February 27th, 2019 / Published in: Interviews
How Connected Canadians is using technology training to break down barriers between generations and empower seniors.
Emily Jones Joanisse holds a Bachelor of Computer Science and an MBA in International Development and has worked in Information Technology for over 14 years, both in Canada and internationally (Europe and Australia). She is currently a part-time Management Professor at the Algonquin College School of Business and has also worked as an ICT Teacher at an International Baccalaureate school in Italy.
Emily is an alumna and former employee of the Canadian Shad Valley program and has held a variety of leadership roles in other STEAM and educational initiatives. As well, Emily has worked as a DJ both in Canada and internationally and has released music on the Italian jazz label Schema Records.
Tasneem (Tas) Damen holds B.Sc. Honours in Computer Mathematics from Carleton University and Graduate Certificate in IT Project Management from uOttawa. She is a Software Architect by vocation with over a decade of professional experience consulting for Fortune 500 companies. ML-based chatbot SaaS offering aimed at B2B organizations is one of her latest projects in eCommerce domain.
Tas is a hacker, tinkerer, cook, mother, world traveller and Pilates enthusiast all rolled into one driven social entrepreneur, with the goal of leaving her community in a better place for future generations.
Carlos: Hello everyone this is Carlos it Mexico City, Nearsoft, and here to welcome you to one more episode of DojoLive connecting experts like you, joining me today from Los Angeles is as ever my fellow teammate Nearsoftian Tullio Siragusa, our chief strategist rockin in Los Angeles, hi Tullio.
Tullio: Good afternoon, it’s good to be here again let’s have some fun.
Carlos: Oh absolutely let’s please by all means in and of course last but not least we also have my fellow teammate, another great Nearsoftian, an engineer, Mariel Navarro in our Chihuahua office joining us from there, Hi Mariels it’s a pleasure you have you here and an honor welcome to the show.
Mariel: Hi guys, thank you.
Carlos: Thank you Mariel for joining us today, and well I definitely have to introduce our features guests of today, we are, we’re going to be having a conversation with Tasneem Danem, she is the CIO correct me if I’m wrong, but you’re the CIO of Connected Canadians and she’s gonna tell all, she’s gonna tell us all about Connected Canadians and what is is and of course we also have Emily Jones Joanie’s right, did I pronounce it correctly Emily, I think I did right, cool, ok, and she is the CEO of Connected Canadians right, and so we’re gonna be chatting with Tas and Emily, first of all before we continue welcome to the show.
Tasneem: Thanks for having us.
Emily: Thank you for having us.
Carlos: Absolutely it’s our pleasure, ok, well the usual is that we ask our guests just to start of this conversation by telling us about you, so tell us about you Tas and Emily, about you, about where you come from, what your background is and then of course tell us about Connected Canadians, and then we’ll move on to the chosen topic welcome to the show, the camera is already all yours, the mic is all yours.
Emily: All right, my name is Emily and I, my background is [INAUDIBLE] and I did my undergrad in computer science works briefly the developer learned very early on that , I liked working with the managing people a lot more than I liked coding management and amongst other things found myself volunteering it a non-profit in Milan, I think seniors start an NGo and helping them actually going back a little bit more to my tech roots helping them with everything technology related there so that was one of my ways that I that sponge of Connected Canadians also just because my technology background, I always had the senior in my life who kind of reached out to me for help and [INAUDIBLE]
Carlos: Thank you, Tas.
Tasneem: I’m Tas Danem I’m actually a kind of [INAUDIBLE] Canada, I grew up in Middle East and I came to Carleton top universities in Canada to do computer mathematics, I am a hardcore nerd and a sci-fi fan and I been for the last 15 years working in the tech industry started as a software developer, now moved up to a checkerboard architect for the last five, six years I’ve been consulting, I’ve been consulting for Mcdonalds as their principal architect so you know, I’m loving it mobile app all of that that were kind of I was going to the billion part of that and I also teach part-time it Algonquin just like Emily.
Emily: Yes of course, I forgot to mention, like you I also teach management it Business colleagues in Ottawa currently I work it a company that creates case management software and delivering management that [INAUDIBLE]
Carlos: Perfect, thank you so much, thank you for your introduction, now if you’re care to tell us about, tell us about a little bit about Connected Canadians please.
