Use Tech To Empower — There is a reason the expression “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” is so popular. The most sustainable social impact comes from giving people the tools and knowledge to grow, and technology can play a big role in this.
In recent years, Big Tech has gotten a bad rep. But of course, many tech companies are doing important work making monumental positive changes to society, health, and the environment. To highlight these, we started a new interview series about “Technology Making An Important Positive Social Impact”. We are interviewing leaders of tech companies who are creating or have created a tech product that is helping to make a positive change in people’s lives or the environment. As a part of this series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Lawrence Kosick.
Lawrence Kosick was born and raised in Vancouver, Canada whereas a child, Lawrence’s father founded a non-profit assisted living facility for older adults. Lawrence grew up spending nights and weekends visiting the facility and was amazed by the wisdom of the residents who had so much to give. Lawrence is now taking his experience from a long career leading BD and Partnerships for both Big Tech and tech startups to build the first online learning community for older adults.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series. Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory and how you grew up?
As a child growing up in Vancouver, Canada my father had launched a non-profit housing unit for older adults. He regularly took me there after school and on weekends. So older adults really influenced me from early on. I was too young for much of that time to really process it all but two things had a lasting impact on me. First and most importantly older adults had a lot of wisdom to share. They were often smart, interesting, and full of life! However, it was hard to reconcile with my second observation that they seemed often isolated and lonely. It seemed they were somehow left out or separate and considering how cool they were I couldn’t understand why. Like any young entrepreneur, I took off in my youth to explore. I heard about that cool new thing called “the internet” so I packed my bags and 27 years ago moved to the US. There I got to dig into the initial internet revolution with an executive job at Yahoo in the early years. Ever since then I’ve had a passion for technology and how it can shape our lives.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
One of the most interesting things was when I moved from Canada to the US. The internet was just starting then so there was really no such thing as having ‘internet experience.’ I had to take the tools I knew from analog experiences in advertising, business, and marketing and discover how to apply them to the internet. I had to think a lot about how to be part of this transformative tech revolution. I think the idea to use the old-world experience to design new spaces in tech has stayed with me ever since. It’s really been fun to be creating new spaces that have never existed before.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
I have a whole host of folks who were instrumental in helping me at different parts of my career. They taught me how to deal with employee conflict, management bureaucracy, and how to be motivational and inspiring even in the face of adversity. I think it was really inspirational to be part of the early executive team at Yahoo. I benefited enormously from working with them, learning from them, and growing with them. Working with these smart and inspirational people really helped me to learn to think outside the box and grow my career. Many of these same people went on to establish impactful careers in venture capital firms, with Facebook, Apple, Amazon, and
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
I like Winston Churchill’s quotes a lot, especially his quotes about grit. I would have to say one of the most impactful quotes of his is:
“Success is stumbling from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm.”
I truly believe you learn more from your mistakes than from your success. I think given our current mission at GetSetUp to create a safe and empowering learning community for older adults we are navigating those waters. This has never been done before. So there are lots of mistakes we have and will make but we always learn from them. We get back up and continue with courage. Our team is full of courageous leaders who aren’t afraid to fail and try new things. Instead of deliberating and creating small or minimal impact we test and try, succeed, and sometimes we fail. But when we fail we always learn a lot, get up and take our next step closer to success. When you are creating something that has never been created before, that’s the only way!
You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?
Being well-rounded helps a lot as your becoming a successful business leader so it’s great to keep working on yourself and improving. However, my top three character traits that I think are most important for success are:
- Grit- Business leaders have to have grit. You need to continue going on in the face of failure and keep trying when you know you are doing the right thing. We are determined to build something that hasn’t been built before at GetSetUp and to do that we have a team of professionals that see failure as an opportunity to learn and improve.
- Empathy- You need to respect others’ opinions and empathize with them. A good partnership is one where we both win. I don’t want to win at someone else’s expense. If you are truly in the business of changing the world then you need to be in the business of kindness and being genuine. When you can hear and empathize with others’ needs and limitations often you can learn to create the best possible partnership. I try to adjust my partnerships to meet the needs of each partner so we can help the most people possible.
- Authenticity- Be yourself and be honest about who you are to yourself, customers, partners, and everyone. Whether in life or business everyone appreciates someone that tells them the truth and is authentic. It earns you respect. If you can share what you want, where you want to go, and what you want to achieve authentically and honestly people are willing to help you on your way most of the time!
