April 3, 2014 By Wayne Hanson
The word “retirement” strikes fear in IT shops. It signifies men and women walking out the door, no longer available to keep the desktops supported, the projects on schedule, the wheels of technology spinning. To the Baby Boomer, retirement might mean sleeping in, playing golf, spending time with family or even asking "Do you want fries with that?" But for Gopal Kapur, retirement means something entirely different.
I first meet Kapur in 1997 at a Government Technology conference. He founded The Center for Project Management, and was a very popular speaker on the subject. The title of his talk that day was "When our Systems Make us Stupid,” and in spite of his mild-mannered approach, the audience was laughing loudly. He told stories that were funny, but made a point.
As the conference was ending, I saw him filling a bag with free goodies from the vendors’ booths and joked with him about it. He explained that he and his wife were about to spend several months in his home town in India, and they collected the pens, balls, and other stuff to give to orphans -- girls who had been abandoned.
Kapur sent pictures of the girls, wearing clothing Kapur and his wife brought them. One little girl -- found living under a bench -- needed eye surgery. The Kapurs paid to have her eyes surgically corrected. The girl – now a young woman – stands in a garden, smiling, wearing a beautiful dress she sewed herself.
The Kapurs wrestled with the status quo in India to get the girls accepted to school. They got them computer equipment so they could learn to use technology and step up to employment. Now, the orphanage management has finally realized it is OK to educate girls, he joked, and so the Kapurs have moved forward, taking on 25 bright but poor children and got them financial and other assistance. One recent graduate is now working for the giant Indian technology company, Infosys.
And there’s more. Along with his project management skills, Kapur is a gourmet cook, and creates fund-raising dinners for the Roseville, Calif. Rotary Club. In 2008, in keeping with his interest in cooking, he started a nutrition program in California. He pestered universities, researched nutrition, and tested foods that could keep without refrigeration, were healthy, and tasted good. He sent samples of his "BagsOfLife" as he called them, to friends for taste testing. He researched the legal requirements and finally his BagsOfLife were ready to be distributed to food banks and pantries.
Now he’s raising money to produce more of the meals. With his usual candor and humor he managed to get Computerworld to do a story about his project even though it has nothing to do with computers. He explained that Digital Communities could do a story on it because IT people have to eat too, so that was the connection.
Kapur even got his project on television. Not only is he providing four different sets of nutritional food packages, he’s holding classes in shopping and cooking. To support all this activity, he's looking for donations to his organization, Family Green Survival and suggests that people skip a meal and send Family Green Survival the money that would have gone for the meal. That way contributors can experience a little hunger and help feed people who are hungry much of the time.
And about retirement? Decades ago, retirees settled down to read the paper and disappeared in a few years with a little notice in the paper. But not anymore. Americans are living longer. Retirement, to Kapur at least, means using his abilities and interests to help people live better lives. He’s a great example of life after retirement. But he's not perfect, and he's not completely retired. He admitted that even though his son now runs the Center for Project management, he still does some project management consulting, public speaking and university teaching. And he enjoys a scotch and cigar from time to time.
Wayne Hanson is editorial director of Digital Communities. His interest is in the future of communities and the elements necessary to create those places in which we would most want to live and work. What makes an ideal community, and how can civic leaders help their cities, counties and regions evolve to better meet old necessities and new opportunities?