Purpose Prize winners 2010

Allan Barsema

Allan Barsema

A former homeless alcoholic and a housekeeper are among this year’s winners of The Purpose Prize, a $100,000 award for entrepreneurs over the age of 60.

The five winners, announced today, were selected by a panel of judges chaired by Sherry Lansing, former CEO of Paramount Pictures and the first woman to head a Hollywood studio.

Sherry Lansing

Sherry Lansing

Among them is Allan Barsema, whose alcoholism cost him his marriage, his home and his job, and who lived for a period from a trailer pulled behind his car. With help from his parents, he managed to stop drinking and to re-establish himself in work; and when, 10 years later, a homeless man barged into his construction company, he decided to set up a room for homeless people in his offices. At the end of that year, 2000, his work with the homeless had become so consuming that he devoted himself full-time to his centre, Carpenter’s Place. He settles 300 long-term homeless people in accommodation each year and has set up an innovative online system to coordinate services for the homeless, Community Collaboration, which has been adopted by 140 agencies in five states.

Margaret Gordon

Margaret Gordon

Margaret Gordon started reading environmental magazines in the house she cleaned and began to link pollution from the nearby container port to the one in five children aged between one and five in her home town of West Oakland who were being rushed to the emergency room  with asthma. Her analysis and campaigning has reduced diesel fumes and pollution from West Oakland’s port and she has been appointed by the Mayor to monitor toxic emissions.

Barry Childs

Barry Childs

Barry Childs is a former corporate executive who has set up a project to provide care and schooling for children, mainly orphaned by AIDS, in Tanzania, which has ended up helping whole communities.

Inez Killingsworth

Inez Killingsworth

Inez Killingsworth worked for the Cleveland Board of Education before she started fighting banks that had mis-sold mortgages and were turfing people out of their homes, demonstrating to them that they were wrecking whole neighbourhoods as well as individual lives. By fighting foreclosures, she has helped more than 10,000 families keep their homes. She has appeared in front of Congress and become a national spokesperson against shady mortgage practices, and a campaigner against the hefty penalties imposed by banks for missed mortgage payments.

Judith B Van Ginkel is a professor of paediatrics who, at the age of 60, created a home visits programme for first-time mothers at risk, half of whom were clinically depressed, and two-thirds of whom had witnessed violence or been victims of violence. Mothers in the programme are visited from the time when they first discover they are pregnant to when their children are aged three and can access help with health concerns, literacy, parenting and education.

Judith B Van Ginkel

Judith B Van Ginkel

So, five people with very different backgrounds, but a common desire to achieve something for others in the later part of their lives. You can see short films about all the $100,000 winners here; and there is more information, including about the five more $50,000 winners here. Oh, and please, Europe needs a Purpose Prize, too.

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The spanners are coming

Mary Byrne

The delightful Mary Byrne - but not everyone wants a job at Tesco

You’re made redundant or you retire in your 50s or 60s. You’re fit, smart, experienced, and still interested in working. Where on earth do you go to find a job?

The Americans have coined the expression ‘the Wal-Mart years,’ in recognition of the many people aged from 55 to 75 who take low paid, menial jobs in supermarkets. Perhaps they’d prefer to be doing something else but, unable to stop work financially or unwilling to give up the social benefits that come with it, this seems to be the best work on offer. Suppose, though, you’ve been managing for most of your career. Suppose you’re an expert in IT, or design, or finance and think you have something useful to contribute, perhaps to a nonprofit organisation or in a socially useful sector. Where on earth do you go to find a job?

Retirement Reinvented is a UK website intended to be a kind of Craigslist for jobs, paid and unpaid, of particular interest to the over-50s in a specific geographical area. The idea, according to one of its founders, Graham Ross Russell, is to encourage recruitment companies to use it as a resource, and to reach individuals a couple of years before or after they retire. At a time when large numbers of people – doubtless many of them older – are expecting to lose public sector jobs, the idea seems timely. Last week’s Equality and Human Rights Commission report, How Fair Is Britain? made the point that for the over 55s, Britain is often extremely unfair, not least because they are often unwillingly unemployed.

