Updated: Feb 5
This is a transcript of the podcast interview. Listen to the episode here.
PREMA: It's 2020 and ours is a digital world. What does this mean for the way we live? Looking around you, your family and your communities? This new digital reality is reflected in how we live, socialize and participate in everyday life using digital technologies and platforms. A growing number of services are online - education, health, banking, government and community services. And this mostly improves efficiency and outcomes. However, not everyone has access to these technologies and platforms. There are those who are digitally excluded. The Australian Digital Inclusion Index highlights that while digital inclusion is improving, around 2.5 million Australians are not online. In particular, rural residents, people with disabilities, indigenous Australians, people with low levels of education, income or employment, and older Australians, seniors. That's around 10 percent of the population.
In today's episode, you'll hear from Richard Scenna from YourLink.
RICHARD: YourLink is focused on digital inclusion and technology for seniors and all about improving quality of life through using technology. We mainly work with aged care providers and health organisations on how they can use apps or iPads. You know, just all this smart device kind of technology into their quality of care.
PREMA: What Can We Do? In this podcast, I speak with those who are putting the ideas into action, focusing on the good they can do for their neighbours, communities, citizens and the world.
PREMA: In this episode, we will learn more about the work that YourLink does, the barriers older Australians seniors face, how we can help and what Richard has learned through the course of setting up YourLink.
PREMA: So what does digital inclusion mean?
Digital inclusion is a pathway to digital equity, where all individuals in all communities have the access and capacity they need to fully participate in society, democracy and the economy. Improving digital inclusion means improving conditions in five key areas.
1 - An affordable and reliable Internet connection
2 - Devices that meet the need of the user
3 - Access to digital literacy training
4 - Quality, technical support and applications
5 - Online content that enables encourages independence, participation and collaboration.
Richard's desire to help seniors started, as it often does for so many of the people I speak to - from a lived experience back in 2009. Richard's grandmother passed away after several years in aged care. During this time and the years that followed, Richard wondered how we could find a better way to stay meaningfully connected with people who are separated from family and friends. The biggest health challenge facing Australia's ageing population is loneliness and isolation, which makes a need for connection all the more vital.
RICHARD: Rick, one of my good friends of 20 years, had a nugget of an idea about how can we, he and I, use what skills we know around marketing, around technology, around teaching, and also around how we want our families to stay connected and seeing the devices in people's hands.How could we do something with that? And so we started developing an app and that's where YourLink actually started. As an app around connecting seniors with their friends and family and aged care homes, being able to share the photos with family members.
PREMA: A few years into YourLink, the importance of Richard's work took on more meaning.
RICHARD: In the last three or four years this has all become actually quite even closer, more personal. Because I saw Mum go through pancreatic cancer and I was very hands on in terms of the care needs that she needed as our family was. And I was really conscious of how we could use technology, you know, to keep her, what parts of her quality of life we could. How we could keep that going so you know photos and things like that.
PREMA: When it comes to seniors in the adoption of technology, many of us are quick to assume that seniors aren't interested or able to learn new skills to properly use platforms, UourLink published a report looking into their desire for digital inclusion and younglings finding quash these myths. Seniors want to stay connected and seniors enjoy learning. They just need the right tools and support. There have been organizations that have recognized this long before Richard and Rick founded YourLink, decades on, the co-founders are hoping to fill gaps that are still in the market.
RICHARD: For about 30 years there's the Seniors' computing clubs ASCA Australian Seniors Computer Clubs Association. They're awesome organizations, but there hasn't been anyone quite tackling it like we have, which is around trying to marry up the technology side of things. The business. So we came in more from the organization's perspective and how they can do better for seniors.
PREMA: They got to work building a product with seniors in mind, turning to the experts, the seniors themselves.
RICHARD: So in the beginning, we actually went to the University of Third Age in Orange. University of Third Age are these chapters and groups around the world, actually they're like small organic groups that are all about like third stage learning, so to speak, and seniors teaching seniors things. There's a group in Orange and they're still our champions and great friends of ours now. And we would go to them when we had the idea of an app going "This is what we're thinking". And they were brutally honest. They're like, "I don't understand this". "What does that mean?" But they've been a really good sounding board for us in terms of our user perspective and our client perspective.
PREMA: With this firsthand feedback YourLink's initial offering was an application through which seniors could be connected with friends, family and the community. After launching this, Richard and Rick realized pretty quickly that they'd missed a critical step - upskilling the seniors to use devices so they could use the application. They launched a technology workshop that is still one of their core offerings today.
