Be the mentor you’d like to have!


When I think about the value of intergenerational mentoring and how it can help shape a different future, I really couldn’t express its potential better than Marc Freedman, Founder of in USA.

Mentoring brings us together – across generation, class, and often race – in a manner that forces us to acknowledge our interdependence, to appreciate, in Martin Luther King, Jr.’s words, that ‘we are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied to a single garment of destiny.’ 
In this way, mentoring enables us to participate in the essential but unfinished drama of reinventing community, while reaffirming that there is an important role for each of us in it. 
-- Marc Freedman (Founder/CEO


Recently I was MC for the intergenerational panel as part of the Foundation for Young Australians (FYA) Unleashed Festival . The panel explored intergenerational collaboration and how we can benefit from connection, learning and sharing across the generations.

A lot it seems. One of the things that struck me from the conversation is the desire of elders to want to inspire, support and encourage young people on their journeys. Equally young people expressed the desire to have a sounding board, someone to trust and speak with confidentially. To be guided by someone who can give reassurances and share wisdom developed through years of experience.

And it also goes the other way. Young people mentoring older people is a growing opportunity. The rapid growth in entrepreneurship, is fastest amongst people aged 55 and above, who would benefit from the perspective, insight and wisdom of youn people.

Older people are seeing the value of having a young mentor. As Jane Owen, FYA’s CEO says “I think anyone over 40 would be crazy not to have a mentor under 30 these days” (Dumbo Feather #42)

I believe intergenerational mentoring is hugely valuable for both mentor and mentee. I’ve personally had great older mentors and more recently I have loved the mentoring from people younger than me. I have also been a mentor to people younger and older than myself. Each of these relationships can be characterised as being “thriving” in that, regardless of being the mentor or mentee, we both learned, gained insight, build empathy and found solutions.

So while there are clearly benefits to mentoring, one of the challenges people seem to experience, is being able to find the right mentor. I am therefore exploring the opportunity to create a service where that helps mentors and mentees easily find and connect with each other, regardless of location or previous connection.

I'd love to understand your perspectives on mentoring and how we can best design a service that helps you find the right mentor and mentee to work with. We know you're busy, so we would really appreciate it if you could take 10-12 minutes to complete our survey

There's plenty to learn from Humanitas Deventer about innovation in aged care services, part 2/3

 Student Jurrien Mentink catchung up with fellow resident Mrs van Beek

Student Jurrien Mentink catchung up with fellow resident Mrs van Beek

I recently visited Humanitas Deventer where they’ve introduced a great intergenerational innovation into their aged care home. It ‘s received a lot of exposure in global media outlets as well as shares on LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter. Clearly it’s captured people’s imagination about different living models where young and old are brought together.

I love the impactful, yet simplistic elegance of the model and am sharing my reflections on what makes it work, in the hope that it will be an inspiration to explore the possibilities of harnessing the possibilities of inter-generational connections in your organisation.

During my visit I spoke with Anyta Brouwer, Manager Quality and Innovation, who generously shared the story and answered my flurry of questions. In the first blog I reflected on how “daring to imagine opens the door to innovation” and in this second one I’ll talk about the critical roles of organisational agility and experimentation in innovation.

Humanitas Deventer is part of the larger Humanitas brand, but is in fact a stand-alone, independent organisation. This means the team has strategic and operational autonomy. If there are new ideas and plans, like the intergenerational living model, they go ahead and action these. They don’t have the constraints that many innovators experience in large organisations. We often think the slowness organisations experience is symptomatic of being large. I don’t actually think size matters as I have also seen plenty of small organisations struggle with innovation and change. What matters is a willingness to create the space for teams to move, so that they can be flexible and fast and move with ease as they consider and adopt new initiatives. Rather than feeling heavy and cumbersome, they are agile. When referring to “agile” I don’t mean the IT development methodology used in a lot of start-up speak. I am simply referring to the nimbleness trait of an organisation to take an idea and “run with it”.  

Being able to run with it, means there is space for experimentation. Without knowing definitively whether the intergenerational concept was going to be a success, the team at Humanitas Deventer went ahead with it. After some internal consultation with the client committee as well as staff, they set some high level principles and starting to action the idea. The first student moved in and after a few months, there was a review with residents, the student and staff to understand how everyone experienced the experiment. “So far, so good…” and the second student moved in and this continued until the last sixth and last student took up residence in 2015.

