As Jo Ann Jenkins explains, “American Association of Retired Persons” no longer encapsulates AARP’s membership.
“Over 40 percent of our 37 million members are still working, whether they want to work or they have to work,” said the newly appointed CEO of the powerful Washington-based lobby, which jettisoned the longer title in 1999.
“A number of them are starting small businesses, some are looking for jobs that bring real meaning and fulfillment to their lives, and many of them simply cannot afford to retire.”
On Tuesday, AARP announced that Jenkins, currently the organization’s executive vice president and chief operating officer, would succeed A. Barry Rand as CEO, starting Sept. 1. She will be AARP’s first permanent female chief executive; Rand, who became AARP’s first black CEO in 2009, is retiring.
Jenkins, who previously served as president of the AARP Foundation, brings to her new job an emphasis on fighting hunger, poverty, isolation, and unemployment among the organization’s members. “I have said to the staff that I want to make sure that everything we do is remembering that social mission,” she said.
Under Jenkins, AARP will focus increasingly on community engagement. Many of AARP’s members lack experience using mobile devices, but the organization hopes to boost the digital literacy of its membership by expanding a hands-on education curriculum called AARP TEK.
“AARP is a national organization, but how do we become nationwide?” Jenkins said. “How do we show up in communities all across this country?”
A steward of Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg’s “Lean In” movement, Jenkins recently returned from a member event in Boston, where AARP had its first-ever “lean in” session with several hundred women. Jenkins’s Twitter account, @JoAnn_Jenkins, is peppered with the “#LeanIn” hash tag.
A native of Mobile, Ala., Jenkins attended nearby Spring Hill College and then served for 12 years in the Reagan and George H.W. Bush administrations, culminating in a stint as director of the Agriculture Department’s Office of Advocacy and Enterprise.
After working briefly in the private sector, Jenkins returned to the federal government as COO at the Library of Congress, where she remained for the next 15 years. During her tenure, she developed and directed the National Book Festival and the Library of Congress Experience.
“I don’t think it’s any secret: I tell people that my job at the Library of Congress was the best place in Washington to work,” she said. “It’s one of the few places that you can operate in a nonpartisan way. Everybody loves books and libraries.”
Jenkins, 56, was on the verge of retirement when AARP invited her to lead its foundation, where she grew its overall donor base by 90 percent during her first two years.
A year and a half ago, Rand recruited her as COO to build out the AARP’s enterprise-wide strategy. The gregarious, self-confessed sports fanatic is married to a retired principal for the Fairfax County, Va., Public Schools and has two adult children.
“I dare say I am a workaholic,” she said.