For Seniors : Retirees Vent Volunteer Zeal--in Africa

Like many older couples, Mort and Sue Frishberg spent most of their lives in traditional roles. Then, after 37 years of a man-is-breadwinner, woman-tends-the-home-and-hearth kind of relationship, the Frishbergs became a professional team.

It was 1984 and Mort had just retired from working in the computer industry. He started with a fledgling IBM in the late 1950s. During his years at Big Blue, he had essentially been a teacher--explaining the workings of computers to salespeople, explaining their applications to customers.

While Mort advanced with the computer age, Sue had four children and went back to college, earning a B.S. degree in health care marketing. Her specialty: quality control and personnel efficiency.

Then came Mort's retirement. The couple, Minnesota natives who had moved 14 times in previous 28 years, suddenly found themselves with what seemed to be a permanent address. "We really had no plan, but we did have an inclination to help people with the business of doing business," Mort recalled.

Enter International Executive Service Corps.

Founded in 1964 by David Rockefeller to bring retired people with experience in manufacturing and production to companies around the world, IESC provided the Frishbergs a post in Kenya. "That's when 'I' officially became 'we,' " Mort said, referring to how he and his wife both became active volunteers.

But that did not occur until Sue elevated the role of volunteer executive spouses.

Traditionally, wives were seen as those who might teach village women how to do crafts, while the husband was the volunteer executive. But as Sue recalled: "There was nothing I could teach these women. They had thousands of years of experience doing what they did, and they did it exquisitely."

So when the owner of the company to which Mort was assigned showed up four hours late for their first meeting, Sue pointed to her watch and in a diplomatic way told him that wasn't good business. She had her first assignment. "With the blessing of IESC, I was in charge of time management," she said.

The Frishbergs found out they could work together. Sue dealt with organizational details, Mort helped the fledgling accounting firm computerize. When they returned after their three-month assignment, they were hungry for another and left for Zimbabwe within a few months.

They also knew they no longer wanted to live in Minnesota, deciding to move to West Hollywood in 1987.

The IESC, meanwhile, has a domestic version called the Executive Service Corps of Southern California. Modeled after the international organization, ESC recruits retired people from senior to mid-management levels for assistance, but to the nonprofit sector.

According to Executive Director Megan Cooper, ESC has 180 volunteers between the ages of 55 and 88. It has served more than 500 nonprofit agencies in Southern California. "Helping groups that help others has got to be the most satisfying thing experienced executives can do," Cooper said.

The Frishbergs are currently working with the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund--one of the nation's leading Latino litigation, advocacy and educational outreach institutions. The couple is helping MALDEF to computerize its fund raising.

"The Frishbergs have this unique ability to hear differing voices and opinions and simplify it all into logical terms," said Elba Bautista, MALDEF's executive director. "They capture the big picture, and they don't impose themselves on others."

Said Sue Frishberg: "It's very hard to measure success with nonprofits. They're so warm-hearted, such softies, very different from the for-profit world. But we do help provide a road map for the future and methods for greater staff efficiency."

Besides their work with MALDEF, the Frishbergs are studying Spanish and look forward to another foreign assignment.

"We are giving back something, and at the same time we are connected to what's going on in the world," Sue said, as Mort nodded in agreement.

"Besides," he added, "we only have one car, so there's no separating us."

To apply for ESC services, or to become a volunteer consultant, call (213) 381-2891. To apply for IESC, call (203) 967-6000.

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