The team at Humanitas Deventer wasn’t sure how the concept was going to work and didn’t know how “successful” it was going to be. Off course they didn’t! After all, they were trying something new. It was an innovation and quite a significant one at that. It was an innovation that changed how they do things and changed the living experience of residents.

The beauty of this is that despite the possible risks to reputation and brand, they went ahead with it. The result has been phenomenal and is being talked about around the world.

As a leader it’s worthwhile asking ourselves what we are doing to give people space to experiment and enable organisational agility. How are you thinking about teams, groups and departments as small stand-alone entities that can be agile and are free to experiment? To try and fail(no!) learn. To experiment, experience, learn, iterate, try again, learn more and succeed?

In the next, and final blog in this series, I will reflect on the how Humanitas Deventer successfully implemented their innovation and how they are thinking about next steps.

There's plenty to learn from Humanitas Deventer about innovation in aged care services, part 1/3

 Mrs Kerdijk having a laugh with  Jordi Pronk

Mrs Kerdijk having a laugh with Jordi Pronk

Some months ago there was a lot of positive commentary on Australian digital media about a great intergenerational innovation at an aged care home in the Netherlands called Humanitas Deventer. It was clear from all the shares on LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter that this concept, where students live with elders in aged care home, seemed to capture people’s imagination.

With a visit planned to my home country, the Netherlands, I couldn’t resist the opportunity to visit Humanitas Deventer and see first hand how this model works. I wanted to learn how it came about, and what factors made this novel solution work, so that I could share my insights and see how we could draw on these to create equally effective innovations in Australia.

Being the middle of summer, the home was very quiet with all the students on holiday and a number of the senior residents away. Not to worry, I was met by Anyta Brouwer, Manager Quality and Innovation, who kindly shared the story of how this all came about.

daring to imagine opens the door to innovation

The idea first came about in 2012, when Gea Sijpkes, Humanitas Deventer CEO, recognised the issue of the local shortages for in the town of Deventer, asked herself, “given that one of our values is being a good neighbour, how can we assist with this problem? I wonder if some of the students could live here?”

By asking herself and her colleagues this very simple question, she opened the door for exploration and discovery. While it seemed outside the realm of the “core business” of aged care, it proved to change residents’ living experience for the better.

As Anyta describes, great relationships and friendships have been forged across the generations. For example, when the students have a party or a date, they chat with the older residents about it, who cheekily enquired“….and, how was last night?” So there’s lots more social talk and banter, and the older residents are talking about love, relationships and all kinds of things they don’t generally talk about with each other.

The impact of this innovation seems to be significant for all involved, particularly the older residents, because they have been able to “bring the outside world into the home”.

Yet what strikes me is how elegant it is in its simplicity, and it possibly wouldn’t have come about if Gea Sijpkes hadn’t posed that first question “I wonder if…..?”

This example as with many others, shows just how important a leaders’ stance is when it comes to innovation and the evolution of services.

It means people can question the status quo, debunk assumptions and re-imagine how things could be.

What opportunities are there in your organisation to re-imagine how things are done?. Have you had a moment recently when you asked yourself “I wonder if….”, but then thrown it aside as being too hard or too far removed from core business. Perhaps the Humanitas story will inspire you to debunk your assumptions and to explore new possibilities.


We can co-create alternative futures for us all

Unpslash Horizon - David Ragusa CC.JPG

As the Intergenerational Report has recently brought to our attention, we are on the cusp of new age.

An age, where across the globe, we will live longer than ever before.

 The report provides a solid statistical analysis of the demographics trends of ageing and how this might affect Australia's future economy in terms of skills shortages and productivity. It talks about how we expect there will be fewer people to pay for aged and heath care services for older people, and the efficiency of financial structures such as superannuation.

The trends in the report most definitely show that, if we continue on in the same way, with the same models, we have reason for concern for our future.  

It has been fascinating to read and watch the media coverage on that followed the release of the report.  Some of the coverage is about sharing the statistics, some of it is an analysis of how the financial models need to change, much of the coverage is negative to the point of positioning the generations against each other with headlines such as "We’re getting richer, so why shouldn’t Gen Y subsidise baby boomers?"

