In this day and age where social media seems to drive everything, it can feel like the gap between older generations and the young are deepening. Ageism in workplaces that value technical skill and youth are forcing many experts in their fields to be pushed out of industries they spent a lifetime building. The stereotypes of media-obsessed Millennials at a fictional war with their cranky boomer counterparts only make matters worse. Luckily, one young entrepreneur is fighting to break through these harmful stereotypes and show everyone that “when generations come together, everyone benefits”. That woman is Charlotte Japp, the founder of CIRKEL, a company dedicated to “closing the generational loop” by curating events and one on one conversations across generations. Nectar News had the privilege of interviewing Ms. Japp about how this idea was sparked and her passion for connecting people.
NN: Where did the idea for CIRKEL come from?
Charlotte Japp: I have always been someone who enjoys the company of older people. I have always been close to my parents and I think part of that comes from growing up as an immigrant. I moved over from Europe with my parents when I was two. My dad is British and my mom is German and we didn’t have any other family here. So we instantly stuck very closely together and because of their European background, they loved having friends over and throwing parties. They always included the kids in those experiences. So I grew up just being around all the really fun, ageless personalities that were friends with my parents. I always loved those moments we all spent together.
As I got older I started to realize that there were dark sides to aging, specifically in the workplace. I saw both of my parents get aged out of their careers and scramble to figure out some sort of solution because obviously people are living longer and need to work longer. I saw them struggle in businesses after both of them kind of had an ageist lay off and couldn’t get another job. It was really hard. I remember seeing that happen and not really understanding it but noticing later on that it actually is a pervasive issue.
The moment that I noticed there was an opportunity was when I started working myself. The first job that I had out of college was working at Vice media and I loved immediately how young and creative the environment was. But it took about a year for me to realize that I was lacking mentors, training, and a lot of the things that come with a multi-generational workplace. Everyone I worked with was mostly under 35. So for me, it felt like an extreme opposite from my parents and their friends who were siloed at home with very little company. I saw that I was learning a lot from my parents. I was living with them at the time and saw how I was teaching them a lot. There was a two-way exchange that was happening very naturally and we are all benefiting from it. I knew other people would as well. People my age who wanted friends and mentors and my parents’ friends who wanted to hang out with younger people to teach them but also to learn. So CIRKEL really became the mechanism for making those two-way exchanges.
NN: What was the first event you hosted and what was that experience like?
CJ: The first event was in June 2018 and it was about publishing. We had a speaker who had worked in publishing her whole adult life and had really seen the industry evolve and change with the advent of digital. She was one of my best friend’s moms and she did an amazing presentation with visuals and a lot of thinking about the different periods of her life in publishing and how it has changed. She worked in book publishing and women’s magazines. She had been an editor and a writer and now she works with brands within the digital publishing space. So she is the perfect example of a baby boomer who has seen an industry evolve over time. What was great is that she has a bigger picture perspective that younger people don’t have. So it was a very cool event where we listened to her story and then we play what we call the CIRKEL game. In the CIRKEL game, we create small groups with people at the event who come from different generations and we ask one another questions. The concept of a CIRKEL event is super simple, but it is the ingredients that make it. Having people from different generations, great questions, a personal or professional topic and then you add some drinks and snacks and it’s a party.
NN: How does the one on one mentorship work? How are pairs formed and what are the experiences like?
CJ: The mentorship piece came about because the events had been doing really well but people wanted a more focused way to meet someone. Someone a bit more curated to their experience. So we started CIRKEL Up in September. CIRKEL Up is where we create one on one introductions that each have a lot of thought and curation put into them. We meet as a CIRKEL team every month to think about who should meet whom within our community. We consider a lot of factors. It’s a pretty nuanced approach to making these matches between different age groups. Sometimes they are in the same industry, sometimes it’s a similar life experience that they are going through but just decades apart. Sometimes it’s about shared personal passion or a little mix of everything. We make these introductions but it’s not just the intro but the description of why we made the match that makes these meetings so impactful. You walk into the meeting knowing a little about the person and why you should meet them and what you both should be getting out of it. It’s been really cool. All of these experiences are happening on their own so we don’t hear about every success story. But we do know that there are people who have shifted careers coming out of particular introductions. We know people who have exchanged interests and hobbies. One of our pairs took her older pairing to a rock concert and the older partner took the younger woman to the Opera. So they are really sharing with each other different parts of culture and sharing passions. Sometimes it’s the magic of meeting someone who can show you new things and sometimes it’s having someone who can be a support system for something you are going through like a career transition or a difficult life experience.
Marc Freedman, the founder of encore.org talks about the exchange between older and younger generations as puzzle pieces because they fit so well together and they are not the same offerings but they are complementary. I think about that a lot because younger people are digital mavens now. They have this understanding of social media, technology and how culture is moving in a way that older generations have more of the soft skills. Older generations have things like leadership and maturity in terms of guiding teams, listening and seeing the big picture of something rather than the trees. So when you put these two together, even if they don’t have much in common, each one is bringing an approach that helps the other. So it’s been cool to see things that seem very simple for a millennial like Uber and Spotify get simplified for an older pairing as a result of that relationship. Spotify can be really overwhelming for someone who has never used it before. So even something like that is valuable to learn. It can allow for someone to say “Wow, I rediscovered all of the music that I haven’t listened to in so long, I just needed a little tutorial on Spotify and now I am ready to go”. On the flip, that same person could be someone who has been a lawyer for 40 years and has a background in the world from a legal perspective that anyone going through early career things may value and need to hear.
NN: This all sounds deeply unifying. How much did your parents mentor you in the creation of CIRKEL?
CJ: My mom and I have always been very close but because I work in media and advertising my dad was a very big influence on me professionally because he worked in advertising before he was aged out. I think a lot of CIRKEL evolved out of our conversations where we would compare a print ad from the 70s or 80s to a digital ad on social media. There would be certain things that tied those ads together, threads that run through both, but they are also really different. So we would have a lot of arguments about why something would make sense for a project I was working on where he didn’t get it. But he showed me a lot of amazing movies that I would reference in my video treatments and so I really loved all of that and found so much inspiration in those chats. So we really started brainstorming CIRKEL together. He actually passed away last year. He was able to come to the first CIRKEL event which was great.
NN: This is such an amazing resource because it sounds like CIRKEL offers the connection we all yearn for that some people may not be receiving because of their family situations.
CJ: Yes, absolutely. I think there is something powerful about having an older person in your life when you are a young person who is not your parents. I have thought about this recently trying to decipher why I love hanging out with older people, nothing to do with not loving my parents, but something about having a neutral perspective and a fresh slate you can get their take on something without the context of them having known you your whole life. I think that’s really powerful. I sometimes think about CIRKEL as being the purveyor of cool aunts and uncles. People who are removed but really care about you.
NN: I love that! What is in the future for CIRKEL?
CJ: We are really trying to build the reach of CIRKEL and expand its reach in New York but also in other cities. We do have events that are run locally in LA, Phoenix, and Raleigh. So we are thinking about how to keep them going in a way that’s sustainable. We are also doing a lot of thinking on the corporate side about how companies can better unite their four-plus generations working in one office. So we are trying to look at different companies that need that help and start the conversation.
Apply for CIRKEL’s members club, CIRKEL Up: