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The Future Age:
Life Reimagined
Tune into The Future Age podcast, where we explore creative solutions in reimagining what life could look like as we get older. Topics include: the future of work, transportation, 3D printed homes, aging and AI, agetech, and more.
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The Future Age: Life Reimagined
Tune into The Future Age podcast, where we explore creative solutions in reimagining what life could look like as we get older. Topics include: the future of work, transportation, 3D printed homes, aging and AI, agetech, and more.
Listen Now

Impact Networks

Episode Summary

Explore the potential of impact networks in this episode of The Future Age.

In this episode of The Future age, host Zannat Reza explores the role, benefits, and potential of impact networks. Featuring special guests David Ehrlichman, author of "Impact Networks," and John Yip, President & CEO of SE Health, we discuss the principles of a network mindset, cultivating trust, the importance of intergenerational relationships, grassroots groups, community engagement, and more.

Show Notes

Through conversation with author David Ehrlichman and John Yip, we are introduced to the key elements of these purpose-driven networks, including collaboration, shared purpose, the network mindset, and the potential these networks have to combat ageism, and create positive change for older adults in Canada.

Episode Guests

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David Ehrlichman

Author, Impact Networks

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John Yip

President & CEO, SE Health

Episode Transcript

[00:00:00] Zannat Reza: So what do big issues like climate change, social inequities, and the future of aging all have in common with rainforests? Well, they're examples of complex, interconnected ecosystems, and when you get individual groups and organizations trying to solve these massive issues all by themselves, they often fail.

[00:00:21] Now, why is that? Well, one major reason, of course, is that there's multiple players that impact those issues, and so a coalition is usually what's needed for some progress to be made. And what if I told you there's a new way of working together to make this kind of major headway? The secret to success lies in creating something called Impact Networks.

[00:00:42] And what exactly is that? I'm Zannat Reza. Welcome to the Future Age podcast, where we explore creative solutions in reimagining what life could look like as we get older. If you enjoy this episode, please follow or subscribe on your favorite listening app. You'll hear about new episodes and help us grow.

[00:01:00] For this episode, we explore the power and potential of working collectively to tackle big issues by forming impact networks. These purpose-driven networks combine forces for many sectors to try and solve challenges when a linear OneNote approach just isn't working. An example would be Canada's AGEWELL research and innovation network, which focuses on developing technologies and services to improve the quality of life for older adults.

[00:01:26] The network brings together researchers, universities, hospitals, industry partners, healthcare providers, and older adults themselves to work together to create innovative solutions. One example of a solution they've come up with together, is a smart home system, and this is where there's sensors throughout the house that track mobility and memory challenges faced by older adults living with dementia.

[00:01:48] The sensors can alert caregivers if someone starts to wander outside their house. These innovations came to be by having multiple players at the table as part of an impact network. We have two guests who cultivated [00:02:00] these kinds of networks that rally around a common vision. First up is David Erlichman, author of a book actually called Impact Networks, which maps out how to create and collaborate where everyone has a say and a role to play. Here's part of our conversation.

[00:02:15] David, you're the author of Impact Networks, and on the cover you've got, you know, Impact Networks can create connections, spark collaboration, catalyze systemic change, but what exactly is an [00:02:30] impact network?

[00:02:30] David Ehrlichman: It is a network of people and organizations who are coming together for learning and collaborative action around a shared purpose.

[00:02:39] It's really a way of working across the typical boundaries of organizations and sectors that keep us separate. There is no single actor or single organization, or even single sector who can address these issues alone. To address these kinds of systemic issues, we have to work systemically, and that means working across organizations and across sectors.

[00:03:02] People and organizations embark on collaborative efforts all the time thinking we know how to work together, but, so often we're frustrated by the results. There's a lot of things that can go wrong, personal dynamics, tensions, a lot of times though, it's that we are trying to structure these collaborations like we would a hierarchical organization with some central authority guiding the work, and then people fitting into predefined roles to move it forward.

