Photo of elephants in AfricaPhoto and post by Emily Merritt, director of intergenerational initiatives, Alliance for Strong Families and Communities

Across the expansive plain, we spotted their giant heads moving slowly through the grass. As they neared our safari truck, we realized this was not the typical group of 10-15 elephants—it was a larger pack made up of nearly 60 lumbering beasts! As they got closer, we saw that the group consisted of more than 10 little babies, 40 more ranging in size, and 15 very large elephants. They moved powerfully, yet with an amazing grace, across the Serengeti as one united intergenerational community. This was just one of the many incredible moments my husband and I shared on our honeymoon to Tanzania in eastern Africa.

As I reflect on this memorable scene, what strikes me is the range of ages of the elephants, all moving together. As director of intergenerational initiatives at the Alliance, I couldn’t help but think about the alignment of the work being done through the Second Acts initiative to explore how social sector organizations can best integrate adults 50+ into their workforces and volunteer corps as well as intergenerational programs. These creatures seemed to innately understand the value of living together as a group of many ages.

Many aspects of elephants’ lifestyles are relevant to the ways we build and strengthen intergenerational communities and workforces.

Occasionally non-related elephants join to form new, larger families.

  • How might we think about building alliances with new partners in our communities?
  • How can we integrate a collaborative mindset into our workforces and programs?

Elephants help look after each other’s calves. Watching other’s calves is important for elephant development; young females learn how to look after the young, and the calves are shown how it’s done. The survival rate of a calf greatly increases when more females are present and willing to take care of it.

  • How might we create more opportunities for specific generations to work alongside and support other generations?
  • How can these intergenerational relationships help build new skills while other receive the care and support they need to thrive?

Elephants are known to develop strong, intimate bonds between friends and family members. There are reports of elephants forming lifelong friendships with each other, even mourning the death of their loved ones.

  • How might we intentionally create opportunities for intergenerational friendships and teams?
  • How can workplaces support authentic relationship building among all staff?
  • Do programs strategically create opportunities for intergenerational relationships?
  • On a personal level, do you have friends in each decade age range? Why might this be valuable?

In herds of elephants, the strongest and most experienced elephants lead and protect the group.

  • How might your organization more intentionally recognize and value experience?
  • What opportunities do you create for experienced workers to share their knowledge?
  • How might you better leverage experienced individuals in the community to support your organization’s mission?

It was stunning to witness these amazing creatures and their inherent ability to succeed as an intergenerational group. We have much to learn from their example. It’s clear that when all ages work together in community, the more likely all members of the group are to thrive and succeed.

Learn more about Second Acts online or contact me via email.