Ok super. Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion about the tech tools that you are helping to create that can make a positive impact on our wellness. To begin, which particular problems are you aiming to solve?
Older adults are the largest rising population and one that has notoriously been overlooked by technology. GetSetUp is seeking to change that by creating a customized safe space for mature adults to learn, create, and share their wisdom. By doing this we are improving the lives of older adults by empowering learning, fighting social isolation, and helping learners to stay healthier and happier
Classes are live and interactive on our peer-to-peer platform for older adults who want to learn new skills, connect with others, and unlock new life experiences. The platform helps older adults stay mentally and physically fit, creates economic opportunities through jobs and reskilling, and provides a community where people find meaning and purpose online that they can then apply in their local communities. By creating a safe space for older adults to learn at their own pace GetSetUp is helping to create a global revolution for aging adults.
How do you think your technology can address this?
GetSetUp’s innovative learning platform is paving the way for social inclusion and healthier living with an empowering learning space customized for older adults. Unlike taking a single class on fall prevention, for example, or joining a passive experience on YouTube, GetSetUp provides an inclusive, interactive environment where older adults can join a community, go deep into a specific topic or skill, stay connected with their peers, and even host an interest group and share their knowledge and passions.
This kind of ongoing engagement is helping over 2MM older adults address the 5 Social Determinants of Health:
- Economic Stability — We offer economic opportunities to older adults to work on our platform, and we provide job skill classes on tools needed for older adults to get jobs in the current work environment.
- Health Care Access and Quality — We offer classes on health and wellbeing, fitness, and understanding how to manage aging ailments such as diabetes, stroke, and heart conditions. Learners have come on to our fitness and healthy eating classes and lost weight, gained balance, and overall improved their health.
- Social and Community Context — We provide a positive social environment for our learners to grow and develop with peer friends. Many friends have reconnected on our site after years, and learners are making new friends through our platform. As people age generally their social circles tend to decrease, leading and this can lead to social isolation and overall health decline. We are helping to prevent that by connecting like-minded individuals through positive learning and growth.
- Education Access and Quality — We provide customized high-quality education for older adults by their peers. Peer-to-peer education is non-threatening and allows older adults to gain the confidence they need to truly thrive in technology skills and learn more about social media while pursuing fun hobbies as well.
- Neighborhood and Built Environment- We offer a safe virtual community for those who have limited access to social interactions due to mobility issues, rural locations, or safety concerns. Our learners can meet new people and explore the world through global classes and travel classes.
Can you tell us the backstory about what inspired you to originally feel passionate about this cause?
For me, my “aha” moment came when I asked my Dad what he wanted for his 90th birthday and he replied, “I’d like an Apple Watch.” I was equally impressed and panicked by his answer. I have an Apple Watch — I’m 53 — and I am often perplexed by its seemingly unending list of features and functionality. In fact, I’m on Google and YouTube almost daily researching and watching the “how-to” videos to learn something new about the watch.
But a 90-year-old? Did this mean I was going to have to be the remote “Geek Squad” for my dad?
It took me some time to process but in the end, I thought why shouldn’t he get the Apple watch? Millions of other people have it. And to be honest, it bothered me that his request bothered me.
My good friend and trail running partner, Neil Dsouza and I regularly share our crazy startup ideas on our longer runs. Neil has an ed-tech background and me, a consumer internet and enterprise software background. Both of us are serial entrepreneurs. About a year ago and on one of many long trail runs, Neil started telling me about an idea he had to re-skill retired educators and then have them teach other older adults software and apps. It was one of the coolest-yet seemingly hardest ideas I had ever heard. I was intrigued. I thought we need to figure out how to do this!
So, I quit my job and joined Neil at GetSetup as his co-founder. It seemed like the crazy, high-risk, entrepreneurial–yet right thing to do! We set out to build and scale an online platform where older adults would teach older adults skills to empower them to lead more productive, happier, and healthier lives.
Neil and I are both passionate about solving this problem, We were amazed that the unique needs of this older demographic, which is projected to be 25% of the overall US population in the next 20+ years, was being ignored by almost every business we studied. These older users were not DIY (do it yourself) or self-onboarding themselves by simply watching videos on YouTube, yet many companies simply expected them to do so. We were going to solve this problem, but we knew it would require a whole different approach. Thus the solution seemed obvious to let older adults train older adults!
