Older and Younger Generations Celebrated in 2014 Purpose Prize


“There is nothing so good for the inside of a man as the outside of a horse,” observed John Lubbock, the Victorian polymath and scientist of recreation. He could have been talking about what is now known as equine therapy, a rehabilitative treatment that attracted the interest of Charles Fletcher after he retired at the age of 58. Fletcher had been around horses since he was five, and knew well the special, restorative connection that can develop between children and horses. And he realized that the ancient relationship between horse and rider had the potential to heal.

“I knew I wanted to help these children in a big way,” explains Fletcher. Extensive research and the advice of medical specialists and other experts led to the launch of SpiritHorse in 2001. Fletcher, then 63, opened the gates of his ranch in Corinth, Texas, with three riders and two ponies. Word quickly spread and Fletcher launched an “encore” career that has since changed more than 5,000 lives worldwide. Today, his nonprofit employs 20 salaried instructors, providing hour-long therapy sessions, free or charge, to roughly 400 riders every week at his Texas ranch alone. “No matter how old you are,” says Fletcher, “you’re never too old to find your purpose.”

Fletcher is one of the six individuals who have won a 2014 Purpose Prize, alongside 38 other individuals who have become Purpose Prize Fellows. The program was established by Encore.org to recognize social innovators over 60 and is funded in part by the John Templeton Foundation. This year’s winners were honored on October 28 at an awards ceremony at the Tempe Center for the Arts in Tempe, Arizona.

“The inspiring work of Charles Fletcher and others reflects a trend that is striking among those engaged in social purpose work launched later in life,” says Eunice Nichols, director of The Purpose Prize. “They’re often seeking to nurture better futures for future generations.” Ann MacDougall, president of Encore.org, stressed the point in an article from the New York Times: “An increasing number of people over 60 want to leave a legacy and do something that makes their children proud,” she said.

Research supports the insight. A 2014 American study by Encore.org showed that social impact is an important goal for those in and considering encore careers. Additionally, nearly two-thirds of respondents reported that their encore careers are affecting the lives of multiple generations, and another 12 percent said they are working with children or youth. “We found this to be overwhelmingly true of our 2014 Purpose Prize cohort,” says Nichols. “They share a strong motivation for doing work with or for future generations—a trend we expect to see continue,” Nichols adds.

The other 2014 Purpose Prize winners are:

“We’re seeing that faith is also playing a prominent part in motivating encore careers,” Nichols continues. “For many in this generation, their connection to a faith community is at the heart of their desire to offer their wisdom, skills, and vitality to the generations that follow.” She has also noticed that more winners and fellows this year have developed extensive international components to their projects, and that technology plays a key role in expanding the impact of service and learning.

“As we’ve discovered over the last nine years, commitment and passion are core traits of Purpose Prize winners,” notes Nichols. A Reuters article covering the 2014 winners noted: “Greater longevity and the graying of America present opportunities, not problems. This year’s Purpose Prize winners underscore that point. They’re rock stars in the world of social entrepreneurship.”

The Purpose Prize is looking for a new batch of “rock stars” in 2015, with online nominations now open through January 15, 2015.