RICHARD: We started doing these Tea & Technology for Seniors events, so had actually started off as Tea & Technology and Toast. But we realized we can't do the toast. We couldn't have set that proposition right. And so we did Tea & Technology for seniors. And these have actually been phenomenal. Yes, the events cover a range of topics. It can be things, yeah, generally basic things like what's gigabyte? How much data is enough? Because language is such an important part. So we cover a bit about language, about Android, about Apple, you know what's a smart device or that kind of terminology. So that when people go into potentially a retailer, they understand what they might have or they might be looking to get. Things like photos, apps, video calling and FaceTime and Skype. They're very much the probably the most exciting part. People love that part. The audience generally takes us somewhere as well. I open up the questions and some of the topics were just like cloud. "What's iCloud? How do I back up?"
PREMA: YourLink's Tea & Technology sessions are free of charge for the seniors who attend them. To date, 1300 seniors have been trained in the community. Each session is about three hours and has up to 70 attendees and attendees don't have to own a device to attend. Over time, YourLink's services have evolved to a business to business model. They work with health and aged care providers to enable seniors to use devices in technology. Even though their business might have expanded, their unwavering focus on the end users keeps inspiring their work and development.
RICHARD: The proudest kind of feedback we get is that they feel respected. They feel that when we're delivering sessions or engaging with them, we're not patronizing. We're not, we're treating them with the value. That's really important for us is that they are valued and that we're not talking down, so to speak.So, for example, even in an aged care home, we helped residents be part of a wedding that they couldn't attend. So in an aged care environment, we worked with the lifestyle person, set up the i-Pad, set up the family and the other ends with the phone. And this grandmother was able to participate in the wedding. Now, at a push of a button, you can see anyone, anywhere in the world, like that. Technology's phenomenal. And I think there's no reason why people shouldn't still be part of those lives that have really bottled.
PREMA: While not all organizations have a budget allocated for their services, which it does observe some awareness shifts in the broader industry.
RICHARD: We're very much seeing people embrace the skills and embrace the values that we are putting out there in the community. There is actually probably more common place now around seniors and using technology and also in the aged care environment. Health is an interesting one as well, because now even in health, when you're talking about telehealth or digital health in rural Australia. One of the demographics that are most going to benefit from these are older people. But if we don't skill them up, they're not going to be able to use that technology. So I think there's an acknowledgement that this has to happen.
PREMA: The awareness might be better in recent years, but Richard feels that technology manufacturers and governments have a huge part to play.
RICHARD: If you look at it from a technology perspective, the easier demographics are the younger demographics. They've got a young longer life cycle ahead. They will be brand champions for longer. Things like that. So when you're talking about an older demographic, there are other challenges you've got to factor in. And we've had to deal with a lot of those, too. You know, keep on understanding their needs. They learn differently. It doesn't mean that they don't want to learn, but they need to learn differently. So I think the reason it hasn't been done previously is that it was just in the too hard basket for a lot of people. Even government. Now we're talking about aged care in a very different light in the last 12 months with the royal commission and the changing needs of how we age. Technology has a massive part in this. And so even governments named pay attention to this now to.
PREMA: In Australia, digital inclusion bodies pay attention to this area of work. A main one being BeConnected. They focus on digital ability, working towards seniors, feeling safe and confident, using the Internet and connected devices. Richard points out that digital ability for seniors can start in their homes with the help of family members and friends.
RICHARD: We actually just did some research around this, that over 80 percent rely on friends and family. Not surprisingly. But over 70 percent, it's unavailable due to time or distance. But then even when it is given the support it's fixing, it's not teaching. So we're creating this dependency, you know, in later age, that says we'll fix it for them. Not that they can still do it, so to speak. So I think the support networks is one of the key things. There's fear from their perspective, confidence and fear from from their own perspective. We often get people saying, I can't or I'm too old to learn. All of that needs to kind of be overcome. But it's, it's reminding them of the mindset, when you first cook or when you first drive well, hopefully driving slightly different. But, you know, with cooking, you know, mom used to, I used to always say to mom, "I need to learn to cook. I need to learn to cook". She'd go "Well, you just start and you'll burn something or you'll figure out you put too much salt and too much pepper". And you remind this audience of those very things that they have been teaching other people. Digital's the same.
PREMA: Richard also acknowledges that there are a small number of seniors who are probably resistant to change, something he personally experienced and conquered with his own father.
RICHARD: I think one of the best entry points for a senior or someone who maybe is a little resistant is actually exposure. So to some degree showing them what may be possible. You obviously, if it's, for example, your mom or your dad, you should know them reasonably well to know what an interest of disease, whether it's TV, whether it's programs, news, i-Tunes, you know, or whatever the thing is, and showing them what is possible at the push of a button that just starts to break down the barrier. So it's exposure, I think, and also massive amount of patience. You've got, it's a longer game, so you cannot expect someone to pick it up straight away and being kind to that interaction. So, for example, there's no point in me telling dad, you know, you should use the phone for banking. You know, that's me trying to put why I would think he could use it, whereas he enjoys playing Italian card games. So I found an app that actually was an Italian card game called Briscola that he actually plays on his phone. That was a slight little entry point. And I think that hook, that entry point is the most important part. It starts from finding a common, finding actually the most important or most interesting thing for that person, whether it's staying in touch with family or friends, a game, football, whatever the thing is. that's the most important starting point.