While these are legitimate questions I believe the way forward is better served by bringing the generations together, rather than in opposition.

We should be asking ourselves 

"What mental models must we adopt to create alternative futures for an ageing population?'.

"How can young and old work together to co-create the alternative models for employment, finance and housing?"

"How can bridge the gap between the existing paradigm of ageing (which is largely about decay and decline) and adopt a new paradigm that acknowledges longevity and create alternative, equitable models for work, housing, super, health (etc.)?"

The current realities  described in the Intergenerational Report are ones that we have created.

Equally, we can create alternatives. We can create a new horizons that give people choice and agency as they get older.

It is up to us to chose to do so. To test our assumptions and beliefs, and consider what it will take to create the futures we are seeking for young and old alike.

Innnovation: wisdom sharing between the ages

I recently wrote a blog for the First5000 network about how we can harness the diversity of generations for innovation in organisations. This was in response to a speech made by the Deputy Governor of the Reserve Bank of Australia, Philip Lowe. He argues that innovation is not a "nice to have" but in fact, we need to innovate to ensure Australia's future growth and prosperity.

He names five  policies areas to support, which are not exclusive:

  • The way in which we finance innovation, including the access to start-up capital for new businesses. The Financial Sector Inquiry will no doubt look at this issue.
  • The incentives for innovation that we establish through the tax system.
  • The way we support human capital accumulation and research.
  • Our business culture and the way we promote and support entrepreneurship.
  • The way in which we promote competition in our markets, for it is often competition, or the threat of it, that is the driver of innovation.

Given our ageing population I argue in my blog, that we should add a sixth:

            The way we value and enable intergenerational wisdom sharing.

Shortly after this blog, the annual Global Innovation Index was published. In it Australia's ranking has improved with two points and we are now 17th in the world. 

Interestingly the 2014 report is titled "The Global Innovation Index 2014, The Human Factor in Innovation". Yet in the entire report there is no mention of an ageing population and the opportunities this presents for learning, sharing and innovation.

Surprising given this is going to significantly affect the human factor of work environments in the coming years.

Let’s bust the stereotype that as people age their mental capacity declines!

Let’s bust the stereotype that as people age their mental capacity declines!

Most people tend to think ageing means inevitable physical and mental decline.  Recent research is showing that this is not necessarily the case.  In fact, our mental capacity can remain productive well into old age. In this blog we explore some of this research and make the case for throwing out the stereotype of mental decline and ageing.Instead, we should value people on individual merit and capacity and provide alternatives to employment that leverage their knowledge, expertise and wisdom.  

Wisdom in the workplace


With the launch of the Elderberry site I am reposting a blog I wrote back in October 2012 about the possibility of embracing cross-generational diversity and wisdom in workplaces. Seeing as I am also about to attend the Wisdom2.0 conference in San Francisco I thought it was apt to pull this one back out as a way of reflecting on what is possible. I will share my thoughts on this post conference as well. ------

For some months I have been contemplating the notion of wisdom in the workplace. What constitutes wisdom at work? Who has wisdom? What wisdom will we need for the future of work? How do we share wisdom?

These questions were triggered by a conversation earlier this year with my uncle Piet in which he told me that at the ripe ol’ age of 75, he had just started a recruitment agency. The concept for Piet’s business idea was borne out of the realisation that there is a large group of retirees who want or need to work. He had identified a need in himself (and others around him) and saw the opportunity to build a business around it. While I admired Piet’s tenacity, courage and self-belief to start up another business at 75, I didn’t actually give it much thought…Until a couple of months later when I researching Australian demographic trends.

I was startled to find out that, according to a report released by Treasury in 2004 found that by 2040, close to 25% of the Australian population will be over 65 years of age and growth in the working ages (15-64) will have stopped! With an ageing population  also comes a changing workforce demographic. In a more recent publication Treasury reports that the percentage of people over 55 in paid work has grown from around 24 % to 34% in the last 10 years. And this is not going to slow down.

In The 2020 Workplace, Meister and Willyerd propose that we will have four generations in the workforce by 2012 and within the next 10 years we will see five generations working together. Just recently there have been a lot of discussions about the large losses in the Australian superannuation pool and the need for many babyboomers to postpone their retirement plans. So it won’t be long before we have five generations in the workplace, creating a new form of diversity we haven’t seen before.

