For Some, Retirement Is Not Enough: Encore Careers and How Seniors Are Giving Back

October 2, 2013 at 1:08 pm 3 comments

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Conchy Bretos, photo by

What is the wildest thing you can imagine doing in retirement? How about saving the world?

As an alternative to ending their careers in static retirement, many experienced professionals are finding they can do what they love, continue to apply their skills, and bring in an income with careers addressing pressing social and environmental problems.

If you’ve already heard the term encore careers, it was likely related to the work of Marc Freedman and his organization (formerly Civic Ventures). Freedman pioneered the idea of encore careers, or careers that combine personal fulfillment, social impact and continued income, enabling people to put their passion to work for the greater good in their 50s, 60s, and beyond. Census figures show that that in the next 30 years, the American population over 55 years old will grow by 71 million, and for over 10 years Marc and his team have been figuring out how to create a “source of individual and social renewal” with this growing community.

While adventurous, encore careers are not out of the ordinary. A 2011 study by and Metlife showed that 9 million people, or 9 percent of all those ages 44 to 70, are in encore careers and no less than 31 million Americans ages 44 to 77 are interested in pursuing encore careers. Take, for example, the case of Conchy Bretos. After a long career in housing, marketing, health and women’s issues, Conchy began work as Florida Secretary for Aging and Adult Services. In this position she became intimately familiar with the housing and care challenges facing elderly and disabled adults. She started testing out some of her ideas and established a model project to provide residents with the services they needed to stay out of nursing homes. Then, at age 50, Bretos left the public sector and formed her own for-profit consulting company to carry her idea nationwide. In her encore career, Conchy Bretos is CEO of a successful consulting firm transforming the lives of elderly adults through affordable, in-home living support.

As encore careers become embedded in the job market, so do pathways to sparking an encore career. In one initiative, offers a prize to people over 60 who “combine their passion and experience for social good.” The $100,000 prize is offered annually to professionals in their encore careers who demonstrate new ways to solve social problems. Since 2009 has also led a Fellowship program that matches skilled, experienced encore professionals with social-purpose organizations for high-impact assignments. In January, we’ll launch an online certificate in the Business of Social Innovation to teach changemakers of all ages how to design and launch a new social venture.

In addition to the proliferation of encore career programs, local communities are also rallying to support their seniors as they launch into new and meaningful work. This is exemplified by efforts here in Portland, where in 2006 PSU’s Institute on Aging qualified our city to be the first in the US to join the World Health Organization’s Global Network of Age-friendly Cities and Communities.

This fall we will highlight stories of regional Encore Fellows and remarkable individuals like Conchy Bretos. We hope you’ll keep reading as we work alongside Marc Freedman and to “showcase the value of experience and disprove notions that innovation is the sole province of the young.”

By Abby Chroman
Consultant with PSU Impact Entrepreneurs and Ashoka

Entry filed under: Social Entrepreneurship. Tags: , , , .

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