Encore Careers Summit: Troublemakers for the greater good

People pursuing encore careers are getting into trouble – in a good way.

The Encore Careers Summit at Stanford University marked a turning point in the emerging encore careers movement. Yes, encore careers match untapped talent with unmet needs.Yes, encore careers combine continued income, personal fulfillment and social impact. Yes, encore careers can produce bodies of work as, or more, significant than the careers they follow.

And yes, participants at the first-ever gathering of people in their encore careers set their sights even higher – a veritable encore uprising of innovation and experience to reverse the outmoded policies and systemic inequities that are hobbling our communities and our country.

"I don't know that I can fix the system, but I don't know that I can't," declared Toni Heineman of San Francisco, who is mobilizing fellow therapists to address the needs of "aged out" foster kids, who too often become unemployed, homeless, addicted and isolated. "In my golden years, I plan to perfect my skills as a troublemaker, which is much more fun than being nice."

Such troublemaking became the surprising theme of the summit, which celebrated social innovators such as the winners of Purpose Prize, as well as people in "bread and butter" encore careers such as teaching and nursing. Working groups focused on encore opportunities in education, health care, the environment and nonprofit leadership.

"We have a new tagline for the Encore Careers Campaign," declared Marc Freedman, CEO of Civic Ventures. "Troublemakers for the greater good."

The scale of the demographic shift underway with the aging of the baby boom generation represents not just quantitative, but qualitative change, as potentially millions of people in encore careers transform schools, reshape social services, and muster a constituency for environmental action.

"You and millions like you are uniquely poised to step up even more boldly to this challenge, because you and the people you serve have the authenticity to be listened to," Gara LaMarche, head of Atlantic Philanthropies, told the summit attendees in his closing call to action.

"We need to join the desire to serve - to teach newcomers English, to train inmates in job skills, to give scholarships to poor kids -- with social action that is aimed at the policies and the systems that often give rise to the need for service in the first place," he said. "Service is not servility. Service is a companion to and a predicate for action."

Beyond any particular agenda, the Encore Careers Summit provided a sense of identity among people who share a purpose to make things better, to make things right. Former Senator Harris Wofford captured the excitement when he noted the feeling of "public happiness" in the room -- the original meaning, he said, of the phrase, "the pursuit of happiness."

"A movement needs a vision," declared Suzanne Braun Levine, the magazine editor and chronicler of the women's movement. "A movement needs to give people a sense of community and reassurance." Naming a common life experience provides a pole around which people can gather and begin to make change.

Until recently, people pursing their passion and purpose were on their own, trying to make things better while making ends meet. At the Encore Careers Summit, they were connected to hundreds of other encore teachers, encore entrepreneurs and encore leaders, as well as dozens of organizations preparing encore initiatives to make such transitions easier. There is even pending federal legislation for Encore Service and Encore Fellowships. Suddenly, it sounds natural to start a sentence, "In my encore career, I'm ..."

"I have a confession to make," New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg said in a video message, "I only just learned the term encore career — and I love it. A few years ago, I left my career and launched my encore — the most satisfying work of my life."

"We're living in very challenging times and to meet those challenges, we need everybody's talents," he said. "I think that you — make that we — are onto something big."