Women from the baby boomer and pre-boomer generations were facing retirement in the US in the early 2000s. This age group reaching 50 and above was the first to have career-oriented women succeeding in leadership roles who, when taking stock of retirement, lacked female role models or guidelines to follow.
In this context, two executive women facing retirement started a social initiative in New York City in 2000 called The Transition Network (TTN). The network offered a platform for women aged 50 and over to connect and share experiences through peer groups, activities and events. The founders opened local groups in Washington, DC and Chicago and, as older women in other parts of the country grew interested in having a local group, TTN offered support and guidance for local communities to set up their chapters of the network as part of a nationwide community. The initiative had a strong public impact and became a leader in the positive ageing movement, defining new opportunities for people aged 50 and above.
In the early 2000s in the United States, the baby boomer and pre-boomer female population aged 50 and over were facing retirement. This age group had been part of the first generation of women to join the labour market and to witness a reassessment of women’s role in society. They also became the first generation of female workers to face retirement, leaving behind a primary career through which they had achieved leadership positions and earned money, power and independence, breaking social and workplace barriers in the process. As this female group transitioned into retirement, they found no models, guidance or support networks to help them face the challenges of this stage of their life.
Retirement for many means losing their work-based identities and social networks. There are “common themes: fear of retiring and not knowing what to do next; being able to pay for retirement; and a lack of self-care.” There also seemed to be age discrimination attitudes and stereotypes accepted in American society that people of retirement age are on a path to health problems and dependence. Yet, ageing women had become robust in dealing with stereotypes and sexism in the workplace during their careers, they were well-educated, had a longer life expectancy than previous generations, and had healthy exercise and nutrition habits. When considering retirement, they sought intellectual engagement, relevance and the ability to make an impact. Many of these women were looking for opportunities to contribute in their communities, representing an untapped pool of social capital for citizen sector organisations.
The Transition Network (TTN) aims to create an inclusive collective of professional women of 50 and over who are facing changes in their life that lead them to seek new connections, resources and opportunities. To facilitate this the organisation, TTN offers a number of peer groups, programmes, workshops, events and activities for participants to support and inspire each other.
TTN was founded in New York City in 2000 by two women facing retirement: Charlotte Frank, former executive of US Federal programmes, and Christine Miller, former partner at the international consulting firm Deloitte. In the late 90s, these two women would meet with ten other friends in New York City to discuss retirement. Inspired by these conversations, Frank and Miller developed TTN as a US-based network for women aged 50 and older to gather and share experiences in their transition to retirement. In order to facilitate this, they offered transition support groups and workshops, including Rewiring, Transition Peer Groups (TPGs), as well as Signature Programmes on important aspects of transition such as personal resilience and women in transition discussions. They also worked collectively on charitable efforts to benefit women, offered special interest groups, and promoted educational and cultural learning opportunities, including hosting their own educational workshops based on in-house expertise.
Several US cities have local TTNs, called chapters, and the work that each of them does varies by region. Some focus on providing social support, others have reading groups, still others focus on women's community issues. Each chapter has a steering committee that manages the local agenda, organising peer groups, events, workshops, speaker programmes, tours and activities. Chapter members volunteer to manage their local activities. At a national level, a small staff supports emerging chapters, communicates best practices, manages the website, and engages with a larger community of organisations with a similar focus.
TTN is a membership-based network with a membership fee range between USD50 and USD190 depending on the subscription being for one or two years and whether the member lives in an area covered by a chapter.
The public impact
By 2011, TTN had created 14 local chapters, engaging up to 7,000 people across 44 states through workshops, online newsletters, and membership. If an interested party does not live in a chapter city, they can still join as national members or start a local chapter in their area. Based on this format of engagement, which allows interested parties to set up a chapter, TTN has outgrown two women meeting with ten other friends in New York City to become a national network of thousands of women in the space of a decade.
TTN is a leader of the positive ageing movement, which is defining new opportunities for people aged 50 and over. Other organisations working with TTN include AARP (formerly the American Association of Retired Persons), Civic Ventures, Coming of Age, and Life Planning Network. The organisation also works with public library boomerang programmes, Ys and JCCs (Jewish Community Centres), alumni organisations, the Village to Village Network, outplacement firms, and lifelong learning programmes.