Emily: Sure, so Connected Canadians something that I has my, I came up with because I worked to another company previously and used to go through a lot together and not really in their spare time and both of us realized that in the circle of people that we need we didn’t know a lot of people that enjoy helping people in the same way that we did even to the extent of taking a pink time rock to go volunteer and we though: Heey we finally found someone else that thinks like us, let’s start what should we start, so we talked about it for a little while and [INAUDIBLE]
Tasneem: Yeah, so we were out meeting it our university that both of us went to and we were talking in the vending it our general frustration around technology and understanding technology and the gaps and I think it was kind of combination of our synergies we thought you know, we need to have something more scalable because there is definitely a need I’m not sure I can’t speak for all the countries but definitely in Canada quarter of our population is you know, some entering the senior rank and the technology I mean it’s old as me, in all honesty and it’s changin leaps and bound and the gaps in digital literacy exist, I can see the difference between my three year old already and so we decide to create Connected Canadians to kind of fill that gap last year.
Emily: Yeah, we just wanted to figure out a way that we could made a structure that will help more people than just me and Tas individually going around and helping our friends and neighbors.
Maribel: That’s pretty cool, I have a question like, this whole idea behind Connected Canadians, we see boring because you had like it was something personal like you had someone around you who you wanted to help or received like in general, like you guys say this need.
Emily: Yeah, I’m, I mean I’ve been helping seniors in my life for it least 20, about well, 18 20 years or something like that, and beyond that I think we just say the need like we would be places in public we see people eating help and not having anyone to go to.
Tasneem: And for me it’s a little bit more than their are services that are available to help people out but there’s a difference between knowing enough to give the right answer and then helping them out that level, I worked actually as a tech support to when I was in university for Dell and you know, I kind of know how the support and the teaching part works, in order to kind of fix that problem or to help out you have to make sure that you know you sleep to their level, that you makes sure that by the end of the session that they are actually empowered to make the right choices to people feel confident trying to take that picture, to do that video session, to open that bank account, and so I think that was kind of another inspiration, we just didn’t see the same quality of service and we do it as part of our nonprofit all our services are free for seniors, and so one of the ghins that mention is you know, you see all of these adverts, pay of 70 dollars and we’ll teach you about phishing scams and you’re bombarded by the precision for a person who’s not talking about I mean, you know, is that real is that fake is that phishing scam in itself.
Emily: Yeah, I would have several senior friends would get these threatening phone call of you know, the virus on their computer that they need to pay that person 200 dollars to talk and they would call me in panic and you know, I just felt like there’s so much bad out there we wanted to be the good to counteract.
Tullio: My favorite scam is when they call you and they’re impersonating a federal agents about your IRS bill, and in Canada must be something else and I support [INAUDIBLE] I simply just say your mother must be so proud that you’re making these calls.
Carlos: It’s for real?
Tullio: Yeah for real, does a federal agent you owe taxes we can straighten that out right now and I just say, your mom must be so proud of these making these calls, it’s total scam, so I saw, there’s definitely, what I’m saying is there’s definitely an element of if you’re not tech savvy or aware of what’s going on you could be taken advantage of right, especially someones of the more elderly was not aware of these things that would normally perceive it as this got to be real because in the back in the day if I got a phone call it was legitimate so how what’s what are you offering, what’s the charter, what’s the mission, is it all about training and using technology or is it go beyond that.
Tasneem: So we, I mean from coming from software industry you we were trying to play really agile, we’re trying to work with our community to kind of offer and create programs based on the needs, every community is different we have a lot of diversity in Canada, we have immigrants refugees, multiple ethnicities coming through and so the two programs that we offer quite successfully last year were our digital workshops and then we had went on concessions and so the digital workshops were basically all focused towards privacy safety connection inclusion, and then one on one sessions are then scheduled based on you know, whatever they need anything from talking out for the wireless speakers to you know, I’ve got my online banking locked up can you point me to the right resources that I can call and kind of hook up and connect from that standpoint pretty early on we decided that we want to our differentiator is that we are using technology including ourselves who are rooted in technology you know, they have enough background to be able to give the right answers and without using any scare tactics or deferring to different things and people are quite good success with that.