[00:03:32] Trying to plan it all out in advance, as if we know exactly what needs to be done and, and how to do it, but that approach, that plan, deliver, that really deliberate approach doesn't work in complex domains where, these issues are felt and experienced really differently by different people depending on where they stand. And we can't plan out all this work in advance to address complex issues.

[00:03:56] Zannat Reza: In your book, you talk about shifting from a hierarchical mindset to a network mindset. So what is network mindset and how do we help people adopt that type of mindset?

[00:04:08] David Ehrlichman: Network mindset is really recognizing that we live in a world where we're all connected. And the actions we take are going to affect others in unexpected ways. And so it's really operating with an awareness that, even though we're often the heroes of our own stories, we're not the center of the universe. And so, rather than putting yourself and [00:04:30] your organization at the center of the universe or always at the center of your focus, how can we shift it and put a shared purpose at the center? What is something that you are trying to effect, that also others are trying to affect or are affected by, and how can we then strengthen the connections between your organization and the other organizations and communities and actors who all touch on that same issue and create a stronger system of connection, information sharing, learning and coordination.

[00:04:57] Zannat Reza: Rallying around a shared purpose sounds great in theory, and I think when you bring different players across sectors together, I think initially people may be like, "Yeah, this is great. We've got this shared purpose, we're going to move forward." But inevitably, you're going to come across organizations where they haven't made that shift to a network mindset. They're very much still very hierarchical. So what's your advice when you're dealing, you know, you're trying to build an impact network, and yet you've got a few players who you know, they're having a harder time shifting to a network mindset?

[00:05:29] David Ehrlichman: Yeah, it definitely, it can take a while for some to make that shift because, you know, at least speaking for myself, I was certainly socialized in hierarchical ways of doing things through school and my early jobs. There was always a boss and a chain of command. And, and it can take time to kind of shift and, and work in a way that maybe requires more emergence, more comfort with ambiguity, with withholding the tension of not knowing.

[00:05:53] And with, with the disagreements that come when you bring different people together from different parts of the system. The biggest impact that I've seen that helps people shift that way of working, is actually just jumping into it and engaging with other people and organizations across the system.

[00:06:10] And we do that through convenings. These opportunities actually bring people from across the system together, often for the first time, and really taking off our professional hats, and our organizational hats, and engaging as real people. You know, why do we actually do this work we do, what do we really care about?

[00:06:31] Zannat Reza: David says that when we bring people together, there's naturally going to be disagreements, miscommunication, and misunderstanding, because that's human nature. And so, creating these networks takes time so everyone can understand why people are at the table and their personal and professional interests.

[00:06:46] David also says that people need to be comfortable with not being able to predict outcomes because there isn't always a linear path to creating solutions. I mean, it's so ingrained in us to believe any process that isn't linear is immediately inefficient.

[00:07:00] David Ehrlichman: But when we're talking about an issue as complex as the future of aging, or whatever it might be, there is no blueprint for this work.

[00:07:08] We may have a compass that is pointing us in the right direction, but we don't have a map of the train and what we're going to discover, and so that's why we have to be comfortable with emergence, as we are following this, this rough path, through carving this path together, we are definitely going to encounter things that we didn't expect.

[00:07:27] You can think about it like cultivating a garden. We can prepare the soil, we can get the right ingredients, we can water the garden, but we can't force plants to grow at a certain speed. We don't know exactly what the plants are going to look like. It's the same with collaboration. We can't force it. We can't control collaboration.

[00:07:47] If we do, it's really limiting and that's so often what leads to unsuccessful initiatives.

[00:07:53] Zannat Reza: So even though we can't control the collaboration, impact networks still need some sort of leadership but not command and control. So tell me a little bit more about the, you know, the type of leadership that's required to cultivate this impact network.

[00:08:09] David Ehrlichman: Yeah, and that's a great word. We can't control these efforts, but we can and should cultivate them. Many people assume that networks or collaborations just happen, that people will self-organize spontaneously. That can happen, but really it's quite rare and usually it only goes so far. So the truth is that leadership always matters.

