The Purpose Prize

What if you offered a $100,000 prize for social entrepreneurs over the age of 60? Civic Ventures, a think tank and incubator based in San Francisco, was convinced that such a prize would draw out candidates by the thousands, proving its point that life after 60 is the time for an ‘encore‘ career aimed at societal good. It convinced two foundations to fund the prize and in 2005 began to seek nominations. The nonprofit organization was immediately innundated with nominations from which it selected 60 Fellows, 15 finalists and five winners of the first Purpose Prize. In 2005, Howard and I nominated Rick Koca, founder and leading light of StandUp for Kids which rescues homeless and street children, and he was chosen a Purpose Prize Fellow for 2006. In 2007, we were also chosen Fellows for co-founding 2young2retire, and a week ago, we attended the Purpose Prize summit in Palo Alto, CA. It is the kind of company that leaves you wondering: what am I doing here? Here are a few memories and people that standout for us in a memorable experience.

  • At the airport in San Francisco, we shared a van with Rick Koca of StandUp for Kids and Robert Chambers, 2006 Purpose Prize Winner and president of Bonnie CLAC, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to help individuals purchase fuel efficient new cars at very low interest rates. The conversation spontaneously turned to succession issues, that is, whom we could envision carrying our work forward — a founder’s mixed blessing.

  • Life and death issues. Purpose Prize winner, Donald Berwick, MD., a pediatrician whose political-style 100,000 Lives Campaign seeks to improve hospital safety and save lives. Dr. Berwick’s goal is to help hospitals reduce unnecessary deaths by encouraging them to implement six specific, scientifically proven improvements in care, including those aimed at reducing medication errors and infections. In December 2006, his Institute for Healthcare Improvement expanded its goals to avoid five million incidents of medical harm. Nurses for Newborns Foundation, the brain-child of neo-natal nurse, Sharon Rohrbach, has proven to be a low-cost, high-impact way of reducing infant mortality, particularly in populations at high risk. In 2006, the program reached 5,300 children in 40 counties in Missouri and Tennessee. Frank and Peg Brady, who are 2006 Purpose Prize Winners, also direct their efforts toward sick children. Their Medical Missions for Children uses interactive video technology to allow pediatric specialists to remotely diagnose patients and recommend treatment.

  • We had breakfast and talked one morning with Richard Cherry, 2006 Purpose Prize Fellow and 2007 Winner, and creator of the Community Environmental Center, the first New York City nonprofit to focus exclusively on environmental issues of housing and development. Over the last decade, the former Wall Street attorney’s organization has saved low-income New Yorkers $20 million in energy costs, and reduced annual carbon dioxide emissions by 83,000 tons.

  • On another day, 2007 Winner Gary Maxworthy told us how he translated his three decades in the food distribution business and one year as a VISTA volunteer at the San Francisco Food Bank into a new service that brings non-market standard fresh produce to the poor. An expanded initiative called Farm to Family distributed 22 million pounds of produce to 40 California food banks. This year, their target is 34 million.

  • “How Might We?” It’s a deceptively simple question, but one that IDEO, an organization that applies design thinking to products, services, spaces and processes, to help its clients experience innovation directly, come up with new, better answers, and sometimes even change their culture. At our day-long session with IDEO, Howard worked on a team to help Jessica Holt of The Bauen Camp, Parkman, Wyoming, on strategies to scale up her project. They produced a template for a start-up kit. Marika’s team helped 2007 Winner, Adele Douglas, founder/executive director of Human Farm Animal Care, to devise a prototype of a brochure that supermarkets could hand out to customers. Work should always be that stimulating and fun!

  • Tolerance was a big subject among Fellows. Emira Habiby Browne combined her experiences as a Palenstinian immigrant and social service professional into the Center for Integration and Advancement of New Americans. The organization provides support and educational services for immigrants and refugees upon entry into the U.S. to help them gain economic independence and engage in civic life. Shakeela Hassan, a University of Chicago Professor Emeritus, is producing “The Sounds of Faith” a three-part series exploring the connections between the music of Judaism, Christianity and Islam for a national PBS broadcast. 2007 Winner, Phil Borges, is in his second encore career: using photography (his first encore, after leaving his orthodontic practice) to expand children’s worldview and cultural knowledge. Bridges to Understanding has involved 4,000 students in 30 countries. Nearly ten years ago, Richard and Shelli Steckel became photographers dedicated to chronicling the humanity shared by all people, with a special focus on children. Their Milestones Project has reached over 118 million people through exhibits mounted in airports, museums, restaurants, colleges, schools, at the United Nations and on the web.

  • Senior Civic Ventures Fellow and founder of Uplift Academy, Tom Munnecke inspired us with this question: What is the simplest thing I can do to create maximum benefit for humanity?

  • During a break, Marika took a walk toward the Stanford University chapel (our hotel was conveniently located right across the street from the campus), and stumbled on the Rodin sculpture garden and a work entitled, Stone River, by environmental artist, Andy Goldsworthy. If you don’t know his work, prepare to be stunned.

  • One week later, we met with fellow Fellow, Dennis Littky, a veteran, much-recognized educator with some ideas we would like to see implemented throughout the educational system. In 1996, he co-founded the Met Center High School in Providence, Rhode Island, a school designed to meet the personal educational needs of underserved urban students. All you have to do is talk with students — as we did — to know it is working. With the support of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Littky’s model has been embraced by 54 schools, all public schools with fewer than 150 students. A college matching up Prime Time mentors with students is in the works, which is something that got our attention. For more, see his Big Picture Company.Nominations for the Purpose Prize are open. Deadline is March 1. Join the Encore revolution!