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Millions of Baby Boomer bosses across the nation are nearing retirement age, but an innovative fellowship program at Harvard University aims to give them a second act. The Advanced Leadership Initiative helps former executives bring their professional acumen to bear on a range of social issues, from affordable food to an ebola vaccine. Economics correspondent Paul Solman reports.
But first: business leaders launching second careers to address social problems like poor nutrition and food waste.
Economics correspondent Paul Solman looks at a program at Harvard University teaching former executives how to do good.
It's part of our weekly Making Sense report, which airs every Thursday on the "NewsHour."
At Daily Table in food desert Dorchester, Massachusetts, apples for just 69 cents a pound, fresh salmon for less than $3, top-flight food at rock-bottom prices.
DOUG RAUCH, Founder, Daily Table:
We have got massive amounts of wasted food, and, at the same time, we have got 49 million Americans that can't afford to eat properly.
Doug Rauch opened this nonprofit store after 30 years at Trader Joe's, the last 14 as president.
So, is this food all rejects, seconds?
Every single product in the store is a quality product that was either excess inventory, a shorter code, so we don't sell anything past its code date, or it's something we made at a special buy on, something that is maybe the product has been discontinued or the label has changed, these sorts of deals.
Americans waste some 133 billion pounds of food a year. Supermarket chains play a role by tossing products within 30 days of the sell-by date if they can't ship them to stores quickly enough.
Here's an item from Stonyfield that is April 19. So, that still has 12 days on it from now.
And yet we're selling this for 99 cents for a six-pack. This gives people in the community a chance to provide their family with yogurt that they never would have been able to afford.
Daily Table wants to appeal to members of this community who may be too embarrassed to take handouts from food banks or soup kitchens.
There's something inherent in a donor-recipient relationship which is a power differential. Here, we have flipped it. Because they get to be customers, we got to earn their patronage, and they come to experience that in a neighborhood where they get to feel better when they walk out instead of in any way slightly lessened.
Retired at age 57, this is Rauch's second act, thanks to a quirky fellowship at the Harvard Business School.
ROSABETH MOSS KANTER, Co-Founder, Advanced Leadership Initiative:
It actually took him a while to hone in on the concept.
Rosabeth Moss Kanter runs the Advanced Leadership Initiative for ex-execs intent on solving social problems.
ROSABETH MOSS KANTER:
He was interested in food waste, he was interested in hunger, he was interested all over the place. And we gave him contacts, we gave him ideas, we gave him feedback. You don't do it instantly.
Kanter envisioned the potential eight years ago: millions of high-powered baby boomers like Rauch nearing retirement age.
We said, hey, here is a leadership force, and if we could only deploy them to work on these pressing problems of water, and climate, and health, and education, and conflict, and rights, maybe that's a perfect match, because these baby boomers were going to live 20 to 30 more years, be productive, be healthy, and most institutions had never taken that into account.
This year, 47 retirees have returned to school with lofty resumes, and ambitions to match.
SUNEEL KAMLANI, Advanced Leadership Initiative Fellow:
I'm interested in establishing what I'm going to call the Acela Corridor Infrastructure Bank.
Suneel Kamlani, former chief operating officer at investment bank UBS, plans to hook up building projects with cash-heavy funders.
The country's infrastructure is crumbling. Conversely, the private sector has a significant amount of capital.
Biotech entrepreneur Ken Kelley wondered why there was no vaccine for the deadly Ebola virus.
KEN KELLEY, Advanced Leadership Initiative Fellow:
It became almost an intellectual itch inside my brain that I had to address.
It turned out many diseases just aren't big enough to attract industry or government funding. So Kelley is developing a public-private partnership and a global investment fund.
To have vaccines and drugs available for neglected tropical diseases before they become pandemic threats.
We encourage the fellows to think really big, bigger than they thought they could when they came in.
Don't just think outside of the box. You know, be creative. Think outside the building.
It's the job of the program to help fellows figure out how to put their ideas into action. There are seminars.
The whole point of this year is that you have been asked to stand back and reflect and not just repeat what you have been doing.
Instead, fellows network, collaborate.
Why don't your other cohorts agree with your position?
And go to class. Carol Hallquist is working on an online hub connecting schools with retiree helpers.
Larry, Pat and I have been meeting about our projects on urban education. And we're thinking about how we finance our projects differently, especially because of the two case studies.
Pat, you're nodding.
I am. Just having worked with Carol and Larry and the team, it's fascinating how ideas generate through our dialogue.
And then there's the homework.
LYNNE WINES, Advanced Leadership Initiative Fellow:
It's been quite a few years since I have had to write a term paper, and I, on spring break, had to write a term paper.
Former banker Lynne Wines wants to help adults with cognitive disabilities find jobs.
Somebody with dyslexia may not be able to take a written test or submit a written application, but they may be the best employee that they ever had.
The upshot of this program? Turn ideas into viable ventures, like Doug Rauch's Daily Table.
We put in a kitchen because people need to be able to grab ready-to-eat meals that they can take home and serve to their family. What they told us was, they don't have any time. So we provide them meals that in three to five minutes they can heat up that are delicious, nutritious, and affordable.
They get to see food being produced. They get to watch product being made right there by people in their community. And it removes any question, like, where did this come from and how can you have it so cheap?
To start, Daily Table has relied on donations, but Rauch thinks ventures like this need to pay for themselves.
We hope, and we're starting to prove, that you can get to a break-even spot where then a store can keep going without additional philanthropic support. If this is true and we can actually show this to work, then it becomes scalable.
Rauch is already scouting a second Boston location and plans to take Daily Table to a new city next year, just one of more than 200 graduates of the Harvard Advanced Leadership Program embarking on an encore career, and please forgive the cliche, trying to make the world a better place.
For the "PBS NewsHour," this is economics correspondent Paul Solman in Boston, Massachusetts.
Advanced Leadership Initiative fellows pay a fee to participate in the program , though some financial fee is available. Harvard University wouldn't disclose the exact amount, but reports put the fee at more than $50,000.
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