[00:08:31] It's just a really different form of leadership than the one we see in hierarchical environments. So rather than defining rigid structures and rules, network leaders, they nurture a culture of trust and reciprocity. Instead of command and control they seek to connect and support collaboration, they're not there to tell people what to do, but to foster self-organization and to support people to discover what they can and want to do together.

[00:08:56] Zannat Reza: Now having different types of network leaders is key. Some leaders connect people while others bring people together, facilitate meetings and conversations. David's tips for building an impact network is creating concentric circles of support with the core leadership group in the center. They bring people together to explore and cross pollinate ideas, meet new people, and find opportunities to collaborate. This also allows people to see who's doing what in the ecosystem so they don't duplicate that work.

[00:09:24] And ultimately it's about building trust. David says, change happens at the speed of trust, not necessarily at the speed of a production schedule. So let's do a deep dive on the potential of impact networks to shape the future of aging in Canada.

[00:09:38] I spoke to John Yip, the president and CEO of SE Health. That's right, the big boss where I work. I started off asking him his thoughts on Impact Networks being organic ecosystems and whether he's seen any in action.

[00:09:51] John Yip: So when we talk about Impact Networks in aging, and the ecosystem that is built within individuals, academia, service providers like SE Health, general population caregivers, and clients that all form a collective, it very much builds on the energy, the knowledge, the experience of all those participants. And one way that I've seen, and have the privilege of participating in, is our Courage Initiative, which is an Impact Network, a national Impact Network that we've partnered with Covenant Health in Alberta to develop.

[00:10:28] But it's not just about SE Health and Covenant, or just service providers. It is a massive collection of individuals, organizations that span multiple dimensions of the aging process. Now we think about aging as just healthcare, but it's not there's social issues, there's economic issues, there's workplace issues, there's, housing; it is multi-dimensional

[00:10:53] Zannat Reza: Courage: Action for Better Aging is a Canadian initiative that works as a social movement to help people grow older on their own terms. This coalition of changemakers is working on ways to help people live at home for as long as they wish. This includes creating community hubs where there's seamless access to housing, healthcare, and social supports.

[00:11:12] And because aging is a multi-dimensional issue, I asked John what his aspirations were for Courage.

[00:11:18] John Yip: The simple answer, Zannat, would be that ageism is talked about in our society. It's not. It is a hidden issue that we've buried. We don't think about it, our youth don't think about it because they're not experiencing what our older adults or older Canadians are faced with.

[00:11:37] And so, I think the goal would be to have a social movement where it's intergenerational, where all elements that we talked about, the nonlinear journey that ageism takes, is brought to the forefront of our society's consciousness. In Asia, in the Scandinavian countries where they flip the script around how to deal with ageism. And in Canada, we're quite the opposite; we don't think about it. Our youth don't think about it. Middle-aged people like me, most people don't think about it.

[00:12:10] Zannat Reza: So the idea of impact networks in Canada has slowly taken off with coalitions beginning to crop up. In addition to Courage and the Canadian Coalition Against Ageism, there's a community based senior services organizations group advocating for more funding and cohesiveness among community organizations and initiatives. As well, there's a social prescribing [00:12:30] movement that's connecting health professionals with community programs and services. But these efforts aren't targeted specifically at older adults, and a theme of this podcast series is that solutions need multiple generations to be involved. And even though we're all getting older, most of us don't think about it until we actually feel old.

[00:12:47] So I asked John, how do we engage future older adults? Because you know, if you're lucky, you'll grow old one day too.

[00:12:54] When we think about interactions between generations, this whole piece around ageism and you know, you look at media and oftentimes generations are pitted against one another. Whereas, you know, there's a lot of commonalities in terms of values, et cetera.

