The Collective Impact of Baby Boomers

Posted on November 30, 2011 by Pam Truitt


This week’s blog is in an area where I have a great deal of first-hand knowledge.  I am a card-carrying Baby Boomer, part of a small  U.S. demographic bubble of about 78 million.

Many Boomers officially kicked off ‘retirement’ in January 2011 when the first wave turned 65 at the rate of nearly 7,000 people per day.  What many probably don't know is that this civic and social impact-minded group is still looking to make a difference.

There has been quite a bit written about My Generation (The Who), some of it in the negative context. As a woman with a sizeable investment in Michelle, the hair magician, I take offense to a couple of Boomer labels:

The Graying of America

Silver Tsunami

Obviously written by men who have not taken the pulse of Boomer Women lately!   Everyone is surveying us—AARP, MetLife, Merrill Lynch—AARP?  NO!!!!  And much has been written, said, speculated and feared about the impact of Baby Boomers on Social Security and Medicare.

As with the sea change occurring in America now, the Baby Boomers were part of another American sea change—one that included Watergate, the Vietnam War, the women’s rights movement, environmental movement, Black Panthers, rock 'n' roll, Bob Dylan, Alice’s Restaurant, VW microbus, Symbionese Liberation Army (the group that kidnapped Patty Hearst and whom she later joined) tie-dyed clothing, Woodstock, hippies and Purple Haze.

Movements carry some negative baggage, but this one produced, for me, directions and principles for a lifetime. The Revolution (Beatles) sent 78 million into the next 40 years with sensitivities to Mother Earth, gender and racial equality and the power of collective impact. No question. We saw and experienced major cultural events that forever impacted how we feel and see the world.

Fast forward to 2011.

The most recent report funded by MetLife and authored by Civic Ventures, a boomer think tank (Wow! We have our own think tank. How cool is that!), Encore Entrepreneurs: Creating Jobs, Meeting Needs, reports that Baby Boomers still want to make a difference. This is no surprise to me especially in these economically and politically-charged times.  However, most of the media has been focused on the potential negatives – that a significant, but unknown portion of a gigantic number (25 million) of Baby Boomers is considering opening a nonprofit.

In response, Mark Rosenman, director of Caring to Change, wrote in a recent Chronicle of Philanthropy article—“Such a multiplicity of organizations would move America further away from developing coherent analyses of public problems. And it would lead the country to define and treat social concerns as fragmented individual or local matters. That would make it profoundly more difficult to mount any significant effort to advance the broad-based change needed in our social, political, and economic institutions.”

I don’t dispute Mark’s logic--on face value he’s very likely on target.  But. But. But, what if we could turn the conversation into ‘what could be’ by connecting Baby Boomers wants/desires to data and public problems by using the lessons-learned and values-gained of collaboration and collective impact we learned 40 years ago?

I believe that we still want to do the right thing and that we’d be up for the challenge if it were framed correctly. Think about it. A cohort of 25 million who want to ‘do good’. 25 million still want to make a difference.  The collective impact of 25 million is waiting to be tapped for the common good.

Are you part of the 25 million?  What will you do when you retire?

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