Driving innovation for healthy and active ageing

How challenge prizes can support an asset-based approach to supporting people in later life to live well and thrive.

The shift towards asset-based community development in the non-profit and public sector is fundamentally changing the relationship between funders and citizens by focusing on ‘what’s strong, not what’s wrong’. This is especially important in the context of healthy ageing, where we can acknowledge the assets, resources and skills that individuals and communities – including older adults themselves – have available, rather than focusing on their deficits. As well as reducing the pressure on state services in the context of an ageing population, this approach benefits older communities by offering a sense of purpose, wellbeing and connection, and allows their valuable skills, experience and resources to be shared with wider society so that everybody benefits. 

Nesta has long championed this asset-based approach to ageing. The Accelerating Ideas programme was developed to fund solutions that give older people a sense of purpose and opportunity as they enter later life, helping them to feel more at home and connected to others. The initiative supported 8 promising social enterprise and community organisations, including the Cares Family, which supports networks of young professionals and older neighbours to build stronger relationships, and GoodSAM, an app that enables trained volunteers – including older adults – to provide critical care in medical emergencies. Nesta also delivered the Second Half Fund to support the growth of 13 innovations that mobilised the time and talents of people in the second half of their lives to help others, including Grandmentors, which matches volunteers aged 50 and above to mentor young care leavers in their journey into independent living.

What challenge-driven innovation can do

Challenge prizes are a different way of funding innovation that starts with defining a specific problem, and using a prize to incentivise people from all walks of life to develop solutions – in whatever way they want to approach it. In the context of ageing, Nesta Challenges has brought forth and nurtured dozens of innovations taking an asset-based approach to healthy ageing through its prizes, including the 2012 Ageing Well Challenge (see Case Study), the 2019 Tech to Connect Challenge that supported tech-based solutions to combat social isolation and loneliness, and the AAL Smart Ageing Prize, the most recent round of which focused on solutions that empower older adults to engage in entrepreneurship.

Prizes can also go one step further with an asset based approach, through recognising the great potential of older adults to play an active part in the innovation process themselves, not just act as recipients. One underlying principle of the challenge-driven open innovation approach is the acknowledgement that the best ideas often come from unexpected places, and should be driven by and with those with lived experience of social problems. As well as the financial reward, challenge prizes create a network of support around business development and market entry. This means that older adults and other groups who may not see themselves as ‘innovators’ have an opportunity to use their skills and experience, work with others and create new solutions to challenges they have themselves experienced. The founder of Pace-2-Face, a specially designed video conferencing tool that provides telementoring for older adults and one of the semi-finalists of the 2020 AAL Smart Ageing Prize, brings her own experience as an older adult to design a user-friendly product for older users. Similarly, the founder of 50 to 100, another Smart Ageing Prize semi-finalist, has used her lived experience of being an older adult to design a platform that gives older adults access to a network of start-ups, entrepreneurship programmes and inspirational talks, empowering them to engage in the world of entrepreneurship.

Case Study: NANA

four women who founded Nana, a community cafe

The Ageing Well Challenge, funded by the Cabinet Office and launched by Nesta Challenges in 2012, sought new approaches to reduce the isolation and increase the mobility of older people by providing new opportunities for communities to come together to give time, skills and resources.

Each finalist was awarded up to £10,000 to set up and test their projects, as well as non-financial support to help with impact measurement and other business development support. The winning solution was NANA, a community cafe run by and for older ladies (over 60) where each ‘Nana’ volunteered a certain number of hours each week and could take a small share in the profits at the end of the month. As well as empowering the Nanas to share their skills and become business partners, the project created opportunities for intergenerational connection within the community.

“Many Nanas say that they feel like they have purpose now they have joined NANAs and know that their time and energy is both greatly received by us and the customers.”

NANA won £50,000 to develop their business, while two of the other projects won £25,000 each as runners up. 

Building back better from the Covid-19 crisis

Across the world, the health, care and loneliness crisis created by Covid is hitting older communities among the hardest – and we know that recovery from the crisis will not come quickly. However, Covid-19 is also exposing great acts of kindness and innovation within communities: mutual aid groups, volunteering and other community based initiatives are demonstrating the potential for more asset based responses to how care and support is delivered.

We think that challenge-driven open innovation can build on this growing movement for community-driven innovation. Challenge prizes allow disparate groups to work together collaboratively: bringing the skills of tech innovators, creatives, public sector and people with lived experience of social challenges to develop asset-based approaches to healthy ageing and help us build back better from the crisis. 

If you are interested in hearing more on this from Nesta Challenges, join Constance Agyeman, Head of International Development and Education & Skills, at the Healthy Ageing Workshops: UK – Basque Country on 5th November 2020. Register here.

Author: Sarah Holliday, Researcher, Nesta Challenges

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