[00:13:10] As we know, one of the strategies to combat ageism is having generations doing more activities together, hanging out, learning from one another. Because I think there's wisdom that older adults have, but also there's wisdom that younger adults have as well. What are your thoughts about the role of everyday people?

[00:13:29] So whether it's older adults, younger adults, younger generations, what's the role of everyday people, but also grassroots groups?

[00:13:38] John Yip: There's great examples right across the world, communities that are intergenerational and you start to create a different mindset of what older adults are like if you have, uh, young children being part of that community, and being visually, physically, involved in the day-to-day life of older adults.

[00:13:58] Zannat Reza: When we look at the Courage Impact Network, we already have a diverse set of groups, people who are part of it, but for this to be a true impact network, who else needs to be at the table?

[00:14:11] John Yip: Older adults, their caregivers, their families, uh, being central to the conversation. But I think the traditional stakeholders of health and social agencies, government, faith groups, civic groups, associations, even the private sector. But the fluidity [00:14:30] of the topics and domains of ageism will shift who participates and what type of conversation. And that's what makes it very fascinating, how Impact Networks move, disassemble, reassemble based on context and time. But the issues remain very prevalent and very topical. But who participates, the beauty of the impact network, it is, it's fluidity.

[00:14:56] Zannat Reza: I asked John his advice for people who would like to build an impact network.

[00:15:00] John Yip: I think the traditional top-down approach is a, an approach of the past. It's less about traditional stakeholder engagement; come to a focus group and gather your information in a very central kind of way. And it is now more in a decentralized fluid type of engagement where new and different voices are brought to the table that you wouldn't normally bring.

[00:15:28] That the output, typically, are reports that gather dust on shelves and there's little action. Impact Networks to me, are all about action. And the challenge then, is not just convening the people, but the pivot point from active discussion and dialogue to implementation. The challenge is how do you channel all that collective energy to make something happen?

[00:15:56] That's what I'm most interested in, is how our work with the Courage Initiative and within our own initiatives within SE Health can actually drive real change and have impact. Timing is everything, and having our older adults at the center of this conversation and being ready and willing to take on the new initiatives is not easy to do, but that's the beauty of the collective.

[00:16:22] We have different strengths, different approaches, and that hopefully we can amalgamate all that experience to drive real change.

[00:16:30] Zannat Reza: You know, oftentimes when you talk to different groups or people about, you know, we have this shared vision. Everyone agrees. Yes, we want people to live at home and in the community and you know, live how they want with whom they want.

[00:16:42] So there's agreement around that, that shared vision. But when it actually comes down to taking action, this is where it's harder to shift towards a network mindset where it's not just about PR for an organization. I want to pick up on your point about timing. [00:17:00] And that tipping point for people to take action.

[00:17:03] Do you think the COVID 19 pandemic is a strong enough tipping point to lead us to action?

[00:17:11] John Yip: Covid 19 had a positive and negative impact on having real action. Take virtual care, for example, pre pandemic, there's very little adoption, during covid it's skyrocketed. And now, certain governments have reduced the adoption of that technology.

[00:17:30] For long term care, where many of our older adults reside, ageism in general, needs to be front row center around policy making and policy changes, whether it be housing, age friendly cities, education, ageism in the workplace.

[00:17:46] Zannat Reza: When I've had conversations with people from different organizations, older adults, people are pretty unified in terms of what they want, and yet when you look at government policies, it doesn't reflect what the people want. So, hence a need for some sort of social movement.

[00:18:04] And when we look at galvanizing support for a social movement, one of the things that has bubbled to the top is storytelling and igniting strong emotions. So whether that's anger, people are angry about what happened to older adults during Covid 19. Can you tell me your thoughts on the power of storytelling in starting and propelling a social movement?

[00:18:27] John Yip: I think stories are at the heart of every movement. Stories are a foundation to this movement, but there are themes, as you mentioned, that are consistent around the ageism in the workplace, ageism in our society, from the lack of affordable, age-friendly housing, to how we train our nurses and physicians and other regulated and unregulated health professionals.