PREMA: Of course, this isn't the only barrier in a vast country like Australia. Access to fast, reliable Internet can also be an issue, but a common barrier that cuts across all digitally excluded groups is affordability. Many do not have the financial means to get online. When it comes to seniors and support in place for the inclusion which it is confident barriers will be lowered because Australia has to accommodate its growing senior population. In the meantime, they hope for more seniors to attend their Tea & Technology sessions.
RICHARD: Any of our Tea & Technology events that take place nearby, they are welcome to register and come too. They will find out on our website on www.yourlink.com.au. Or on our Facebook page. We're at YourLink on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn.
PREMA: The work around aged tech is just beginning to gain traction and YourLink plans to grow their influence in this space. Your link has now been in operation for five years and Richard is upfront about his experience overall.
RICHARD: In terms of things like this and social enterprise and doing for good sort of things, if it was easy everyone would do it. Really has stuck with me that that saying because a good friend of mine said that it takes resilience and patience. So it's something I'm really - I love this sort of stuff. But you've got to love what you do because financially it can be, it takes time to build that. I think bringing something to this to life and, you know, from a practicality perspective, you know, you've got to be able to still pay your bills. You've got to still be able to keep your mental health, keep yourself motivated and have a healthy balance of optimism and practical kind of noticing of of wins and things like that. So I think for me, it's been a delicate balance of, I'm a pretty I think pretty balanced kind of person. But even for three years of YourLink, my mother was very sick. And so I made the decision during that period of time, with 100 percent support from Rick, my business partner, that I needed to focus on mom as well as the business. And that's really hard when you've got two things that need both your attention. They need a lot of attention. This a business idea needs your attention to come to life, because if you're not doing it, who's doing it? Your family member who needs your attention? How do you cover the guilt? Those two?
PREMA: The actual application took a year to build and the co-founders funded it themselves, which needed them to make smarter decisions with their own money.
RICHARD: It means every dollar we spend was from our own, so we were very conscious of how to make it sustainable. But yet it took us a year. And then that's the other thing. I would always also encourage anyone starting something, your version, one that does not have to be perfect. We get stuck in all we need this one. We need this and we need this. The reality is, once it's in market, whatever it is, whether creating a podcast, whether you're writing a book. Once it's out there, you can then evolve it from that.
PREMA: YourLink is now part of an incubator at Macquarie University, which is helping them grow their business to the next stage.
RICHARD: In terms of the support and they've been great here, we've found a couple of like minded, there's a whole range of businesses here, but a couple who are like us in that straddle of social enterprise, for impact organizations. In terms of startup environments and where you might start your idea. You start in your garage, your home. Things like that. So you often, space is not something you want to spend money on. Places like incubators or accelerators. There are two terms you will hear often when it comes to starting up an organization and they're essentially an incubator somewhere where you start off with possibly just an idea. And the idea is that it grows into fruition and you outgrow the incubator space.That means you are supported to build a business, learn the sales tools, learn the value proposition, learn all those things that are actually really important when you start a business and you want it to become public, and if you wanted to succeed. Learning those tools is, I think, two layers. One is the formalized learnings. You might have workshops, you might have short courses, things like that. So at the moment, we're doing a pitching program.
PREMA: Here's Richard's advice to anyone thinking of starting their own social enterprise.
RICHARD: If there's something within you around a cause and interest. Something from a social conscience, a non-profit, whatever the aspect is, I think it's really important to start acknowledging that and to start writing it, start bringing it to life. Nothing's linear. To kind of put an expectation of next week I'm going to launch this and it's gonna be an overnight success or is gonna be work in six months. I don't think that's reality. And so is it's got to be a general direction. Start doing it, putting it out there, whether it's in a temporary or a casual way. So, you know, on weekends, meeting people start putting yourself in the environments of the interest that you have. So if it's environmental, start being in the environmental space. If it's seniors, start being in the seniors space, whatever the thing is, because you find your tribe.
PREMA: Thank you for listening to this episode. If you found this episode useful or informative, please take a moment to write or follow this podcast on any of the platforms you're on. You can also follow us on our Facebook page or our Instagram page. Just search for What Can We Do podcast. Please also feel free to reach out. If you have an organization or person you think we should interview for this podcast - firstname.lastname@example.org. This series is produced and edited by me, Prema Menon, and the script is edited by Liza Nadolski.