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In the movie A Bronx Tale, Robert De Niro plays a father who declares that wasted talent is “the saddest thing in life.”

volunteerThose words ring true for me on a lot of levels. As an economist I view older Americans as an undervalued asset, too often denied the chance to use talents honed over a lifetime.

As a policy wonk and advocate, I look for strategies that can help people live rewarding lives and that remove obstacles in their way.

That is why I believe so strongly in the goals of an AARP effort we call Life Reimagined. Life Reimagined is a new way to help people find resources and services that can open up real – but unrealized – possibilities in their lives.

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We know that a great many people in their 40s, 50s, 60s and beyond are ready for something different. Many wish to explore whole new directions, but are uncertain how to proceed.

Too often, their talents go wasted. Let me give you an example: Just think about all the unused skill and know-how held by retired U.S. executives who still want to offer their services and have so much to give.

Why squander this resource? This question is being asked around the world. Increasingly, foreign countries are offering stints as management volunteers to qualified American retirees. These experiences can be enormously rewarding, combining an overseas adventure with the chance for people to share their hard-earned knowledge and insights.

“There’s a feeling that you can help, you can make a difference,” said Hal Handley, a retired marketing professional who has done volunteer stints at firms in the Middle East and Africa.

AARP has recently teamed up with the International Executive Service Corps (a U.S. nonprofit) and the Chinese government on a pilot project aimed at sending older volunteers to China.

As a result, the government of China will work directly with the International Executive Service Corps to place 130 such American volunteers in the first instance, and possibly hundreds or thousands in the future. Their mission will be to help modernize Chinese companies, many of which are still learning how to operate in a market-based economy.

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I will look with interest at how this initiative unfolds. Older Americans can rejuvenate their lives and use their talents in countless ways – giving back to their community, starting a business, developing a talent, learning a trade, going back to school, you name it. Consulting in an overseas business is just one item on an endless list.

Our message at AARP is to believe in your own talent and aspirations. If you seek certain goals but are not sure how to pursue them, check out Life Reimagined as a tool to get you launched.

You might be starting a journey you never dreamed of.

IESC – the International Executive Service Corps – is a US not-for-profit that sends consultants and volunteer experts to developing countries whose private enterprises, financial institutions, and governments need American managerial and technical expertise.  Since 1964, IESC has worked in 130 countries, mainly with the support of USAID, helping to create over one million jobs, encourage stable and friendly trading partners for the US, and improve standards of living and skills in the local communities where we work.  For more information, please visit www.iesc.org.

 

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