The Canadians are experimenting with a similar website, Thirdquarter, a two-year pilot project funded by four Canadian provincial Chambers of Commerce. The site hints at ambitions to be more than a clearing house, offering to advise individuals in assessing and presenting their experience, and companies and volunteer organisations on how to develop by making use of mature talent.

Clearly, there is an urgent need for new social institutions to help people find their way into a new stage of life. In the United States, a pilot programme from Civic Ventures, Encore Fellowships, has recently been backed by the government. Under the scheme, 10 corporate executives left their jobs in the private sector to spend six months or a year working with nonprofit organisations. Half of their $25,000 stipend was paid by their former employer, half by the nonprofit. The government has now made provision initially for 10 Encore Fellows in each state, with the public sector paying half the salary. One of the Encore Fellows calls himself and his colleagues ‘spanners,’ because they show that it’s possible to span the gap between retirement and old age.

Caroline Waters

Caroline Waters of BT

In this country, some employers are taking the agebomb seriously; at BT, for example, director of people and policy Caroline Waters explains that employees are urged to think start thinking flexibly about the possibilities for their life course as soon as they join the company. There is a deliberate effort not to see careers as linear, but as periods of work interspersed with non-work, which may come about for all sorts of reasons from parental responsibilities to voluntary work to studying for a degree. Waters would like to see a move away from the notion of a pension to a fund for life, which could be dipped into for career breaks at any age.

Cuts mean that Britain faces rising unemployment, which some will doubtless aim to disguise as early retirement. In truth, most people in their 50s and 60s are in no great hurry to stop working. The popularity and charm of the X Factor’s Mary Byrne notwithstanding, nor do they necessarily want to be on the tills as Tesco’s. At least two of the sectors which are attractive to older people – education and healthcare – are relatively recession-proof, and, if the government has any sense, green jobs will be too. It is clear that new institutions and resources are needed to help people make a transition into a new stage of life and work – to become spanners – and that they are needed pretty urgently.

Life: slide or roundabout?

roundaboutSomething enormous is happening. Two enormous things, in fact, and in time they may find a way to work together. That was the conclusion of this afternoon, which I spent in a very interesting discussion with people in cities all over the world, thanks (again) to Cisco.

One of the enormous things is demographic shift; the other is technology. Often they seem at odds (we hear that old people aren’t interested in computers, and that, anyway, technology is no substitute for face-to-contact). But they are not, in reality, opposite trends; together, they could transform our sense of who we are, change our understanding of what it means to live a long and rewarding life.

Thanks to Cisco’s telepresence technology, participants from Toronto, Washington, Almere, London, Geneva, Manchester and Brussels talked about ageing for 90 minutes without having to go anywhere much. (I got a bus.) And very interesting it was too – especially the point made by John Beard of the World Health Organisation, that we think in a thoroughly anachronistic way about the shape of human lives: youth and education, then work, then retirement. We imagine a life rather as a kind of slide, which you climb to the top (actually, this is my metaphor, but I think I’m representing him fairly) and then slither down through physical and mental and financial decline to death.

In fact, it would make much more sense to think of life as a series of roundabouts, which you could jump on and off at different points, dropping in and out of paid work to have children, write a book, volunteer, look after elderly parents, do a postgraduate degree, learn something new.

We need, in other words, to rethink life to account for the fact that people are living much longer and, on the whole, more healthily. This would doubtless help us make sense of the dead years, Marc Freedman’s ‘identity void’ between 55 and 80 when people aren’t really sure what they’re for.

It would also make far more sense for women. Annemarie Jorritsma, the mayor of Almere in the Netherlands, said she couldn’t believe that women are still expected to have children and forge their careers at the very same time. The only reason for this, when it is perfectly possible to work effectively into your seventies, is that it happens to suit thirtysomething men. Anne Marie says she never imagined she get to the age of 60 and this ridiculous paradox still be the case.

We have to hope that, somehow, economic necessity will help us to start thinking in terms of roundabouts , because it’s pretty clear we’d be a lot better off if we could all get off the unproductive and soul-destroying slides.

France vs America: who’s got it right about retirement?

