Young entrepreneur Anna Donaldson has founded a social enterprise with a mission to help tackle two major social problems at once – high youth unemployment and social isolation among older people. She talks to Linda Belardi.
Recent school leaver Thomas had been searching for work for two years before landing a job as a technology helper with Lively, a social enterprise that connects young jobseekers with older people needing help.
Feeling demoralised after a series of knockbacks, finding work as a technology helper proved to be a turning point for his self-esteem and confidence, says Lively founder and CEO Anna Donaldson.
While teaching seniors how to send an email or shop online, Thomas has also found himself picking up life advice and an informal mentorship from his eager pupils.
Donaldson says the intergenerational connections that have formed through the program have been transformative for both participants. While the technology help service is the hook that brings the generations together, the mutual exchange of skills, experience and friendship is where the real power lies and the catalyst for attitudes to change, she says.
The social enterprise founded in 2015 has run a series of pilot programs including with Victorian aged care provider Jewish Care and plans are underway to expand Lively’s range of services to seniors and aged care clients, such as the digital archiving of family photos.
At the same time as creating paid training and employment opportunities for young people, Donaldson says the program is helping to challenge negative and ageist views about older people and sparking an interest in aged care as a potential career path.
LB: What is Lively?
AD: We employ young jobseekers to provide meaningful, paid support to older people who need a hand, and engage older people to share their experience, knowledge and skills back with younger people.
What types of services does Lively offer?
Our founding service provides help with technology through one-on-one support for older people who have a tablet, smartphone or computer, and need help learning how to use it to connect with people, interests, information and services. We have delivered this as a program in community centres, libraries, and in people’s homes. We have also been delivering a program called Tech, Tea and Tales in partnership with Humankind Enterprises, which is a social enterprise that engages young people to record the stories and life experiences of older people on film. Our joint program has been delivered in residential aged care and community centres, employing young people not only to provide help with technology, but to record older people’s stories for themselves, their families and their broader community.
Can you share some of your results?
We have run three major pilot programs, and the results have been overwhelmingly positive. We have seen three main areas of impact. Firstly, improved technology skills and confidence for older participants, with them feeling more connected, independent and empowered in an increasingly digital world. Secondly, improved confidence, communication and employability skills for young people. Thirdly, improved intergenerational understanding and more positive attitudes towards older people amongst our young helpers. We have also seen an increased interest in entering the aged care profession amongst some of our young helpers, which is really exciting.
How do you challenge the notion that young people should be offering this help to seniors for free in a volunteering capacity?
It’s definitely an argument we have had to make often, as most programs that are similar to ours do engage volunteers rather than paying staff. While I certainly don’t want to downplay the value or importance of volunteer-led programs, there are a few strong advantages to employing young people to do this work. The first is recruitment and retention of program participants. Our positions have been hugely oversubscribed, with 270 fantastic young people applying for just 28 roles available so far, and with minimal promotion needed on our part. The second benefit is that we can attract young people who aren’t already intrinsically motivated to put their hand up and work with older people as a volunteer. Most young people who apply for our positions find us because they are looking for paid work, not because they have a particular interest in older people. We have seen a more significant impact on young people’s attitudes and breaking down negative perceptions using this model.
How can aged care organisations get involved and why should they?
We run our programs in residential facilities, retirement villages and for home care clients. There are so many selling points – enhancing the wellbeing and connectedness of clients, meeting the huge demand for technology help, which many providers lack internal capacity or staff time to assist with, bolstering providers’ brands and enhancing service offerings in a competitive CDC market, and bringing more young people in contact with their organisation.
What’s your vision for the social enterprise?
The opportunity we see is to connect the dots between our ageing population and the pressing need for more jobs for young people in our community. Our big vision is to create an Australia in which supporting older people is as mainstream a job option for young people as hospitality or retail is today, and in which young and older people are connecting and supporting each other in their everyday lives – breaking down isolation, negative attitudes and creating opportunities for young and older people to feel more connected and valued in our community.
This story appears in the current edition of Community Care Review magazine.
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