A new Californian gold rush
I was in San Francisco last week at the Encore.org conference – a meeting of a couple of hundred Boomers over 50 all committed to achieving social change in the second half of their lives.
It was an energising few days – being surrounded by a group of talented, creative people focused relentlessly on making the world a better place. And what was additionally inspiring was that each of them was doing so at a point in their lives when, not so long ago, it would be assumed they'd be shutting down their horizons, putting their ambitions to one side, and hunkering down.
Instead, the group talked about mobilising an entire generation to give back and make a better future for everyone. They talked about their first careers being a 'warm-up' giving them skills but not necessarily proving to be fundamentally satisfying. Each of them was conscious of time passing, but instead of this dampening their interests, it was firing up a greater sense of urgency to get on with something that was going to make a real difference.
Each year Encore.org awards the Purpose Prize to a small number of over 60s who are making a difference. This year the winners included Susan Burton, a mother from Los Angeles who ended up in and out of jail for nearly twenty years following her son being killed in a road accident and her subsequent decline into drugs and non-violent crime.
Finally, at the age of 46 she was supported to rehabilitate back into mainstream society. And, after difficulties getting employed, she took the extraordinary decision to set up her own scheme to help other women like herself. Her compassion and resilience have now transformed into a $1m budget non-profit that helps to rehabilitate women leaving prison across Los Angeles, achieving a breathtaking 70% success rate at cutting recidivism.
Susan, and the other Purpose Prize winners, are testament to the power of experience, insight and determination that can transform the transition to later life into an opportunity for social impact. It's something that is both good for individuals – giving them purpose, renewal and a livelihood. It's also good for everyone else – mobilising the skills and experiences of people in the second half of life in a way that tackles some of the most fundamentally important social challenges of our time.
Robert Egger, founder of the DC Central Kitchen, an innovative food centre that tackles poverty, unemployment and poor health, wrapped up the event by comparing Encore's mission with the original Californian gold rush. He compared the social commitment in the room as nuggets of gold and the nascent potential of the over-60s as flecks of gold all over the country. It feels we could do with some of this kind of gold rush over here.
Halima Khan is a director of Nesta's Innovation Lab.