Most people do good deeds without expecting to be repaid. The reward is the act in itself.
This week, Encore.org, a nonprofit that promotes second acts for the greater good, selected five Americans 60 and older to each win a $100,000 Purpose Prize for changing lives in new and creative ways. Wow.
Encore.org has made it a mission to encourage those whose work gives them a sense of meaning and a feeling of accomplishment. This financial bonanza is the holy grail.
Passion is palpable among this crowd year-round, but it ratchets up when the San Francisco-based outfit salutes a hand-picked few to hold up as examples for others to aspire to follow.
“Purpose Prize winners underscore that significant social innovation is by no means the exclusive province of the young," according to Marc Freedman, author of The Big Shift: Navigating The New Stage Beyond Midlife and founder and CEO of Encore.org.
It's exciting and incredibly energizing for me to see people who work under the radar, people who follow a gut sense of what's right and just and meaningful in this world, get a brief moment in the klieg lights and a chance to take a humble bow.
Today’s 60-year-old might reasonably plan to work at least part-time for another 15 years, figures Freedman. “That changes the entire equation about what you want to do, what’s possible to do,” he says.
These encore entrepreneurs are interested in social services, poverty alleviation, working with at-risk youth, economic development, and health care, the environment, and human rights or social justice.
“There are many obstacles to building successful enterprises at this stage in life--some are financial constraints,” Freedman says. "But, as we’ve seen with the Purpose Prize, many have been able to make a living while making a difference. We need to help many more do the same."
Hallelujah. Now in its seventh year, The Purpose Prize, funded by the John Templeton Foundation and The Atlantic Philanthropies, is doing just that.
Among this year’s Purpose Prize 23 judges of the 800 nominees were Sherry Lansing, former chairman of Paramount Pictures, David Gergen, Jane Pauley and Sidney Poitier.
Here are the 2012 winners. Drumroll, please.
By using his engineering expertise, Bhagwati (B.P.) Agrawal, 68, is easing the water shortage in his native India. Through his nonprofit, Sustainable Innovations in Fairfax, Va., he founded Aakash Ganga, or River from Sky, in 2003 to create a system for collecting rain – one of precious few sources of drinking water. Now, gutters, pipes and underground tanks gather the short-lived rains of monsoon season in six villages, home to 10,000 people.
After breaking her own cycle by getting a job and quitting drugs, Susan Burton, 61, started inviting women recently released from jail to stay with her. That informal shelter turned into A New Way of Life Reentry Project in 2000. Today the organization – which offers legal aid, job training and other services aimed at directing former inmates toward productive lives – runs five transitional residences that have served 600 women and their children.
Judy Cockerton, 61, a former teacher and toy store owner, who adopted a child from foster, founded the Treehouse Foundation. Cockerton recognized that most families are unable to foster children, so she created other ways to help. Her foundation built a housing community in 2006 where families who have adopted or plan to adopt foster children live among people age 55 and older, who serve as “honorary grandparents.
In 2008, Thomas Cox, 68, helped start Maine Attorneys Saving Homes in Portland, Maine as a way of giving back some of what he felt he took away during his long legal career, focused on representing banks. While volunteering to help a woman save her home from foreclosure, Cox revealed questionable foreclosure practices (known as the “robo-signing” scandal), leading to a $25 billion settlement to help people who had suffered foreclosure or who were on the brink. Now Cox, who was profiled in The New York Times yesterday, is working to build a network of lawyers to do similar volunteer legal work.
And Lorraine Decker, 64, founded Skills For Living Inc., a nonoprofit that has helped more than 2,000 low-income teens, adults and families with free financial, career and college-planning workshops.
While the winners are free to use the $100,000 as they choose, most plan to use the money to expand their programs. Cox, for example, told The New York Times that he plans to use most of his winnings to develop seminars that will train lawyers in Maine to perform consumer protection work, but might set a little of it aside for a fishing trip.