Emily: Yeah I mean, we see quite a few volunteers we don’t we, we know that no one knows everything and having helped a lot of elderly people in our lives we know a lot of the stuff you have to learn in the moment and being able to Google things and figure stuff out on the fly but by being able to find people who are naturally curious and helpful and we’ve been able to build a really kind caring team of volunteers.
Tasneem: Yes we’re perfecting the craft of carrying the right volunteer or the right [INAUDIBLE] health with the right thing here, and I think that’s where the magic sauce is.
Mariel: That’s pretty cool, speaking a little bit more about how it actually works, do you guys have any restrictions for example like, let’s say I’m 40 years old and I don’t feel comfortable with my digital skills, can I still enroll or is there a age restriction, maybe I should be the owner of laptop or what should I have?
Emily: [INAUDIBLE] the things is about Canada in particular we have a whole lot of support for young people and youth particularly in STEM fields and that was one of the reason we wanted to pick older people because we felt there wasn’t similar coverage for older ages sho while we are open to helping anybody of any age and we choose to specialize on senior because and older people in general just because there’s enough proper age for youth people already they can [INAUDIBLE] our opinion we didn’t need to add in other words I say that say.
Mariel: Definitely, in terms of the other sessions of the actual work you guys do is it like live sessions, or through the phone sessions where you have like group sessions, how does that work.
Emily: So we do both, we’re starting we primarily focus on live sessions it present because one of the underlying things that we like to emphasize is the human connection part of things because we realized that a lot of seniors are quite isolated so especially the ones who don’t have a lot of family members close by it’s really nice for them to have volunteer to meet up with in person to sit with them and explain how things work rather than just a phone call so we do try to make things in person as much as possible however we’ve also realized that you did mobility issues or remote locations we are able to teach as many people as we’d like live so for that reason we’re also piloting remote programs right now to where we provide online tech support equals Skype or Slack or whatever else [INAUDIBLE] depending on the client.
Mariel: Oh that’s pretty cool like you’re spending the channels that you guys are using, so far there are three things that I have caught my attention, first off you said this is a nonprofit organization, second thing that I just noticed this ist kind of weird, my work is the social network like the first time I saw the name of the company, Connected Canadians it sounded to me like a social network, then I started like reading about it and I’m like: No it’s not like a social network, but now that I’m talking to you it definitely is because you’re helping people connect, another things that gets me attention is that you’re helping people with their digital education like that’s pretty cool, I wish back here in Mexico there was something like that, you guys [INAUDIBLE] free technology training and support but let’s face it, there should be cost for everything, so well part of it you said that you could you have volunteers do you have any other thing to help you guys support this like some type of source or something?
Emily: [INAUDIBLE[ Connected Canadians.
Tullio: You are the sponsor at the moment.
Emily: We are the sponsor of Connected Canadians at present, but obviously that’s not sustainable long term so we are certainly searching for donors and sponsor to help us with our growth because we you know, we can only do a limited amount with the funds that we are able to give.
Tasneem: So somethings that’s interesting in Canada is we actually have a minister of seniors, so we know that the fact that our population trends are changing is you know, including a lot of attention and is an important topic an important forum so we knew we have only ones who realize the importance of it in terms of our volunteers and all of our work as we mentioned before, we’re trying you build you know, nice sustainable programs and we’ve got some really good collaborations going with amazing partners like.
Emily: Facebook,we had our launch party in November and Facebook very kindly sponsored us for our launch party.
Mariel: Very cool.
Tasneem: Collaborating with a lot of other interesting groups that are doing them it home aging, so we’re collaborating the one project, [INAUDIBLE] will still provide that because I think it’s a bit of misnomer, everyone thinks that a 10 year age group or a 15 years age group where senior you know, are missing some of the exposure to technology, but technology is changing leaps and bound my son who’s three, programs with little IOT devices with me, and he has this little mist or something and his comfort level with technology is very different than mine, so I’m pretty sure that in you know, 20-30 years when I retire I am might not feel the same gap as the current image but the gap will still be there because one of the things that we feel very strong about this is that you know, we are moving everything from physical presence to technology, to digital develop, and so our community trend to translate similarly and in online communities too we should have equal presence of seniors because we’re voting online, we’re shopping online, we’re buying online, we’re you know reviewing online format.
