But, appearances can be deceptive. What could have been intimidating I actually found inspirational. The ministry was filled with open minded stakeholders; representing governmental and local authorities, leading businesses, investors, academics, scientists and voluntary organisations. And they were all there because one passionate young social entrepreneur had managed to convince them that change was essential, and furthermore they weren't obliged to wait for formal government approval to make it happen!
Over the past 18 months Marzena Rudnicka, (pictured) who runs a construction company in her day job, has recruited a team of extremely confident specialists – mostly young ladies – and set up the Polish Institute of Silver Economy. A Foundation committed to establishing a new order, where older adults are offered the respect and support warranted by any open-minded society.
Marzena gets things done. Her Foundation has already staged two successful Silver Economy Congresses, in the Polish Parliament and she has just launched Poland, and possibly Europe's, first Age Friendly Accreditation system. Her ambition is to kick start a potentially huge new market for products and services, designed to meet the needs and desires of an ageing population.
To get the ball rolling Marzena is helping to mobilise social entrepreneurs. She predicts we will soon see many more early stage businesses collaborating in clusters, thereby creating the critical mass necessary to cultivate growth and eventually make independent assisted living a commercially viable reality.
Active Assisted Living
Marzena's optimism was echoed at the Active Assisted Living (AAL) Forum which I moderated across three days in Ghent the previous week. I am embarrassed to admit that although I've been to Belgium many times, this was my first experience outside of Brussels. Ghent is an absolute jewel of a city which I recommend you experience. I will certainly be returning when I have more time for leisure and discovery.
But back to business: The AAL Forum is the annual platform for the European AAL community to meet and discuss topics, relevant to growing a new market. The overarching theme for 2015 was "Aspirations in Active Ageing – Engaging People, Services and Technology". Its goal was to encourage and promote an improved connection between the individual and innovation and to speed up the 'translation' process between idea/research and commercial exploitation.
There was in fact a significant groundswell of opinion among the 600 or so stakeholders in attendance, that AAL should take a far more entrepreneurial approach with shorter lead times, less bureaucracy, a focus on the idea more than the process and a greater degree of business mentoring.
One manifestation of this thinking process was the AAL Awards & Microsoft Ventures hackathon, which is likely to be further developed as a means of generating fresh ideas and speeding up the process of getting those concepts funded for development.
As with the aforementioned Polish Silver Economy Congress, the driving force behind AAL is another inspirational lady who gets things done. Director Karina Marcus, sees the AAL Programme as an engine for growth. To this end she is committed to engaging the wider public in a dialogue as a vital step towards bringing inventions and solutions of the AAL Programme into the mainstream.
Karina is keen to involve more entrepreneurs and start-ups in the European Silver Economy. She points out that SMEs generally operate in more agile structures with less rigid working practices, which often leads to innovative and disruptive new concepts.
"The ability of smaller businesses to engage directly and take on board requirements and comments from end-users is another definitive advantage, especially when they employ short feedback loops to inform and accelerate product development."
You know with super-women like Marzena Rudnicka, Karina Marcus and Jackie Marshall-Cyrus (the mastermind behind Innovate UK's Long Term Care Revolution) rallying their forces, I'm pretty sure we are about to see an explosion of exciting new products and services that will transform the idea of later life for our older selves.
If you'd like to learn more about the AAL Forum, read this executive summary courtesy of our friends at Insight Publishers.
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Image provided by Ian Spero with permission for use.