Encore.org (originally called Civic Ventures) was founded in 1998 by social entrepreneur Marc Freedman and grew out of a desire to transform the aging of America – one of the most significant demographic shifts of the 21st century – into a powerful, positive source of individual and social renewal. Largely through foundation support, Encore.org has worked to redefine later life, shifting from the 20th-century idea of retirement as the freedom from work to a new life stage that offers the freedom to work and to contribute in new ways – and to new ends.
In 1995, working with others, Freedman had launched Experience Corps, a program designed to engage people over 50 as tutors and mentors in some of the nation’s poorest neighborhoods and lowest-performing elementary schools. In 2011, two years after becoming an independent nonprofit, Experience Corps become a program of AARP. Now known as AARP Experience Corps, the program is working in more than 20 cities in the United States.
Since the 1990s, Freedman had been thinking about the narrow, negative portrayal of America’s aging, focused almost entirely on money. He wondered: Were boomers really going to put such a strain on Social Security, Medicare and other government programs that they would bankrupt the country? In 2000, he published the first of several books on that theme, Prime Time: How Baby Boomers Will Revolutionize Retirement and Transform America, followed in 2007 by Encore: Finding Work That Matters in the Second Half of Life, the book that coined the term “encore careers,” which has since become a shorthand expression of this stage of life. Encore was named one of 2007’s five best “guides to help people prepare for and enjoy life in their 50s and beyond.” The Wall Street Journal wrote: “The five ‘mini’ autobiographies of people who have embraced [encore] careers are alone worth the price of admission. In Marc’s most recent book, The Big Shift: Navigating the New Stage Beyond Midlife (2011), he issues an impassioned call to accept the decades opening up between midlife and anything approximating old age for what they really are: a new stage of life, an encore phase, ripe with promise.
Beginning in 2002, Encore.org has published original and collaborative research on the role of purpose in later life, illuminating the need and desire for (as well as challenges to) the encore vision. The first of these surveys, The New Face of Retirement, showed that 9/11 appeared to have a galvanizing effect on the retirement plans of Americans ages 50 to 75, with 40 percent of people in that age group reported feeling more likely to volunteer as a result of the terrorist attacks. Three years later, The New Face of Work survey showed that people in their 50s and 60s wanted to do work that helps others. They want careers that are about people, purpose and community. Subsequent research in 2008, 2011 and 2014 showed the trend continuing through a period of jolting economic change, establishing that the Encore idea remains powerful and resilient.
Storytelling has always been an important part of Encore’s strategy, to illustrate this new stage of social impact. In 2005, Encore.org created The Purpose Prize to tell the new story about aging by honoring social innovators over the age of 60 who use their decades of experience to improve communities and the world. In its 10 years, the Purpose Prize awarded more than $5,000,000 to nearly 100 winners and honored over 500 change-makers in encore careers. The Purpose Prize has proved the point we set out to establish in 2005, celebrating ground-breaking innovations in the second half of life. In its second decade, The Purpose Prize has moved to a new home at AARP, where we expect it to flourish and grow.
More recently, we have launched “Stories from the Encore Movement,” to give people a chance to share their stories about how purpose, passion and experience allow them to make a difference in their communities.
In 2009, beginning with a small pilot in Silicon Valley, the Encore Fellowships Network was launched to create a bridge for private sector professionals to transition into new high-impact roles in social purpose organizations. The program has matched hundreds of fellows in paid positions across the United States.
From the beginning, Encore.org has supported, convened and catalyzed others who share a belief in the power of encore talent to improve society. Encore.org’s national conferences are the premier gatherings for encore movement leaders, allies and advocates.
The “EncoreU” initiative, which began with grants to 40 community colleges around the U.S., is taking the encore idea to institutions of higher education, which are poised to play a critical role in helping to prepare individuals returning to school in later life for encore careers.
Throughout its history, Encore.org has looked for creative ways to tap the power of experience to improve the lives of young people. Reflecting that long commitment, new initiatives launching in 2016 will deepen generational ties and leverage encore talent to create a better future for future generations.