A doctor, a preacher, an entrepreneur and a student walked into a cafe and….What happened? Based on exit interviews among the thirty-two actual participants in the September 22, 2017, Wiser-Together Multi-generational World Cafe, sponsored by AARP and co-hosted by Sharon Lamhut Willen and Graphic Facilitator Caryn Brownelle Hanna, it was one heck of a reality show.
On any ordinary day the generations in our community remain effectively isolated from one another — living, working, studying, and entertaining themselves in generational “silos.” But the many complex, systemic challenges that require creative and interconnected solutions require us to go beyond “business as usual.” A core competency is needed to address these challenges; the capacity to become “wiser together” — across sectors, across stakeholder groups and other traditional boundaries – including those between generations. Becoming “wiser together” is crucial in order to confront the challenges that otherwise divide us.
“My last career position was in Economic Development at the Asheville Chamber of Commerce,” said Willen who spearheaded this project, “and now I’m offering assistance to people who have decided to age independently in community. 91 percent of my peer group want to live our full lifespan in private residences, and we also want to remain fully engaged with and supported by the broader community. So when Rebecca Chaplin, the Associate State Director for Western Mountain Region AARP asked what role I want to play on the Leadership Team, I naturally focused on building multi-generational bridges for healthy aging. The Wiser-Together World Cafe is the perfect process because it capitalizes on our age-old human instinct to dialog in small groups about questions that matter to our survival and resilience. It brings diverse people together more quickly than a traditional meeting and reminds us that the knowledge we need is already available to us.”
September 20, Buncombe County, NC confirmed their commitment to engage in the five year process to join the Age-Friendly Cities Network. AARP is the U.S. Partner for the World Health Organization’s global community of learning and practice, assisting governments to make necessary adaptations to assure livable cities for all ages. Ali Climo, Coordinator of the Buncombe County Aging Plan, is enthusiastic about collaborative processes. She believes the time is right for civic innovation that encourages the kind of engaged citizen action Wiser-Together World Cafes represent, thus integrating the knowledge, perspectives and unique expertise of all generations in close partnership around issues of common concern.
Sharon Willen notes, “One of the goals of the recent Wiser-Together World Cafe on Healthy Aging was to provide multi-generational support for students preparing innovative entries to the 2017 Design Challenge offered by Stanford University’s Center on Longevity. Suppose the products they conceive of can be developed for the national/global marketplace right here in Buncombe County? That’s a toe-hold for us in a billion dollar+ “age-related industry”. When we help any one generation, we help all of us.