Celebrating 60 years of service in 2018, AARP continues to empower people to choose how they live as they age. With their nationwide presence and local impact, AARP helps people in your community turn their goals and dreams into real possibilities. They focus on what matters most: health, wealth and self. Their work touches people of all backgrounds, generations and walks of life—whether they are among the 38 million Americans who enjoy the many benefits of AARP membership or not.
Sisters From AARP is a free, weekly newsletter celebrating Black women. Sisters readers get the very best in style, health, money, relationships, and more. PIVOT had a chat with Edna Kane Williams, Senior Vice-President, Multicultural Marketing for AARP to talk about this new digital platform and why it’s important to tap into the spirit of sisterhood.
Talk briefly about your background and what lead you to the multicultural space with AARP.
I’ve been doing multicultural focused work for AARP for about eight years. I took an initial position as a Vice President for African American outreach, and then about two and a half years ago, was promoted into the Senior Vice Presidency role over all of our multicultural work, including African Americans, Hispanic, Latino, Asian American Pacific Islander, and LGBT, as well as Native American, and American Indian.
Prior to focusing specifically on multicultural work, I had a number of jobs primarily in the space of communications and program development but all throughout my career, I’ve focused on multicultural audiences. They weren’t exclusively multicultural outreach roles, but I’ve always had that sort of sub-specialty.
When the initial role became available at AARP, and they in fact were on the cusp of creating a department focused on our eternal work, I thought it was exciting and I went for it, and here I am!
Let’s talk a little bit about Sisters from AARP. Where did the idea come from and why do you think it’s important to launch right now?
The department and the work has been around for 8 or 9 years, and even before there was a formal department, AARP has had an even longer history of working in these communities, doing outreach. We have 53 state offices and all of the state offices have a mandate to be inclusive at the local level.
It’s not like there was an ‘Aha, we need to do something” moment because we weren’t doing anything. This was what we see as a natural progression of our work. We partner with sororities and fraternities, we work with historic, civil rights organizations, we work with service organizations like the The Links and 100 Black Men.
I probably do a hundred plus partnerships a year with all manner of organizations, and the ones I mentioned are African American organizations, but I can name equal numbers for the other groups as well.
We do media campaigns, event sponsorships, and engage influencers, but with this newsletter, we wanted to take our work to the next level, to bump it up, we wanted something that fills a gap for Gen X and Boomer women. We recognize that this was a gap, not detracting or taking away any of the existing publications or information outlets that exist, but we’re the experts in terms of what this age group needs.
It fits into our strategy to try to be even more top of mind for African Americans, particularly African American women, we’ve been in the social media space for a while and we know that’s where African American women are.
What do you see as a growth strategy for the platform? How do you plan to scale it, and get it to more people who need to know about it?
I can answer that in part. It’s a little early to talk about our preliminary numbers, but I will tell you that they are strong so that says to me that we have something by the tail here, and I want to blow it out.
We want to reach hundreds of thousands of women. I don’t want this to be small, I want this to be big because there is an audience out there. The thousands of women who have signed up are giving testimony that we are filling a gap, so this is not going to be a nice, quiet newsletter for five or six thousand women, we want hundreds of thousands of women to know about it and be subscribed to this really because it’s an email-driven newsletter.
I do want to mention briefly that we’re talking about African American women and AARP’s focus on African American women because of this initiative. It goes without saying that at AARP we do whatever we can to reach all audiences so it’s important for that message to be that this is the strategy that we’ve identified for African American women.
Obviously, we do a lot of general market work, we’re also targeting Latina women, doing work in the Hispanic community, reaching out to LGBT, but it’s all trying to make sure that everyone is included. We’re trying to be inclusive, not exclusive
I know this is your 60th anniversary year, and congratulations for that, and all that AARP has done over the years. What do you see as the organization’s greatest achievement, and what’s on the horizon in the multicultural space at AARP?
I think at AARP, we are the champion of people over 50 and I think we’re a non-partisan organization, but we have always had a very active voice in terms of advocacy. Whether you’re talking about State Legislature, Congress, the Executive branch, or policy making, we are front and center.
We have been vocal in terms of protecting social security, Medicare, protecting older consumers against fraud, elevating the issues around caregiving and family caregivers, and making sure that new legislation is in place to protect those who spend so much time devoted to caring for their family. As we celebrate our 60th anniversary, it’s giving light to all that we do to ensure that people are living their best lives.
We just came off of a major advocacy initiative around SNAP and food stamp benefits for not only older people, but people in general. There are times when we’re focused exclusively on people over 50, but there are other times when we’re doing things because it’s right for consumers and the public in general.
I’m not our CEO, but I think she would say that we are looking forward the next 60 years to continue to be that strong voice speaking for the constituencies that we represent. I shudder to think where we would be without AARP in terms of some of the benefits, entitlements and safety nets that we have in place.
As it pertains to multicultural audiences, we know that the phrase ‘When everybody else gets a cold, these communities get pneumonia’, is a true statement. Our needs are even more acute and so I’m proud that AARP is also increasingly leading those fights as well.