The organisation’s book, ‘Smart Women Don’t Retire – They Break Free’, includes a compilation of member stories combined with advice from experts for women who are considering their next step. This book won a National Mature Market Media award. Member stories have also been featured by authors “telling the story of this generation”, such as Gail Sheehy, ‘Passages in Caregiving’; Marc Freedman, ‘The Big Shift: Navigating the New Stage Beyond Midlife’; Marci Alboher, ‘The Encore Career Handbook’; Kerry Hannon, ‘What’s Next’; and Suzanne Braun Levine, ‘Inventing the Rest of Our Lives, Fifty Is The New Fifty and How We Love Now’.
TTN now has over 4,500 former members who have successfully transitioned to the next phase of their life. In terms of member engagement, over 56 percent take part in a community impact programme and 72 percent are involved in a small group activity. As the network continues to grow, it now faces the challenge of going beyond physical chapters to reach more women through webinars and online communities.
Written by Cristina Figaredo
This case study is part of a series of international policies that focus on easing the transition to retirement and later life. The case studies and the accompanying report were produced for the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation (UK Branch).Have an idea for a case study? Print
What did and didn't work
Stakeholder Engagement Strong
From a two-person initiative in New York, the organisation has spread across the country to reach several thousands of women in 10 years. The expansion of TTN’s chapters to different regions seems to have followed a reactive and organic growth rather than a planned strategy. The process of a chapter formation starts with people from the target group (women aged 50 and older) learning about TTN and reaching out with an interest to join the network. If members don’t live in a chapter area, they have two options: they can either join as national members or start a local chapter. For parties interested in starting a chapter, TTN offers a one year plan called “The ABCs of becoming a Transition Network Chapter”, split into three phases.
According to the manual, in the first phase the interested party has to recruit 5 to 10 members for a Steering Committee. In this phase, they need to build a database with 100 names and set up at least 3 programmes with a combined attendance of at least 60 people, with limited TTN support. In the next phase, the chapter-in-formation is required to sign up 50 paid members, among many other goals. It is at this stage that TTN support increases. The third phase means that the chapter has been formed.
Overall, the chapter formation process is based on the engagement and agency of individual women who volunteer to grow the network locally. These women are initially external to the initiative and eventually become internal stakeholders who expand the reach of TTN’s impact among its target group.
Network members have become role models and regular speakers on “taking risks after 50” and career transitions. The organisation and member stories have been featured in a number of publications, including The New York Times, USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, Time, Business Week, Forbes, US News & World Report, Newsday, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Woman’s day, NY City Woman, Montana 55, Women’s Voices for Change, and Women Around Town. In addition, in 2006 and 2007 TTN and its founders were awarded two prizes that contributed financially to the organisation’s growth and initiatives.
Other organisations TTN has worked with in order to offer employment opportunities to network members include the Center for Work-Life Policy Taskforce (formed by Fortune 100 companies), ReServe, and community organisations. TTN sought these collaborations in response to a survey conducted among its members that showed 70 percent were interested in working or needed to continue working.
Political Commitment Strong
During the first six years, cofounders Frank and Miller set up the flagship New York City chapter, followed by chapters in Washington, DC and Chicago. By 2006, chapters were forming in Long Island (NY), San Francisco, Westchester County (NY), Philadelphia, Boston and Houston. TTN numbered 2,500 women approaching 50 or over. In these early years, the commitment of the cofounders was instrumental in securing the funding and support needed for TTN’s establishment as a professional organisation.
In 2006, Frank and Miller were awarded the Civic Ventures Purpose Prize Fellowship by Encore.org, with funding from The Atlantic Philanthropies and John Templeton Foundation. This was the first year of the award, which was intended to promote the value of experience and challenge the view that innovation is the prerogative of the young.
Also in 2006, the Ashoka organisation – internationally known for its promotion of social entrepreneurship – awarded cofounder Charlotte Frank a fellowship in support of her social initiative, amounting to USD50,000 per year for a period of three years. The funds were invested into making TTN a professionally-run not-for-profit organisation.
The following year, the New York State Health Foundation awarded TTN a two-year grant of almost USD150,000 to develop a low-cost pilot project around the positive role informal communities can play in health issues of people who over 50 and still active. The project was launched by cofounder Frank following her personal experience of navigating the challenges of the New York City healthcare system. Inspired by her own experience, she decided to do something about it and designed a programme based on the barter system principle. The pilot project lasted over two years and was successfully established in New York as the Caring Collaborative model. By 2017, it was also offered in the chapters of Long Island and the East Bay area.