Sartre and de Beauvoir

The French way of life? Sartre and de Beauvoir

Watching the street protests against raising the retirement age in France this week, I’ve felt oddly torn. All those students and workers look so glamorous in their intensity, so stylishly 1968-and-manning-the-barricades.

As doomsayers in Britain increasingly predict wars between the generations, it’s hard to imagine young people here standing up for their elders in the way of the young Frenchman on the news who claimed to be marching for the right of older people to do nothing: ‘There is a time when you work,’ he explained, ‘and a time when you rest.’ The British fantasy of French culture – food, wine, sex, a bit of philosophy and literature – does of course make the idea of French ‘rest’ seem extremely enticing.

Perhaps, I started to think, all those books coming out of the United States about an emerging stage of life between 50 and 80 – of new kinds of work, wisdom, productivity and spiritual and emotional reward – derive from a peculiarly American way of looking at the world, in which work is the ultimate good? Perhaps the attempt to construct a new life phase, of what we might call ‘wise work’, derives from a puritan work ethic/capitalist misapprehension that identity only really comes from employment?

In America, and, latterly, Britain, there is a developing narrative of the old as ‘greedy geezers’, unaffordable with their massive health and pension bills, needing to get back to work – except of course that they’re obsolete, opinionated, inflexible and haven’t got a clue about anything that’s going on.

This unattractive generational prejudice stems in part from an odd assumption that work is our highest calling. Not being able to put down your BlackBerry is a badge of pride; an empty diary is near-death. Older people can only have validity if they find a new way of being busy.

Unfortunately for the French, their alternative social contract looks increasingly rigid and unsustainable. You can’t have a thriving global economy in which lots of perfectly competent people do nothing except buy cheese and discuss existentialism simply because they happen to have reached a particular age.

In the end, of course, everyone is a little bit right: the French in acknowledging that work as currently organised is often rather thin and mean and reductive and anti-culture; and the Americans in looking for work at a later stage of life that would be none of these things, but would bring a deeper satisfaction and sense of contribution to the future. Their great insight is that longevity isn’t simply a matter of years tacked on at the end, but means that we are becoming a different kind of human than any that has existed before, with a need for a different rhythm of life and a new sense of life stages.

Having been writing about older people for a while now, it seems to me that quite often the best way to think about the ageing population is not to think about it at all. We want people to work longer? Then we need to think about work throughout the life course. People only want to stop work if what they do is demeaning, exhausting and undermining. There’s no inherent reason why it should be. Why not aim for rewarding and satisfying and creative work for everyone, with time off when it makes sense, rather than all at the end? Now that would be something worth taking to the streets for.

Inventing a new phase of life

Marc Freedman

Marc Freedman

It was a huge treat to meet Marc Freedman this week when he was in London. At Agebomb’s event at NESTA, he talked about the paradox that longer lives – which are obviously a good thing – are also widely seen as a social disaster. In the US, as well as here, there are plenty of people ready to warn of impending conflict between the generations.

Marc described how his involvement with mentoring programmes started him thinking about the contributions that people over the age of 55 are capable of making. This has led him to spearhead a movement in the United States for Encore careers – demanding work in the public good in the second half of life. He suggested we need to invent a new phase of life to acknowledge that this is happening, much as adolescence was invented in the early twentieth century.

Funnily enough, the man who popularised the notion of adolescence, G. Stanley Hall, decided in the last years of his life that he should have focused instead on a different phase: when people have finished bringing up kids but aren’t anywhere near ready to die, the very stage we now need acknowledged and catered for.

So what should we call them, these people who face 10, 20, 30 more years of active life, yet who aren’t the young executives and midlife parents who form our presiding image of adulthood? Could we think of something active and aspirational; something that makes sense of what Marc called the ‘windfall of talent’ they represent?

G. Stanley Hall thought the phase should be called senescence, but that’s out now because it’s attracted too many connotations of decline. What’s needed is something that suggests potential.