[00:18:54] There's a lot of work to do. There are different starting points. Hopefully, those stories will define where we start, but not necessarily where we end.

[00:19:03] Zannat Reza: I asked John who he thinks is doing exciting work in building impact networks in the aging space. His answer surprised me because it wasn't a group or organization.

[00:19:12] John Yip: I could rhyme off a whole bunch of organizations like Courage as a initiative or National Institute of Aging. But, I think it's the people in the communities today, who are not affiliated with a organization or an association, that are [00:19:30] doing great work. And what I mean is, in day-to-day living, there are communities that are coming together in a very loose Impact Network on the ground.

[00:19:41] My mother, for example, lives alone and she goes to the grocery store. And when she went, she met a woman who goes to a fitness class, so she started going the fitness class at the community center. During the winters, that fitness class switches to the shopping mall where they do laps around the shopping mall.

[00:20:01] Through that network, they now have a book club. And so from being alone in her home after my dad passed away, she was lonely, but it took one visit to the grocery store to change. That to me is real change, and the challenge is, how do you ensure that other Canadians, who may not go to the grocery store and meet someone by happenstance, that get to create that network, whether it's [00:20:30] ad hoc and organic, or structured and directed, every Canadian should have those resources available.

[00:20:42] Zannat Reza: And now I wanted to find out what do David and John think about the future, including their own. I asked them the two questions we ask every guest.

[00:20:50] First up, finish this sentence in 10 words or less. The future of aging should be...

[00:20:55] David Ehrlichman: A process of collective discovery and action. Aging affects us all. It's not something any of us need to encounter on our own, everybody is part of this so why not do it in community with others?

[00:21:07] John Yip: Different, depending on the range of abilities, needs, hope, and experience of the individual and community. That's probably 15 words.

[00:21:20] Zannat Reza: Now, let's time travel. When you're a hundred years old, what does your ideal life look like?

[00:21:25] David Ehrlichman: When I'm a hundred years old, my ideal life, I think would be taking a walk with my family.

[00:21:31] Taking a walk is important to me because I would want to be mobile and I'd want to be, you know, with my family, and clear enough, you know, in my mind to be able to interact and converse and, and I would want to be at my home, or out in nature, a place that is meaningful to me, you know, a place that really has, has presence and, and energy, a place of my choosing.

[00:21:54] John Yip: Well, my grandfather lived to 107 and he played mah jong. No one wanted to play with him because he kept winning. Because his mind was so sharp and he inspired me, what a 107 year old gentleman could do, and live a, a high quality of life, uh, due to the things that kept him active and engaged.

[00:22:14] Someone at work mentioned this, and I laughed at it, and then it started to sink in. And this person mentioned that they want to remain working at 100 years old. I thought about it, and I agree. I think I do want to work till I'm [00:22:30] hundred years old or more, but the work would be different. I'm not going to be president/CEO for SE Health at a hundred years old, but the work will be different.

[00:22:37] It might be providing Meals on Wheels to my neighbors. It might be being the greeter at Walmart. I've always wanted to be a barista, pick up a shift here and there, might not be able to move as quickly, but being around people, being socially connected, being healthy, having grandchildren or great grandchildren that are age friendly, that they appreciate the wisdom, the lived experience of older adults, that would be the dream.

[00:23:06] Zannat Reza: Big thank you to David and John for their thoughts on how the potential for impact networks, these organic ecosystems, can tackle complex issues of our time, including the future of aging.

[00:23:17] Thanks for joining us for this episode. To learn more and for transcripts, go to

[00:23:23] Listen to new episodes by following us wherever you get your podcasts. And if you're liking our podcast, leave a [00:23:30] review on Apple or Spotify and be sure to share it with your friends, family, and colleagues. The Future Age is brought to you by SE Health, a not-for-profit social enterprise, whose purpose is to bring hope and happiness to the lives of Canadians.

[00:23:45] It's produced by the Future of Aging team and Podium podcast company. For more information, visit