Public Confidence Strong
A review of the growth of TTN across the US indicates the confidence of its members. It is down to TTN’s volunteer base that chapters are formed and people participate in local activities, further expanding the organisation. Some of the programmes and activities TTN volunteers deliver in different chapters to support women over 50 in their transitions include:
- Caring Collaborative, a peer support programme linking TTN’s informal network with the formal health system. The programme offers short-term and long-term connections for the ageing population, many of whom live alone – from support when attending doctors’ appointments to local medical information exchange with neighbourhood groups to share experiences and build personal connections. As of 2009, this programme had more than 200 members in New York City.
- Transition peer groups, with 75 groups across the country in which 8 to 12 women meet on a monthly basis to discuss topics of interest to them.
- Women in Transition Workshop, to help women prepare for retirement.
- Educational programmes, where TTN partners with local organisations to offer learning opportunities to members.
TTN also partners with a group of organisations focusing on the same stage of life. Partners TTN has engaged with include Civic Ventures, AARP, the 92nd Street Y, and the Institute of Retired Professionals, all of which have supported the growth of the network.
Clear Objectives Strong
The main objective of the organisation is clearly stated in its publications: to build a community of professional women of 50 and above who support each another in their transition into the next chapter of their lives.
At the time TTN was set up in the early 2000s, women from the baby boomer generation who had achieved leadership positions were facing retirement. Aged 50 and above, these women were considering what to do next with their lives that would allow them to feel purposeful and still contribute, and realised they were the first generation of female workers in the US to find themselves in a lifechanging experience previously experienced only by men. Without previous female role models or guidelines to follow, TTN was founded as an answer – to bring together women in a similar situation to share their experience and inspire each other in their transition to retirement.
TTN’s mission statement breaks down the objective of the organisation into three themes of “Connect-Discover-Impact”:
- Connect to support each other by bringing members together
- Discover what is important by training members in what options and opportunities they have
- Support members in determining the impact they want for themselves and their communities.
The chapter structure allows for each community to set up its own programmes and activities in response to its needs, tailoring the content to local members. Such a level of flexibility strengthens TTN’s objectives. enabling women across the country to feel personal engagement with the network.
TTN was founded at a time when there was a growing literature on baby boomer retirement, targeting an audience that had experienced stimulating and lucrative careers. Also, experts argued that women were blazing a trail on their way out of the labour force just as they did throughout their careers by adapting techniques from the women’s movement that helped them advance in the first place.
In the words of the 2006 Ashoka Fellowship citation, Charlotte Frank built TTN as “a national organisation of chapters for women over 50 that combines grassroots community-building, advocacy, empowerment, and service for the generation of women who ‘made room at the top’. Charlotte, through TTN, aims to transform the retirement options for older women and build the capacity of the citizen sector to embrace and utilise their talents and experience.”
The problems TTN aims to address are reviewed in materials prepared when cofounder Frank was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship. “American society is ageing rapidly and yet government and public institutions have been slow to prepare for the impact of this demographic shift... only 2 percent of all philanthropic funding goes to issues of ageing... The majority of these older Americans will be women. 85 percent will be healthy, active, and well-educated – and will remain so for many years... Once retired, many lose their work-based identities and social networks, and must face the challenges of retirement and aging without models, guidance, or a network of support. They encounter attitudes reminiscent of the sexism they faced in the workforce: that people of retirement age are on a downward slope toward frailty and dependence. Stereotypes about old age are deeply entrenched in American society. Yet these women are doers, risk takers, and entrepreneurs... who are struggling to find opportunities to contribute to their communities.”
When TTN looked into its target group around 2006, the organisation drew results from hundreds of women who were surveyed about facing transition from their professional lives. The organisation found respondents mainly wanted three things from their next stage of life:
- To be engaged in meaningful activities
- To have fun
- To continue learning and developing.
Backed by its resources, TTN aims to offer all three.
In a pre-2007 survey specific to TTN members, participants indicated that 70 percent hoped or needed to continue working. In response to these results TTN partnered with a number of organisations to offer employment opportunities to interested members.
Although run mainly by volunteers, the organisation funds its activities and operations by drawing support from three main sources: memberships, programmes, and grants and contributions – the largest source of funding being memberships.
