We Can Be Heroes

This morning I woke to learn of the sad death of Muhammad Ali, one of my childhood heroes. As I sat down to write this blog, rich memories of Ali and other larger than life icons recently passed come flooding back. Prince, a musical maverick and pioneer who bridged many genres and struck a powerful chord with black and white artists and audiences alike. And David Bowie, the creative genius who inspired self-expression without constraint.

Our heroes come in myriad flavours; champions, pioneers and visionaries who know no boundaries, inspiring us to venture beyond our respective comfort zones and explore our own potential. Some of our heroes are friends and family, most we know through media. Occasionally you simply come across a brilliant individual who radiates confidence, charisma and charm, someone who captures your imagination.

I was fortunate enough to meet a new hero recently. He is an 88 year old scientist, who became an honorary member of the European Space Agency in 1975, and in 1983 founded the Brunel Institute for Bioengineering, which is involved in biological research during weightless space-flight.

Today Professor Heinz Wolff is focusing on another daunting challenge, how affordable care can be provided in the context of increasing demand due to the ageing population and medical improvements. As you can see from this short video, Heinz is extremely passionate about his subject. When we first spoke Heinz told me that a Victorian old lady (though old was a good deal younger than it is now) would probably have been cared for more humanely than a single frail elderly person is today.

Heinz's solution' 'Give & Take Care' was awarded £1 million as part of Innovate UK's 'Long Term Care Revolution' National Challenge. He recently spoke about the project at the Neighbourhoods of the Future roadshow which I chaired in collaboration with Professor Alexander Peine of Utrecht University, on behalf of the European Commission.

First and foremost it's worth pointing out that Heinz believes there is far too much gratuitous use of technology today. He says that care should not be provided by technology, but by human hands, with technology serving an enabler to make the process easier.

Based on the idea of 'mutual exchange', people take part in Give & Take Care through supporting or caring for an older person in their community. Heinz believes that caring for each other will ease the pressure on Government social and health services so that they will be able to focus on critical and specialised cases.

The hours of support the care givers provide are recorded and they get credits – or 'GATs' – for each hour of care they have undertaken. They can then use their GATs in the future towards their own care or that of a friend or relative. Give & Take Care is effectively a pension scheme – the GAT pension™ supported by the Co-operative Bank, where the contributions and returns are made in time rather than money.

One of the important features of the scheme is that it occupies what is a new space outside government, business and indeed the established third sector. According to Heinz this neutrality is essential to persuading people that Give & Take Care is immune from the vicissitudes of political, commercial and financial change and the hours banked with the scheme are safe and secure for the future.

The Art of Collaboration

Aligning the interests of the private, public, and third sectors was a common theme across the two day "meeting of minds" staged at NatWest HQ in London May 11 and 12. 200 key stakeholders and thought leaders from the digital, construction, health/social care, finance, security, academic and 3rd sectors engaged in a stimulating dialogue about adopting a Europe wide approach to age-friendly homes and Smart Neighbourhoods of the Future.

The objective is to inform a European Reference Framework for Age-friendly Housing which aims to identify the key features that make homes suitable for healthy and active ageing as well as providing recommendations for a set of complementary actions at EU, national and regional level to increase the number of age-friendly (or inclusive) homes – both smart new build and retrofit – and urban environments across Europe.

Three themes transcended many of the keynote presentations and open innovation workshops:

Funding. We have to rethink the way projects are funded. New forms of collaboration involving private and public sectors are necessary to inspire start-ups, SME's and corporate brands to innovate, drive growth and achieve scale and sustainability.

Technology. We are on the cusp of a new technological revolution with IoT and M2M acting as catalysts which will empower older adults to enjoy more independent lives. However, we cannot and must not lose the human touch.

Inter-generational Knowledge Exchange. There is an appetite to share information, collaborate and co-create. Participants – of all ages – really enjoyed the opportunity to share ideas and strike up conversations that may well lead to collaborations with stakeholders from sectors they would not normally engage or socialise with.

This last point was further explored in a session led by the RSA and Nesta, which looked at health and well-being in an ageing society as a "Social Movement", a voluntary collective of individuals committed to promoting change through co-ordinated activity, to produce a lasting and self-generating effect and creating, as they do a sense of shared identity.

Working with Innovate UK over the past few years I have engaged with many gifted professionals willing to invest their ideas, knowledge, time and connections, with a view to improving quality of life for ageing friends, family, society and indeed our older selves.

This has informed the creation of what we are calling the Agile Ageing™ Alliance, (AAA) which aims to connect Europe's brightest creative minds and key stakeholders in a united – informal and independent – effort to boost knowledge and investment and accelerate development of innovative solutions that will foster healthy, active, independent lifestyles and social engagement in later life.

In addition to staging the Neighbourhoods of the Future Roadshow, which you can learn more about via this short video, if you feel you have something you'd like to contribute please join our LinkedIn Group where you can share your thoughts and find out about engaging with new AAA initiatives.

We are looking for tomorrow's heroes to disrupt a long term care system which is not fit for purpose. Get involved, you don't know what you might come up with unless you give it a try.

Be sure to keep up with all this great work on the Agile Ageing Twitter feed.

Image used with permission.