Marc describes people in this phase – whatever we’re going to call it – as existing in an ‘identity void.’ They’re not taken seriously by the media, nor by the world of work. It’s not always easy for them to achieve the kinds of things they want to. Yet they have distinctive talents and aspirations. In his view, these come from a combination of their sense of mortality – that there’s only a limited time left to achieve; their recognition that it is nevertheless enough time to do something significant; and their consciousness that we are what survives of us – a kind of future-mindedness.

This collision of different senses of time, he argues, leads to an urgency to achieve, a new phase of innovation. People in this period of life have a distinctive purpose. Of course, stages of life are man-made (a friend of mine who works with Afghan refugees tells me Afghans have little sense of age and don’t celebrate birthdays). But this would be a useful invention at this point, because it would pave the way for and legitimise institutions to go with it – internships in socially useful occupations, for example, and MBAs targeted at the over 55s.

In the United States, the Purpose Prize, which Marc founded to recognise entrepreneurs over the age of 60 who are doing something for the public good, attracts 1500 applications a year. For many people in the first half of the twentieth century, this life stage is not about freedom from work, but freedom to work. These people are already here and they want work that is meaningful, rewarding, and has an eye on the long term. We really should find a way to recognise them.

Come to our ‘what is the point of retirement?’ event

retire

Here is the invitation to Agebomb’s NESTA event on October 5th. Please do sign up!

Innovation for a New Old Age

What is the future of retirement?  68% of Britons now expect to work past retirement age while one in 10 believe they will never be able to afford to give up work.  As the default retirement age is abolished, and the state pension age recedes, what are the implications for graduates who can’t get jobs?  What does the future hold for people now in their forties, fifties and sixties?

NESTA and Agebomb will be considering these questions on Tuesday 5th October.  We will be joined by Marc Freedman, the San Francisco-based author of Prime Time and Encore and campaigner for socially useful, demanding work for people in the second half of life.  One of the world’s leading social entrepreneurs, Marc founded the Experience Corps in the US, and the Purpose Prize, which awards prizes to entrepreneurs over the age of 60.  His new book Shift looks at how baby boomers need to change to make their lives productive, happy and fulfilling.

Baroness Julia Neuberger will give a campaigning baby boomer’s perspective.  Charlie Leadbeater – NESTA fellow and a leading thinker on social innovation, Geraldine Bedell – journalist and founder of the Agebomb website – and Caroline Waters – BT and Chair for NESTA’s work on ageing will also be speaking.

For the last year, NESTA has been running an extensive programme devoted to innovation in ageing, working with individuals and organisations across England and Scotland.  Please join us for a stimulating debate about whether the second half of life can be an opportunity to extend working lives, even give something back.

To register for this event, please click here Date: Tuesday, 5th October
Time: 09:00 – 10:45 (registration and breakfast will open at 08:30 with presentations starting at 09:00) 
Venue: NESTA, 1 Plough Place, London, EC4A 1DE

Agebomb to hold an event with Nesta in early October

Stop Press!Excellent news: the splendid Marc Freedman will be visiting London from San Francisco for two days in early October and has agreed to be the keynote speaker at an Agebomb event on the new old age, to be held in conjunction with Nesta on the morning of Tuesday October 5.

We will be looking at innovation to make the second half of life a success.

Marc spearheaded the creation of the Experience Corps, which gets older people working with schools and other youth organisations across the United States. He is an eloquent campaigner for Encore Careers – serious, socially useful work for people in the second half of life – and the founder of The Purpose Prize, which awards prizes of $100,000 and $50,000 to social innovators over the age of 55.

His new book, Shift, which will be published in January 2011, is about the transition of the boomer generation to a new stage of life.

Charlie Leadbeater, a leading thinker on social innovation, author of We-Think: The Power of Mass Creativity, and occasional guest blogger on Agebomb, is also a confirmed speaker. Other speakers will be unveiled soon.

Through its Age Unlimited programme, Nesta has done a good deal of work on the demands and ambitions of a different kind of older population, and this is will be an opportunity to think about what the second half of life will hold for a generation with entirely different, but very varied, expectations.

We will be asking: what is the point of retirement? Is there any real choice for people in how they spend the second half of their lives? If not, what would make a difference? Could Encore careers work in the UK? Can you change the second half of life without changing the first?

More news soon.