovators are changing the world — working in fields ranging from disaster relief and easing childhood trauma to financial empowerment, workers’ rights and community gardens that feed the hungry. Over ten years, it garnered  millions of media impressions elevating a narrative of older people as change agents. A 2013 study conducted by the Sloan Center on Aging & Work and the Center for Social Innovation, both at Boston College, gathered data from 200 Purpose Prize applicants or nominees to begin to better understand social entrepreneurship in later life. The study concluded that: “In our aging society, the talents of older adults are an increasingly valuable resource. The Purpose Prize focuses attention on the many ways in which older adults, through encore careers, have engaged in social entrepreneurship, helping to improve the economy, public health, the environment, education, and other arenas where innovation, commitment, and passion are needed.”

Learn more:

AARP Purpose Prize
Visit the 10th Anniversary Purpose Prize site to learn more about the Purpose Prize — its history, accomplishments and honorees.

Watch these videos to learn about the social innovations
of six Purpose Prize winners

Jamal Joseph

Founder and Executive Artistic Director, IMPACT Repertory Theatre
2015 Purpose Prize Winner

Rev. Belle Mickelson

Founder and Executive Director, Dancing with the Spirit
2015 Winner: The Purpose Prize for Intergenerational Impact sponsored by The Eisner Foundation

Thomas Cox

Volunteer Program Coordinator, Maine Attorneys Saving Homes
2012 Purpose Prize Winner

Rev. Richard Joyner

Conetoe Family Life Center
2014 Purpose Prize Winner

Ysabel Duron

Founder and CEO, Latinas Contra Cancer
2013 Purpose Prize Winner

Kate Williams

Program Manager, Employment Immersion, Lighthouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired
2014 Purpose Prize Winner