New AARP Leader Will Focus on Community Engagement

Jo Ann Jenkins takes over the 37-million-member organization in September.

Jo Ann Jenkins will become president and CEO of the AARP in September 2014.
National Journal
Christopher Snow Hopkins
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Christopher Snow Hopkins
May 14, 2014, 8 a.m.

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.

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