Off course there are other trends that are changing the nature of work such as the pervasiveness of technology, our hyper-connectivity, the shifting paradigm of business ethics and corporate responsibility, and the increased knowledge economy. Overlay this complex global challenges  such natural resource depletion, climate change, poverty and inequity and we see a very different future for companies and the way in which we will work. One might argue, as Gary Hamel so eloquently does, that to build companies fit for the future, we must build companies fit for human beings.

So how do we build organisations fit for human beings? There’s no doubt that we will need to understand the characteristics of the generations, and on the basis of this knowledge develop different strategies to attract and retain, communicate, develop and engage members of each generation. When I say this I don’t simply mean the development of a series of strategies, one to suit each generation.

Surely, we can be more bold and innovative than that. I believe having five generations in the workplace is a exciting prospect for the future of work.

The way I see it, the diversity in age, experience, perception and knowledge represents a pool of wisdom with unlimited potential for innovation.

At times I read and hear a great deal of misunderstanding between the generations and generalisations that aren’t necessarily useful. Personally, as a member of Gen X generation, I am inspired to see Gen Ys having multiple businesses by the time they are 22 and who challenge the assumptions about life and work that I fiercely held as the truth (and the only way) when I was their age. Similarly I am inspired by people like my uncle who are constantly seeking to learn from people younger than themselves, who impart their knowledge and advice to me as a gift, and who embrace new ventures without the fear of old age holding them back.  I believe these examples all represent an element of wisdom needed in the future of work.

Imagine a workplace where we are valued for the wisdom we offer, regardless of age or title. Where we can share our experience, perceptions and knowledge to work together. I can.


Entrepreneurs come together to exchange wisdom


I think the world is a wonderful place. I put this up front because I really don’t want to come across as a doomsayer. That being said, I also believe the world could be a much better place. As a global society we are faced with a tonne of challenges: poverty, economic instability, climate change, resource decline, ageing and growing populations and more. These affect (or will affect) us all and it is in our interest to work together in addressing these. Rather than seeing this as humanitarian or philanthropic in nature and as something separate to the every day work we do, there are opportunities to turns these challenges into business opportunities where benefits are spread to those who need it most and innovative business models are used so that we don’t create additional unintended consequences. In doing so we can create greater alignment between the value creation of economic systems and our shared societal needs. I have one idea for how we might do this. It’s called Elderberry. Image a world where the older you get the more you are valued. Rather than being relegated to a place of obscurity in retirement, I imagine a future where older people are valued and they are actively engaged in society for as long as THEY chose. This drives my vision for Elderberry.

Elderberry connects wisdom with businesses by tapping into the latent potential of older people. It provides an opportunity for the exchange of wisdom between elder and younger entrepreneurs as they both strive to do interesting and meaningful work.

Globally populations are ageing. More and more people fall into age brackets where they are traditionally considered to be "too old", "lacking skills" or  "less productive". The reality is that this group is living longer and facing the prospect of a longer retirement. Australian research shows that 2 mill Australians >55 years of age and outside the workforce are willing to work, could be encouraged to work, or are looking for work. This group of Australians has untapped potential and these figures are likely to be the same in many other countries around the world...

Globally are also seeing an increase in entrepreneurship and start-ups as people are seeking to work in meaningful ways and master their own destiny. These free agents rely heavily on their networks to exchange skills, knowledge and wisdom to realise their work and personal objectives. This group of young entrepreneurs has a need..

Elderberry's vision is to facilitate the connection between older people who hold wisdom (and are seeking a different, perhaps more entrepreneurial way of working) with start-ups and younger entrepreneurs seeking support to achieve their objectives. Elderberry can create multiple benefits:

  • It provides elders with intellectual, social and financial benefits by providing them with an entrepreneurial pathway for continued workforce participation that is flexible and on their terms.
  • It provides businesses with an external perspective based on years of experience and knowledge to assist in addressing pressing business needs and strengthening personal and organisational resilience.
  • It provides socio-economic benefits through increasing workforce participation, reducing the negative impacts of the changing age dependency ratio, and addressing accelerating skills shortages.


Elderberry can facilitate connections between people with diverse ways of thinking, attitudes and perspectives and help them find common ground through the exchange of their respective experience and wisdom.