Encore Careers: It's never too late to help others

Older Americans eager to fix nagging social problems do what anyone does: They tap their skills and networks to start their own initiatives or join established efforts like ReServe, the Executive Service Corps, the Peace Corps, or Teach for America, says the founder of Encore.org.

By , Dowser.org

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    Nancy Burkhart used her years of business experience to create Earth Safe Finishes, which makes and sells nontoxic paints and varnishes. Her new Encore Career allows her to make a living while also helping to solve a social problem she cares about.
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We speak with noted author Marci Alboher about her latest book titled The Encore Career Handbook: How to Make a Living and a Different in the Second Half of Life, which looks at a new trend – the Encore Career, or a career that begins often after 50 in the years when most folks are thinking about retirement, travel, and relaxation.

Why work more? While some are driven by their financial circumstances, many are are choosing to develop later careers to make social impact, try something different, or build a career out of a passion or hobby.

Alboher shares with us her insights on the Encore Career below:

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What is the greatest hurdle for encore entrepreneurs? The fear of defeat, the fear of trying something new, the age factor, or something else?

Encore entrepreneurs aren’t all that different from social entrepreneurs at any age.

If they have an idea for a fix to a nagging social problem, they do what any innovator does. They tap whatever resources they have — their network, their personal or professional skills, access to capital (both human and financial).

Where they differ from younger social entrepreneurs is that they tend to have a kind of seasoning and self-awareness that only comes with age. By the time you hit mid-life, you know your strengths and where you’d be better off bringing in outside help. Funny that you mention fear of defeat. Most encore entrepreneurs have already weathered plenty of failure.

More common is the fear of inaction. The idea that if you don’t chase an opportunity and try to make it succeed, you’ll regret it.

Which encore entrepreneurs have really impressed you and why?

I’m impressed by so many of them. Consider Conchy Bretos, who used what she learned as Florida’s Secretary for Aging and Adult Services to start MIA Consulting, a for-profit consulting firm designed to help low-income elders age in their homes. Bretos figured out a way to improve the lives of Florida’s aged population while at the same time building a financially viable business.

Or Nancy Burkhart, who took her years of experience in crafting businesses to create Earth Safe Finishes, which manufactures and sells nontoxic paints and varnishes. Both women started their ventures to solve a problem they witnessed firsthand. And both chose a for-profit model that would allow them to make a living while also solving a social problem they cared about.

Do you feel that there is enough support for these encore entrepreneurs who are starting careers later in their lives? What resources can they turn to (aside from the book)?

I’m not completely sure that encore entrepreneurs need different kinds of support than younger social entrepreneurs. They turn to the same kinds of places as younger entrepreneurs with a social bent — sustainable MBA or MBA-like programs and social-venture boot camps, social-venture incubators, and mentors.

There are some programs springing up, like the Small Business Administration’s 50+ initiative, specifically catering to the challenges of older entrepreneurs (though not necessarily those with a social mission.)

What someone needs depends a lot on what kind of background they come from. Someone who has a track record of running successful businesses will need very different kinds of support than someone who’s new both to the social venture field and to entrepreneurship.

In either case, encore entrepreneurs should seek out ways to connect with like-minded folks in location-based communities (like this one) and through online communities (like Dowser!).

Why do you think the “do good” aspect is so key for many of these entrepreneurs? What common themes do you see in them?

Something definitely kicks in when you cross the threshold of a big birthday, like 50 or 60. Regardless of what you’ve done earlier in life, there is a sense that what you do with your remaining time should matter. And even if you don’t know exactly what you want to do, you probably have a good sense of what part of the world’s troubles speaks to you most personally.

I see a few common threads. Legacy and the fate of future generations are common motivators. Which is why we see so many encore entrepreneurs interested in programs around youth — mentoring, foster care, education, are all popular areas. Improving the way health care is delivered and making life easier for our aging population and those that care for them are also big areas of interest for encore entrepreneurs. Many baby boomers have lived through serious health issues themselves or have had experience caring for a partner or aged parent. So it’s not surprising that those experiences are natural influences.

What do you want to achieve with Encore.org (and your book) in the long run?

At Encore.org, we envision a time when planning for your encore career is as commonplace as planning for a leisure-based retirement once was. When that happens, we will see all kinds of new offerings that help people transition into new kinds of work and service. Some of this is happening already.

Programs like ReServe, Executive Service Corps, and Encore Fellowships are helping people in mid-life and beyond use their talents to help social- sector organizations. National Service programs like the Peace Corps are seeking out the talents of experienced people. Even Teach for America, which built its reputation as the pathway for recent college graduates, is attracting people well into midlife who want to offer their talents to fix our broken schools. Higher education is focusing on life-long learning.

Even financial services firms are changing the way they talk about retirement planning, acknowledging that their clients are working even in what is still anachronistically called the “retirement years.” In time, we’ll see more sweeping changes.

Do you feel that we as a society do enough to support these folks? Or encourage entrepreneurship later in life?

Not yet, but I’m hopeful that the next generation of encore entrepreneurs will have many mentors to guide them. The best support often comes from people who have walked the walk themselves. So I expect that the current wave of encore entrepreneurs will step up and mentor those who are inspired to follow their lead. I also expect to see a lot of intergenerational mentorship, with older and younger social entrepreneurs working together on issues in ways that tap both the wisdom of age and the energy of youth.

This article originally appeared at Dowser.org.

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