Encore Conference

Just returned from a three day conference in San Francisco at the Intercontinental Hotel. They were lovely accommodations for the Encore.org conference. Encore.org is an organization of the booming demographic of individuals over the age of 65 working to make a significant impact and contribution to the nation.

It was the largest attended event yet as there were over 400 attendees (up 34% from last conference – in 2014) from across the nation and the world. Nearly 1/2 (34%) of the attendees were newcomers, and overall we represented 14 countries, 32 states, and encompassed four (4) generations.

Opening entertainment was IMPACT Repertory Theatre, under the direction of Jamal Joseph, who won a 2016 Purpose Prize. Justin Kauflin, Jazz pianist and Composer, told the moving story of his relationship to his mentor, Clark Terry. Justin graced us with his remarkable piano skills on Wednesday night at the SFJazz Center.

There were four (4) plenary sessions: Innovation and the Encore Effect, Growing Encore Across the U.S. and Globally, Disrupting Aging and the Longevity Opportunity, and the Future of Innovation. These were sessions held in the main ballroom with the majority of individuals in attendance.

There were also break out workshops where individuals gathered together in small groups sessions to discuss and deal with the challenges facing our nation socially, economically, locally or globally. Questions of whether there are non-profits to start, money to be earned or profits to be shared were bantered about. Often, more questions were raised than answered, but the dialogues were impactful.

There was a lot of energy around engaging the youth in the Encore4Youth project. The next generation is already turning 50 years old!

I found the opening plenary to be the most engaging with the CEO and President of IDEO, Tim Brown. He spent a lot of time talking about how much the Encore movement was similar to being a designer. He went on to say that what the designers do for companies is similar to what the individuals in the Encore movement must do for themselves and for each other. The movement requires innovation, developing capabilities, building businesses and a commitment to positive aging.

One of the major impacts of the event are the Purpose Prize awards given to individuals who are doing great things in their communities and the world. This year the prizes went to Laurie Ahern, Disability Rights International (www.driadvocacy.org); Patricia Hinnen, Capital Sisters International, (www.capitalsisters.org); Jamal Joseph, IMPACT Repertory Theatre, (www.impactreptheatre.org); Dr. Samuel Lupin, Housecalls for the Homebound (www.housecallsforthehomebound.com); Rev. Belle Mickelson, Dancing with the Spirit (www.dancingwiththespirit.org); and Laura Safer Espinoza and the Fair Food Standards Council (www.fairfoodstandards.org).

After 10 years, the Purpose Prize has now been passed on to AARP. The hope is that since AARP has a far greater reach and resources, it will make an even bigger impact on the individuals and the communities they serve. The announcement of AARP taking the Purpose Prize provided mixed reactions – but most of us realized that it would free up Encore.org and give them the opportunity to redirect their own contributions.

Hopefully, this will also give them money and incentive to address one of the challenges that I spoke about at length at the breakfast table conversations – the issue of those who can afford to volunteer versus individuals who need to work much longer than they had anticipated. It was a hot topic around the room and I suspect Encore.org will be addressing it throughout this next year.

Another challenge I see with the Encore.org movement is the dearth of any real diversity – there are never more than a handful of men or women of color. I personally think this particular event priced several people out of participating. (I thought the last conference was more affordable.) It will continue to be something that Encore.org needs to think about as they go forward if they don’t want to become an elite organization with no thought to the culturally diverse community they are professing to serve.

One of the highlights were the Eisner Prizes for Intergenerational Excellence. One is a Lifetime Achievement Award that went to Generations United (www.gu.org) which was well deserved. And I thoroughly appreciated the award that went to the L.A. Kitchen (www.lakitchen.org) for connecting adults aging out of foster care and adults recently released from prison in a culinary job training project.

And my all-time favorite was the talk given by Ai-jen Poo, Director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance and the Caring Across Generations Campaign with the accompanying heartfelt video of seniors caring for seniors. #Encore2016


M Samela Dingus