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The Power of Friendship: Q&A with Caregiving Entrepreneurs

Stria Staff May 27, 2019
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Joy Zhang and Madeline Dangerfield-Cha are co-founders and co-CEOs of Mon Ami, a company they started when they were in business school at Stanford. Mon Ami aims to reduce social isolation and connect the generations by helping families find college student companions for their aging loved ones. We asked for their perspective on working in the longevity market.

Stria is creating a series of Q&As with young people working in the longevity market to elevate new perspectives and explore the views of future leaders in our field.

What keeps you up at night when you think about our aging society?

We are so ill prepared to care physically, socially and emotionally for all the people who will need it as family sizes are shrinking and we’re living farther apart from one another. In the next 40 years, the number of people over the age of 65 will double to nearly 100 million but the number of women between the ages of 45 and 64—prime caregiving years, according to our current definition—shows no change. There will be an exponential increase in the number of people requiring care. How do we recruit more people into the provision of it?

What role do you think technology can/will play in addressing the enormous, growing caregiving needs we’re facing?

In our work, we feel the caregiving crisis acutely. Everyday families call and describe how they’re doing everything they can to support an older loved one, but on top of working fulltime or raising kids, it feels impossible to do enough. It’s heartbreaking to hear the worry about a loved one dying of loneliness.

When it comes to caring, no one person can do it all. In addition to supporting people to become professional caregivers, we also have to find ways for more of us—neighbors, students, retirees, caring citizens—to pitch in with small acts of care.

That’s where technology can really help. With smartphones, GPS and on-demand technologies, we can reduce the friction for someone to find or offer help. And it can build trust when you can verify someone’s identity and see their social networks. Technology should not be used to replace human connection; it should bring us closer together.

What do you think older people working in the longevity market don’t understand younger people working in the field?

Madeline: There’s an impression that younger people see themselves as ‘fixers’ without really empathizing with older people… that young people are here to deploy apps and robots without any reverence for human connection. We certainly don’t have any intention of imposing technology in ways that push people further apart. We hope it enables more energy and support to join in the work.

Joy:  There is a common response to what I do that goes something like, “Oh that’s such a nice thing, good for you.” It’s not just older people who say that. I think what people don’t understand is that it’s fun and it’s also a big challenge! There is lots of opportunity in the longevity market to have a positive impact and to do good, which I think is very appealing to younger people.

When it comes to growing older, what do you think Americans care about most?

Joy: At any age, we want to create meaning in our lives, and we want to matter. As a twenty-something in graduate school, I took classes alongside people in their 50s, 60s and 70s who were just as eager to figure out their place in the world when they “grew up.” It made me feel better that I didn’t have it all figured out yet! We never stop needing connection, purpose and belonging, yet when aging so obviously affects our physical being, it can be easy to neglect the intangibles.

Madeline: My grandparents and elders, who invested in young people day in and day out, express their greatest joy at seeing the fruits of that labor emerge over time. Whether a parent, teacher, mentor or friend, they’re awash in the peace and meaning that come from reconnecting to a former student decades later and seeing how they’ve thrived. The same feelings can come from witnessing milestones like graduations, marriages or the birth of first children. It reminds me how powerful the day-to-day gestures of love and kindness are, especially when they compound over the course of a lifetime.

What’s the best piece of professional advice you’ve received?

It was something one of our professors Fern Mandelbaum said about who can be an entrepreneur: “There is no one way. There is no one way to look or behave or act to be successful.” When there aren’t many people who look like you doing the thing you want to do, it’s ok to not fit the mold and chart your own course.


WANT MORE HERE’S OUR SPECIAL FEATURE ON INTERGENERATIONAL ROLES IN THE LONGEVITY MARKET.

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