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Leaders with a Purpose: Five Americans Awarded Purpose Prize for Innovative Problem-Solving

By Tom Watson on September 5, 2007No Comment

Leaders with a Purpose:  Five Americans Awarded Purpose Prize for Innovative Problem-Solving
By: Divine Tabios, 9/5/07

As the first wave of Baby Boomers retires from the business sector, some of its members will join the public one.  Using the insight and knowledge gained from their previous work, these men and women will enter the second stage of their careers with renewed energy to make a difference in the world.  Yesterday, five second-stage Americans were awarded the coveted $100,000 Purpose Prize for their dedication in addressing some of the nation’s deepest issues. The Purpose Prize, launched by Civic Ventures, a think tank, and funded by the Atlantic Philanthropies and the John Templeton Foundation, is given to individuals over 60 whose active involvement in creating solutions makes them role models for social innovators and entrepreneurs of all ages.  Baby Boomers, take note.

The winners of this year’s $100,000 Purpose Prize are:

  • Dr. Donald Berwick, co-founder, president, and CEO of the Institute for Healthcare Improvement (IHI) in Cambridge, MA.  Using political campaign-like techniques, IHI and its partners facilitated the adoption of patient safety practices through guides, web tools, and conference calls in an effort to reduce unnecessary hospital deaths and infections.  3,100 hospitals joined this initiative, called the 100,000 Lives Campaign.  In 2006, IHI launched a second, expanded effort.
  • Gordon Johnson, founder of Neighbor to Family, a nonprofit foster care agency in Daytona Beach, FL.  Neighbor to Family seeks to lessen the trauma of those children taken from their homes by working to keep siblings together.  Since its start in 1998, the organization has helped 4,500 children, 4,100 of whom have been siblings.
  • H. Gene Jones, creator of Opening Minds through the Arts in Tucson, AZ.  After a successful business career, Jones turned his attention to education.  His K-8 program integrates music and the arts into every aspect of the curriculum core and now operates in 36 schools, reaching 17,000 students.
  • Wilma Melville, founder of the National Disaster Search Dog Foundation in Ojai, CA.  After assisting with the Oklahoma City bombing recovery in 1995, Melville saw firsthand the need for search dogs, and developed an innovative program to rescue abandoned dogs and then train them.  Since its founding in 1996, her organization has produced 85 canine-firefighter search teams, certified by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which it provides to fire departments for free. 
  • Sharon Rohrbach, founder of the Nurses for Newborns Foundation in St. Louis, MO, which brings experienced nurses into the homes of mothers whose socio-economic, personal or health status put their infants at high risk.  In 2006, Nurses for Newborns provided services to almost 4,000 families in both Missouri and Tennessee.

These winners were chosen from 15 finalists, who were announced earlier this summer from a pool of more than 1,000 nominees. The 10 remaining finalists were each awarded a $10,000 Purpose Prize.

“Unlike a lifetime achievement award, the Purpose Prize is a critical investment in what these creative individuals will do next to solve important problems,” said Sherry Lansing, chair of The Purpose Prize jury, CEO of the Sherry Lansing Foundation and former chair of Paramount Pictures’ Motion Picture Group. She continued, “As Bill Gates said, ‘It’s not about retiring, it’s about reordering your priorities.’”

In addition to awarding the 15 Purpose Prize winners, Civic Ventures has also named more than 40 new Purpose Prize Fellows, all leaders in the movement to invent new ways to solve society’s challenges. They have been invited to an Innovation Summit on November 10-12 at the Stanford Center for Social Innovation. The Summit will provide an opportunity for like-minded social innovators to network and offer resources, advice and critical information.

Marc Freedman, founder and President of Civic Ventures, summed up the reason for the Prize’s existence, saying “As the first wave of America’s 77 million baby boomers turn 60, The Purpose Prize winners are doing what society least expects people over 60 to do: innovate.”

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