Encore.org is a nonprofit dedicated to helping people find meaningful purpose-filled work in the second half of life.
(Read more about Encore Careers: Finally Making a Difference here.)
Each year the organization selects five over-60s who have made extraordinary contributions in their encore careers focusing on solving critical problems in education, health care, the environment and more.
The 2011 Purpose Prize winners have been announced, each bringing with it a $100,000 award.
There is an example and a lesson here for all of us. Take a minute to read and be inspired by these five amazing people.
Jenny Bowen, Half the Sky
It was 1996 when screenwriter Jenny Bowen saw a photo in the newspaper of a starving Chinese girl, and she and her husband decided they would adopt a Chinese child. Their new daughter was 20 months old when they brought her home and she could not walk, did not speak and was withdrawn, all traits of children who are institutionalized.
And so Bowen founded the nonprofit organization Half the Sky, dedicated to transforming the way China cares for all of its orphaned children. There are now 1,800 employees working in 51 cities throughout China, training orphanage directors in responsive childcare. They have even partnered with the government to design China's new national child welfare program, and they have five programs for children of all ages, family villages and a medical care program.
Randal Charlton, TechTown
Randal Charlton was retired and bored when he asked the president of Wayne State University for a job. A successful businessperson who had bought and sold 14 companies and had a lifetime of adventures, he was named executive director of TechTown, a business incubator in Detroit's Midtown district and tasked with raising money and recruiting entrepreneurs and mentors in recession-ravaged Detroit.
Today, TechTown has 250 tenants in their building, all getting support, resources and mentoring. TechTown conferences and trainings have graduated more than 2,200 entrepreneurs. Randal Charlton is also heading the new TechTown venture, BOOM! The New Economy, which offers training, mentoring and internships to people over 50 exploring their encore careers.
Nancy Sanford Hughes, StoveTeam International
Nancy Sanford Hughes was a widow who'd been a stay-at-home mom when she volunteered for a medical mission to Guatemala. She was used to cooking for a big family so took on the task of preparing meals for the 120 medical team members, who helped thousands of people a day.
Most of the people who lined up for treatment were suffering from conditions caused by open fires in unventilated homes and carrying heavy loads of wood; chronic coughs, terrible burns, hernias and respiratory infections affected up to 80% of their patients, including children who were most easily damaged by smoke inhalation.
It was on her third mission that she realized the solution to preventing these problems was better stoves. She began leading groups into the mountains to install cement chimney stoves, and then met the inventor, who had designed a new stove was portable, smokeless, cool to the touch, and took very little wood to cook a meal.
She found a business in Guatemala that would produce the stoves, and the Ecocina stove was launched with funding from Carlos Santana's Milagro Foundation. In 2008, she launched the nonprofit StoveTeam International. Today, more than 15,000 stoves have been produced and sold in Central America.
Wanjiru Kamau, African Immigrant and Refugee Foundation
Wanjiru Kamau grew up in rural Kenya and after moving to the U.S., became a university administrator and adjuct professor. When she met Rwandan asylum seekers, many of whom were illiterate and unprepared for city life in the United States, she knew she had to do something to help them adjust. The African Immigrant and Refugee Foundation (AIRfound.org) was the answer.
Started in 2000 with $10,000 she took from her retirement account, today the organization has helped more than 6,000 immigrants from 45 countries. With a special focus on teenagers, their Catching Up Program (CUP) helps African students deal with issues of self-esteem, dealing with being bullied, and with twice-weekly after-school meetings, leadership training, academic help and field trips.
Even though she takes no salary, has no insurance, and eats vegetarian to save money, she says, "There are days I wake up and feel 15."
Edward Mazria, Architecture 2030
Edward Mazria was an award-winning architect specializing in sustainable building and energy-efficient designs when in 2002, his analysis of U.S. Energy Information Administration revealed something alarming: while people were worrying about the environmental impact of cars, the truth was that half of all energy that is produced is consumed by the building industry, and that the building industry is responsible for more than half of all greenhouse emissions globally. He was one of the first to make the connection between architecture, building and climate change.
In 2003, as part of his architecture practice, Mazria founded Architecture 2030 with the aim of dramatically reducing energy consumption and emissions. Three years later, he gave up his architecture practice and issued the 2030 Challenge to reduce energy use and greenhouse gas emissions to "net zero" by 2030. The American Institute of Architects and then the U.S. Conference of Mayors adopted it, and awareness and commitment grew. Now Mazria is at work on the 2030 Palette, a free program that will help transform the world by creating healthy built environments by providing extensive information and support online.
Congratulations to each of these five innovative and unstoppable people. You are shining examples of how experience can be combined with vision to create real change in the world.
Thank you for for walking the walk, and showing the power of experience and that we are never too old to make a real difference.
More about encore careers and midlife opportunities: