A Timeless Connection
20 April 2016 at 11:18 am
Anna Donaldson was inspired to help solve both the problems of youth unemployment and Australia’s ageing population through one innovative idea, writes Ellie Cooper in this week’s Spotlight on Social Enterprise.
Several years ago Anna Donaldson was volunteering as a life-story writer for elderly people, and was matched with a woman called Patricia.
“I ended up visiting her for a couple of years and she was a really amazing lady but I was really the only person in her life and she didn’t have family or friends around her and was really isolated,” Donaldson said.
“As her health deteriorated she went into an aged care facility and the last time I saw her I knew she was about to pass away.
“I called the aged care facility the following week just to see if she was still there, and she’d passed away during the week.
“They didn’t even know who it was that I was talking about, they’d just forgotten all about her and I don’t even know if there was a funeral.”
The experience was an eye-opener for Donaldson, who realised that many older people experience isolation.
“That’s such a tragic waste of amazing lives for them to end in that way and disappear like that,” she said.
“It made me realise that we’ve got this real problem in our community where we’re allowing older people to be shoved off to the side like that, and we’re not appreciating and respecting the lives they’ve lived and everything they have to offer.”
At the same time she was confronted with younger people in her life finishing high school and struggling in the challenging job market.
“All these young people around me [were] not being able to find jobs and coming up against that issue of having no experience and so nobody is willing to give them a go,” she said.
“ And I was looking into youth unemployment and realising how quickly that was growing.
“One day I had a bit of a lightbulb moment and realised there’s an opportunity there to bring the two things together and create employment for young people supporting and working with older people who might need some help.”
Donaldson then founded Lively (formerly Lived Experience), a social enterprise that employs young people to work with older people.
Aside from the work itself, she said Lively aims to develop bonds between young and old and “to get older people sharing that experience and wisdom that I’ve experienced”.
Donaldson went through an incubator program at the School of Social Entrepreneurs, and eventually worked towards a pilot program late last year.
“We had a group of seven young people and seven old people work one-on-one for about eight weeks and the young people worked and helped the older people learn whatever it was that they were interested in learning,” she said.
“Most of them had iPads or smart phones that they had but didn’t know how to use properly and had ideas about the stuff they might like to do, and the young people helped them with that.
“The pilot was really amazing in terms of the impact that it had on both ends for the young and the old people.”
She said there were three different “pillars of impact”, with the first the effect on the young people who were participating as part of a Victorian Certificate of Applied Learning unit.
“They were all relatively disengaged and a lot of them weren’t turning up to class very often and when we went into the sessions and matched them up with their older people there was this total transformation and they all started to turn up every week,” she said.
“Their teacher said at the end of the program… the students had this opportunity where they felt they had something to offer somebody, which is something she said they very rarely have. And they have these older people who are so appreciative of what they were giving them.
“The teacher [said] that that had given them an opportunity thrive and flourish… and realise that they can actually have a positive impact on somebody.
“When we did an evaluation at the end of the program, all of the students said the most powerful part of the experience was feeling like they would help somebody else.”
The second area of impact was for the older participants.
“Probably the story that is most powerful is that one of the older ladies’ partner passed away about two weeks into the program, and she turned up the next week and she looked a bit tired and I said to her, are you ok, what’s going on, and she said my partner died last week and his funeral was yesterday, and I said, what are you doing here?” Donaldson said.
“She said, actually having this to come to is probably the only thing I have to look forward to right now and it’s the only thing that’s bringing a bit of light and laughter into life and something to keep me going.”
The final area of impact was the connections between the younger and older people and the relationships that developed.
“You saw so many instances throughout the program where they’d have completely forgotten all about the technology and you’d see one of the old ladies helping the young person she was working with, chatting about a job interview she was really nervous about and she was giving her advice,” Donaldson said.
“One of the other pairs would say, we’ve been so busy having philosophical discussions that we haven’t even looked at the iPad.
“It was that real exchange that was happening. One of the older participants said at the end of the program that that was the best part for her. And that’s a huge part of what we’re trying to achieve with the program as a whole.”
After the pilot, Donaldson began developing and testing several options for service models, including a one-on-one tech help service, groups classes, and connecting with aged care providers and councils.
“The reason that I’ve picked these couple of services is because those services are where we’ve identified there’s a demand, and it’s a demand that people are willing to pay for,” she said.
“They’ll all be fee-for-service models that enable us to employ young people, and we expect there will be a mix – on the one hand older people who are able and can afford and are willing to sign up and pay for themselves, or as part of their aged care budget.
“I expect there will be a proportion families who will pay to have their mum or dad or grandma or grandpa signed up to the program.
“And the aged care providers and councils and other business partners where they would pay on behalf of the older people they work with to extend the service to them.
“Down the track we’d look at if there are opportunities for things like government funding to help subsidise and make it available to older people who don’t have the means to afford things like this.”
Donaldson is currently going through an accelerator program run by YGAP and Spark. She is looking to build new partnerships with aged care providers, counsels and businesses to continue to roll it out.
“We’ve been looking at ways of… opening ourselves up to be a leader of a movement, and that movement being young and old people coming together and connecting and supporting each other in different ways,” she said.
“We’ve been looking at how we could shift what we’re doing to position ourselves as a leader of a movement instead of an insular enterprise doing our own thing.
“One of the opportunities that we’ve been looking at is building an online platform space for young and old people to connect with each other, and also how we could be working with other partners and other businesses to actually share the knowledge that we’re gaining on how you can foster these really meaningful connections.”
Donaldson said she wants to drive a cultural shift, which she said is essential given Australia’s ageing population.
“We really need to start thinking about how we’re going to adapt to that in a more positive way instead of just talking about the ageing population as this huge burden that’s about to hit us, which is what the most of media portrays it as at the moment,” she said.