Connecting is a central purpose for the Age Action Alliance. It is also a critical element in the drive towards fresh ways of providing support and services which are appropriate (and sustainable) for an older population in the 21st century. So it was inspiring to attend a massive show-casing event last month to learn more about Business in the Community’s ‘Business Connectors’ programme.
Essentially the idea is to get high flyers and fast track executives on secondments (of a minimum of six months, full time) to engage with local communities which are struggling to kick-start an idea: they bring their expertise and a fresh pair of eyes to help make it happen. Currently it’s still a small programme just getting underway – only 20 Business Connectors are in place at present – but the aspiration is to reach 300, and the initial results are very encouraging. BT, Sainsbury’s, the Post Office, and smaller companies like Greggs the bakers, love it – it’s great for staff development, building their rounded business skills, and also generating good local publicity. So far, BitC have been mostly engaged with the younger sector of local projects, reflecting the Prince’s Trust’s general focus on improving the lives of younger people, but they see possibilities with the older age group too. The key is to find a local agency which can ‘host’ an activity, giving it a locus and an address and telephone number. Nick Hurd and the Cabinet Office enthuse about the scheme – it is the Big Society in action, even if most of the places where it is operating are down-run areas.
Grants, which support pilot projects, which flourish but then flounder when the money gets switched off, are seen as yesterday’s model. The new model is social enterprises, co-operatives and the like – models which can deliver and support a commercially viable vehicle. This means bringing together organisations with longer term funding and resources which they can put on the table, or perhaps just knowledge and goodwill which they are prepared to share. The BitC innovation is to add a wilful individual with the ability and insight to knit these together.
The Age Action Alliance is rather more light touch. But the idea is the same – bring people together with a shared purpose and explore various ways using various skills to get there. A dash of entrepreneurialism isn’t a bad ingredient too.