Tullio: So just to just to add on to the comment that Mariel alluded to earlier, there’s some countries where seniors are having to work later than the retirement age right, and worldwide, and they are lacking the skills that are needed, is their plan to go above and beyond Canada meanness is the part of the route for future?
Emily: [INAUDIBLE] we had our first remote volunteer join us from Brazil [INAUDIBLE] I certainly think there’s is the possibility to [INAUDIBLE] support you know, wherever there’s internet so we would need to build the infrastructure to support that I’d certainly love to get there.
Tasneem: Yeah, we are, it’s interesting you brought up the you know, seniors having to work sometimes people’s retirement or delay their retirement we’re actually starting to collaborate with a senior or an organization I’m called the top 60 or over 60, and their focus is action best doc, who held you know [INAUDIBLE] or recent retirees or young seniors with their, with that digital literacy gap so that they can.
Emily: Yeah they’re more focused on just giving senior the encouragement they need to start a new business sot of exclusive of the digital literacy portion and however they know that in their studies by helping and studying seniors who’ve recently retired that there was a big gap in that and that was one of the most limiting factors was the lack of digital literacy amongst that, cohort of retirees.
Tullio: Yeah, I think you definitely have a potential opportunity for companies that have commited to data kind of inclusion and diversity which includes seniors, I know it least here in the US is initiatives around that, I’m sure there’s the same with a minister of seniors in Canada, wonder if some of those companies could licence what you’re doing in like a platform right, there you have sponsor built in and you get a much broader reach, is that something you guys have considered or have talked about?
Emily: Eventually, fundamentally we really want to make sure that the services are free of charge to the seniors, so we can find sponsorships that could help us support our operational costs and the rest of the things then yeah.
Tasneem: Speaking of which actually this is this project was bring [INAUDIBLE] Emily come up with a really interesting idea, in Ottawa because this is a capital, the tech sector in you know, the same percentage of GDP as the government works we have lost of startup scenes in Ottawa a huge focus on technology and so you came up with an idea where we can take volunteers or employees using their volunteer time to help the seniors in a community across the street.
Emily: Yeah, we typically we’ve started a pilot project with a software company that I work because they had to volunteer days per year that nobody was really using and we thought, we have the company full of lovely people very sweet software develops and QA testers and all kind of people with lots of skills that they care and we’ve got retirement home across the street, full of somewhat lonely seniors in need of help, and if we compare if we compare up to groups of people on a regular basis we can build relationships between he volunteers and the seniors or the seniors can learn more technical skills and also sort of have that in human interaction of course and the things as well.
Tullio: How’s the adoption coming along, what you need more of volunteers, what’s do you need?
Emily: We have so many volunteers, it’s crazy, I can’t even.
Tullio: That’s what you mean it’d be likeable day if you guys heard of that it’s called be likeable day, [INAUDIBLE] was like where you say random act of kindness today so you know, how do we get more people on board whatever suppose, what do you need.
Tasneem: When we talk about about I’m crediting seniors with volunteers, the largest think is around building capacity in infrastructure so Ottawa or in Canada in general we have you know, dense populations of people and then we are dispersed in other suburbs or subdivisions, there’s transportation cost of getting a senior connected getting a senior out of their house or volunteer to the senior location, and so stuff around infrastructure whether it be the transportation cost or just hardware that changes you know, sometimes you actually need backup devices, you need a hotspot, you need cables, so those sort of like basic thing that you don’t think about it play a huge factor in building enough capacity from that standpoint, we’ve been lucky enough, Emily is amazing in social media management content writing and she’s also at technology, and I’m a nerd with coding background, so we have been able to kind of you know, come up with a lot of unique solutions for problems at kind of shoestring budget, but I think that in order to have that sustainability and that coverage or offering the same quality of service I think that there are certain things in infrastructura that’s that are required to get there.
Tullio: Ok, so let’s identify some companies that could help you, so Uber, Lift if you’re listening some seniors eat some free rides setup up, offer it up, do something, what else do you guys need, other companies that could be listening saying you know I want to participate what else I feel like I’m doing a [INAUDIBLE] operation, [INAUDIBLE] story.
Carlos: Concerning to Darren Lewis.