Between 2010 and 2016 membership contributions increased from representing 44 percent of income to almost 58 percent. The second most relevant source of funding –programme meetings and events –made over 34 percent of 2016 income compared to 20 percent in 2010. Grants and contributions are the third source of TTN support; however, their relevance has been decreasing yearly from 25 percent in 2010 to 8 percent in 2016. Individual donations make up a smaller source of income but one very much appreciated by TTN, which dedicates a section of its website to recognise the support of its donors. TTN also sells its book ‘Smart Women Don’t Retire – They Break Free’ for USD14 on its website.
At a chapter level, each chapter keeps the revenues from the events they organise in order to fund local programmes. Local fundraising can also be a source of finance for local programmes. From the membership fees generated, chapters retain 15 percent. Additionally, when seeking financial support for a new initiative, chapters can access TTN’s innovation fund.
Chapter members receive support and training from TTN staff to set up and manage local programmes and activities as well as communications on their section of the website, which is the network’s main communications platform. Specifically, the section entitled ‘The ABCs of becoming a Transition Network Chapter’ provides a detailed outline that makes the chapter formation process more feasible for interested parties.
With a small staff and over 100 volunteers running operations, the network continues to experience growth across the country.
As of 2017, the national TTN organisation had a board of directors comprising five women, and an executive committee consisting of the president, the treasurer, the VP of strategy & planning, and the secretary. Chapters hold bimonthly calls as well as other types of chapter calls to maintain alignment with the organisation.
The starting point for a chapter is the formation of a steering committee with 5 to 10 members who share leadership. Ideally the group agrees on co-leads to support each other, offering greater flexibility for members to combine TTN with their personal lives. Two or three chapter members receive communications induction from TTN staff to manage their own section. Finance committees are also set up within chapters to manage deposits, payments, monthly reports for board meeting, and yearly income and expense reports, as well as collecting money in monthly meetings.
Chapters also receive recommendations from TTN for programme topics that resonate most with members, as well as tips for programme structure and operations. However, for the specific peer group there is a management process based on the Philadelphia guidelines, requiring a formal structure for the initiative, including the following roles: membership committee chair(s); peer group administrator; peer group committee chair, members; peer group partner and liaison; and chapter chairperson. Each position has responsibilities for the smooth operations of peer groups.
The management capabilities of the cofounders Charlotte Frank, from the federal government, and Christine Millen from Deloitte were also strong. They both had experience of working on women’s issues in their respective leadership positions before they started TTN. While she was COO of the US Equal Employment Opportunity under Eleanor Holmes Norton, Frank oversaw 3,000 field workers fighting discrimination against women, minorities, and people with disabilities. At Deloitte, Millen was one of the founding members of the Chairman’s Task Force on the Development and Retention of Women. She also was the national partner responsible for the Deloitte Consulting Women’s Initiative.
Although the organisation offers great transparency in terms of financing, historical reports monitoring its impact do not seem to be publicly available.
In the reviewed 2017 yearly report, TTN did not include indicators covering the number of women who are supported in their life transition. The limited metrics reported that year were somewhat outdated and appeared linked to the assessment of specific programmes. In the case of transition peer groups, the report indicates that the programme started in 2003 with only two groups, and in 2013 was supporting over 75 groups across the US.
In their management of peer groups, the main challenge faced by TTN is to make sure participants of the programme actually become TTN members. There is no publicly available information on how this metric is being monitored, although considering the chapter system of the network this information is most probably managed at a local level.
According to TTN, over 4,500 former members have successfully transitioned to their next activity. Among active members, at least 50 percent attend one programme or more, more than 56 percent are involved in a community impact programme, and 72 percent engage in small group activities. This information seems to be from 2017 and no historical indicators are available.
With a small staff and over 100 volunteers running the network across the country, TTN continues to grow: a new chapter is currently being set up in Minneapolis/St. Paul. Moreover, all chapter sections on TTN’s website, including the “chapter-in-formation”, post frequent up-to-date news and events offering activities for coming weeks and months. The active chapter communications teams provide substantial evidence of TTN initiatives and activities to engage women on the ground. This online presence also suggests a strong level of alignment, cooperation and motivation by actors involved in the operations of the organisation.
Through its online platform, TTN also offers resources and a strong toolkit for chapters and members to keep aligned. However, the most relevant programmes for the growth of the network seem to be the peer groups. It is common for women to join TTN because of the peer groups and eventually become engaged in other activities. The formation of a chapter is essentially on demand. Women interested in setting up a local group mobilise to coordinate with TTN on a volunteering basis, indicating a strong alignment from the women involved.