How do you think this might change the world?
Daily we hear learner feedback about how we are changing the world by helping reduce social isolation which is one of the leading causes of illness and death among older adults. Older adults are able to be a part of a global community with peers that are passionate about similar topics. For many learners with mobility issues or who are alone, this has made a world of difference. We have learners who are even logging in to attend classes from the hospital.
For other learners, it is about connecting with people in similar situations. We have a number of learners who found themselves suddenly solo and they are managing to connect with others in these situations. While they may be alone physically at times they don’t have to be lonely thanks to all the friendships and connection opportunities we are creating. Fellow peers in positive learning environments are just a click away.
So far we have only had positive feedback from our technology since we are really filling a much-needed gap and in many ways providing a lifeline to people who otherwise feel alone.
Like with any part of life, real or virtual, security is top of mind for us because. While we don’t foresee a Black Mirror or Law of Unintended Consequences type scenario, we do not want some bad apples to ruin the positive experiences for others. We work hard to protect our learners and keep their information secure.
Here is the main question for our discussion. Based on your experience and success, can you please share “Five things you need to know to successfully create technology that can make a positive social impact”? (Please share a story or an example, for each.)
“Five things you need to know to successfully create technology that can make a positive social impact”
- Create Equity — We don’t all have equal access to information and resources. The wealthy have always had more education, more job opportunities, and so on. If you are going to create a positive social impact, consider how you help to foster equity.
Example: We knew we wanted our platform to be available to older adults without access to the internet, so we’ve been finding ways to work with partners to provide internet and device access. One of our partners successfully bought tablets with wifi for their older adult community, and now many of them have taken hundreds of classes on GetSetUp.
- Use Tech To Empower — There is a reason the expression “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” is so popular. The most sustainable social impact comes from giving people the tools and knowledge to grow, and technology can play a big role in this.
Example: Many assume that older adults don’t have the skills or interest to learn technology when the problem is we haven’t given them the tools to learn in a way that meets their needs. Older adults can and need to use technology. By providing our peer-led classes, that many learners take multiple times, we give them the tools to learn at their own pace, from people they are comfortable with.
- Involve your community in your solution — Provide opportunities for your passionate community members to participate through work opportunities, volunteer positions, and elite status. This helps to foster a sense of community and purpose around a shared mission.
Example: We hire power members in our community when we see opportunities for them. Norman was a learner who submitted great insights and information. Now he leads our Ambassador program, where power learners can volunteer to host interest groups and extend their reach in the community. Other members have become paid Guides using their skills and talent to teach in areas where we were looking to expand.
- Keep it Simple — So often the latest and greatest new things create more complications and become difficult for your audience to benefit from. To be successful your technology should simplify rather than making people’s lives more complex.
Example: We are minimizing the tech needed by our learners to not overwhelm them. We strive for simple, clean, and complication-free technology.
- Use Tech To Create Community — There is enough negativity out there in the world. Use your tech to create a positive community. Create a vibrant and growing space for like-minded individuals to connect.
Example: Many social platforms thrive on creating adversity, by gathering people with opposing points of view in the same space. We are doing the opposite. We try to bring people together with common interests, common goals, but different perspectives. This has created a thriving positive learning community.
If you could tell other young people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our environment or society, like you, what would you tell them?
“Day by day we all get older, whether we like it or not, so make sure you are building a world you want to keep living in!”
People of all ages can make positive impacts by taking a problem they are passionate about and working to implement a positive solution to it.
Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
To be honest the first people who come to my mind to have lunch with are dead, like Nelson Mandela or Winston Churchhill. However, I’d really like to meet José Andrés. He’s such an amazing chef and he’s used his Michelin reputation to become partners with whoever he needs to — nonprofits, governments, and others to feed the hungry. He created the World Central Kitchen that provides meals to folks that need it most. He’s there giving out meals during COVID and after hurricanes. I find him really inspiring.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
Visit our community and hop into a class at www.getsetup.org. Or, subscribe to our blog at https://blog.getsetup.io/ where we highlight real people who are passionate about learning throughout all stages of life. Our blog shares empowering stories, learning opportunities for older adults, and key insights on aging to help our community live healthier and happier lives.
Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational, and we wish you continued success in your important work.