Type to search

New Voices Seeking to Lead Change in an Older, More Diverse Society

Stria Staff November 18, 2019

These 21 leaders believe they can be part of improving the way our society responds to changing demographics.

This fall, Encore.org announced 21 new Encore Public Voices Fellows, a joint effort with the Op-Ed Project and Encore.org Senior Advisor Ann MacDougall.

The fellowship program is designed to fill a need arising from increasing longevity—and the inequalities embedded in longer lives. Marci Alboher, Encore.org’s vice president of strategic communications writes that “we need better and faster ideas from a more diverse set of people of all ages, especially those who are most affected by the uneven implications of these realities and most likely to see new solutions and envision a more just future.”

Stria published perspective from several of the 2018 Encore Public Voices Fellows, including Ryan Frederick on how to bring purpose into senior living communities, Odile Robotti on why corporate policies should support retirement planning, Michael Smyer on older adults as a potential resource for climate action, and more.

This year, we’re introducing the new class of fellows by asking them the share a snapshot of their vision for change when it comes to our aging society. We’ll publish their responses in three parts. Come back in coming weeks for part two and part three.

What aspect of our aging society do you think most requires change–and how will your voice help make a difference?
Maria Heidkamp

For close to three decades, in the United States and abroad, I have focused my research and advocacy on helping individuals and communities cope with unemployment—whether due to mass layoffs in declining industries like steel, auto or coal; the sky-high unemployment that impacted workers from all industries during the Great Recession; or the more subtle “forced retirements” that many older workers grapple with today. People who lose jobs when they are in their 40s and 50s are at high risk for long-term unemployment and may never recover after their job loss. Beyond the financial challenges, there are equally serious, but often ignored, mental and physical health impacts.

After years of studying the failure of the U.S. to respond adequately to worker dislocation, especially for older workers, I would like to use my voice to gain the attention of policy makers, employers, and the public. We need to radically reframe the conversation around transition assistance, lifelong learning, and the future of work for all generations. We also need to pay more attention to age discrimination in hiring and employment, which I believe needs to be seen as a social justice as well as economic issue.

Gordon Skinner

Generational issues are often exacerbated by cultural differences. New York City’s unparalleled diversity is its primary source of both cultural richness and discord. But contention receives the greater bandwidth of attention. The absence of community means an absence of opportunities for chosen interactions, further creating a sense of alienation and separateness.

Ramona Schindelheim

Americans are living longer and many need—or simply want—to work longer. With the average life expectancy now close to 79 years old, and one in three people not having enough money to retire at age 65, the workforce is going to keep getting older.

We need to eliminate workplace stereotypes that are making it difficult for older workers to find and keep meaningful, in-demand, and well-paying jobs.

Age is not supposed to be a consideration when an employer is looking at potential employees. But it is. “Older workers don’t like change. They’re out of good ideas. They’re not fun coworkers. They’re afraid of new technology.”

This last myth is particularly dangerous to older workers given the rapid pace at which technology is changing the types of skills everyone needs to get and retain a good job. There is an urgent need in this country to re-train and up-skill our nation’s workforce to fill millions of open jobs now and in the future.

Older workers are just as capable of learning these new skills as anyone. Through my writing, I want to help bust the myth that older workers are afraid of technology and can’t contribute amazing things to a workforce. I also want to encourage businesses to commit to giving older adults the skills they need to compete for good jobs.

These are our mothers, sisters, grandparents and friends. They are mentors, problem solvers, creators, leaders, team players and more. Don’t overlook them now.

Mi’Jan Celie Tho-Biaz

As an oral historian and documentarian, I know that our elders hold the longest running memory repositories. Their perspectives are shaped across decades, and they possess the largest span of historical first-person narratives.

Similarly, elder Black, Indigenous and women of color leaders provide invaluable insights into their ongoing practices in self-shaping, a developed trait that is vital to equity work across all generations of past, present and future history makers. To that end, I remain committed to using my voice in centering intergenerational cultural leadership in our society, in ways that specifically increase visibility, importance and the necessity of our cultural leader elders in these times.

Ebony Walden

In the next decade, we will have more people 65 and older in our nation than ever before and nearly 80% of them will want to age in place. Therefore, it is imperative that we address the housing needs of older adults and begin developing policies, support systems, services and the infrastructure that will allow them to age in place and thrive in our communities.

I recently asked 60 seniors across the Richmond region about their housing needs, so we can develop regional solutions. They said they wanted more walkable communities that include infrastructure like sidewalks, lighting, better transit and more services near their homes. Many of them wanted help with maintenance and improvements to their homes that would allow them to age in place. Others wanted more affordable rental options or tiny-home communities. They also said they feel invisible to their local governments, their needs forgotten as part of the public dialogue on the future of our region.

As an urban planner who is ever exploring how we create just and inclusive places where everyone can thrive, I hope to write about issues at the intersection of age, race and income as they manifest in our cities and highlight solutions that will meet the future needs of our communities, especially addressing the housing needs of low-income seniors of color, who are particularly vulnerable.

Kate Hoepke

Ageism, defined as an internalized bias against our future selves, is often attributed to younger people’s attitudes toward older people. In fact, it is a bias developed over a lifetime that we carry into later adulthood, preventing us from fully embracing who we are now.  Many of us are living an outdated story, one in which we’re not old, and in so doing we unwittingly disconnect from ourselves, limit our choices and marginalize our potential. It’s an inside job.

How can we fall in love with who we are now and our unrealized potential? It will take courage and intentionality to explore what’s true at this stage of our lives: what do we value, what is yet to be done, and with whom do we explore these critical questions? Because knowing who we are happens in the reflection of other people. This process of self-discovery and intrapersonal connection is at the root of belonging, at a time when social isolation and loneliness have become a public health crisis. If we don’t count ourselves in, others can’t do it for us.

As a leader in the Village movement, a community-builder for 35 years, and a lifelong student of human development, I want to lead deeper conversations about connection, interdependence, legacy, long-term investment and working together across generations to realize our shared future.

Tony Tapia

The way businesses and corporations view older adults needs to shift. The deficit viewpoint of older adults must change to one that is asset based and taps into the lived experience and knowledge that older adults bring to the workplace. With many older adults working past 65 and into their 80s, today’s workplace needs to be prepared to leverage the wisdom of older adults.

I live, work and navigate across the business, community, nonprofit, government and philanthropic sectors. I want to share my perspective from these various worlds and lead the charge to connect them. Local communities can inform the solutions to our problems. Foundations and nonprofits can help connect these ideas to financial and human resources. Businesses and corporations can bring these solutions to scale through their corporate social responsibility work and their economic and political power. I aim to weave together the connecting points between these sectors and create change.

Come back in coming weeks or sign up for Stria email to to hear from the rest of this year’s Encore Public Voices Fellows.

Never miss a headline! Get FREE weekly email from Stria.
Thank you for reading! Want more? Get FREE weekly email from Stria.