Emily: We really hopefully need would love to have insurance better insurance coverage because right now the thing I struggle with the most is we have seniors with mobility issues who can’t leave their house is calling us is because we don’t have very comprehensive insurance right now, we don’t let our volunteers enter people’s houses because is not that [INAUDIBLE] and all of that so we limit all of our meetings to public places like coffee shops and things like that, so if we had more money for things like that we would be able to go and help seniors in their homes and we would be it would be so much useful because the people who are in wheelchairs are looking after their illness but, excuse me, would be able to get that one on one help as well.
Tasneem: Yeah and then I mean, we’ve have would be covering senior from all socioeconomic backgrounds, and so being able to have more or less recent smart devices would definitely help a lot in terms of putting them all into the fold, we have spoken to the organization that talked about technology upcycling the only issue is that technology hardware is also changing around and so while for a young person you know, it’s fine if I got a laptop, for a senior I’m having a smartphone that is I mean, somewhat up to date is what is more important because it’s small it’s nimble, it’s more secure
Emily: And the accessibility features too I mean a lot of the time they have difficulty reading the screen or things like that, and if you get the really old small devices it’s quite hard for them so if we had the ability to give our senior better devices that would be wonderful.
Tasneem: And so we’ve been thinking about interesting ideas, all the organizations are moving towards you know, bring your own device or leasing so we’ve been thinking about maybe some environmental aspect included maybe you’re leasing option or something where we can make sure that you know, they don’t have to fiddle with buggy issues a full defensive have broken Wi-Fi connectors or adapters or [INAUDIBLE]
Tullio: Great, you know it just when it starts to get interesting the time always comes up, it’s sad but Mariel I know you have some additional questions you wanted, it’s a great topic I hope you guys get a lot of help and support what certainly gonna do our job make sure you get exposure Mariel please.
Mariel: I have a final question, it’s really gets my attention that CIO and CEO are so involved into this, both of you guys said that you are volunteers for the Connected Canadians, where do volunteers like from day one and how this has helped you to like really understand the needs of the people you’re helping.
Emily: Yeah, I mean that’s one of our primary things but we believe it’s really hard to understand and manage people doing the work before doing it ourselves, we’ve always been we were the first volunteers doing the workshops doing all the one on ones until we brought on our volunteer about I don’t know seven months in something like that, it’s just an expanding hugely since then.
Tasneem: Yeah, we spend about 200 hours per month up volunteer time trying to offer our current operational programs.
Emily: Between our volunteers who helped us.
Tullio: Ok, so you guys definitely need some help where do people go to sign up to volunteer, where they sign?
Emily: You can go to www.connectedcanandians.ca you can see where you can sign up for volunteer, you can see our donate page, you can see testimonials page that have a lot of video of our clients that we helped, so definitely check that around, connectedcanadians.ca
Mariel: Well I think this is pretty much it, thank you very much guys for being with us, just one final thing, are you pressing on any social networks so our viewers can get to know into it?
Emily: Check us out on LinkedIn connected canadians were also on Facebook as Connected Canadians we’re also on Instagram as Connected Canadians, we’re a little bit less active in Twitter, but will [INAUDIBLE] connected [INAUDIBLE].
Tullio: We’ll make sure we put that on the landing page including your personal handle so people can reach out to you and connect with you as well someone trying to figure it out just check back shortly on DojoLive and they will find, any final words of wisdom for anyone who’s thinking about giving back like this, what would those be.
Emily: Just we appreciate everything that comes in people’s time is so valuable to us, we respect it and are so grateful to [INAUDIBLE] their time [INAUDIBLE] building the world.
Tullio: It’s been a pleasure.
Carlos: Well Emily and Tas, Tullio says unfortunately we run out of time and the only thing left to me personally to do is well simply thank you big time because I think what you’re doing it’s evenly worth getting out there and as Tullio says I hope you get all the help you can get and we’re also going to do our part that’s that sense, so again thank you so much for being being with us today and again, Tullio thank you as ever and of course Mariel for having joined us today as co-host and for those of you who are listening and watching and remember that all the information for connected Canadians is going to be right there in the DojoLive website, just check us out and it’s gonna be right there on the interview section, all the info is gonna be there in case you want to get in touch with either Tas or Emily in Connected Canadians, so thank you again and I’ll see you next time next week here right here Wednesdays on DojoLive 1pm Pacific and remember connecting experts like you, thank you so much see you next time.