Tell us about your role or organisation. How do you use technology/policy to improve citizens’ lives?

As Director of the Office for Seniors we provide information to seniors and are a key advisor to the New Zealand Government about the issues and concerns of older people.

The Office works to promote the wellbeing and concerns of seniors and raises awareness across government and nationally of the issues facing our ageing population.

Technology is both a challenge and an opportunity for older New Zealanders. We know that seniors are digitally excluded so we are working to encourage older people to become more comfortable going online. Working with our partners, we have funded training classes as part of our Digital Inclusion programme which teaches people the basics from turning on devices to online banking, making video calls, and being cybersecure. We even had success with people using Zoom so they can stay in touch with their families when they can’t see them face-to-face.

What was the most impactful project you worked on this year?

There are lots of things to be proud of in 2021.  We launched a new website which is providing a strong foundation to better support our stakeholders and older people with information and resources.  Check it out at www.officeforseniors.govt.nz

We also launched our first action plan to implement the national strategy for our ageing population.  The plan sees government agencies committing to tangible actions to address digital exclusion, and housing and employment issues for older people.

What is one unexpected learning from 2021?

Covid has had a huge impact on how we work and over the past 18 months we have learnt a lot.

The pandemic brought a heightened awareness to how reliant we are on digital communications and there was a risk that older people would get left behind.

As older New Zealanders were encouraged to stay home during lockdowns, some struggled with things like ordering groceries online. We made sure that older people were considered when decisions were made around Covid-19 and made sure they could still access the services and information they needed to stay safe.

What’s your favourite memory from the past year?

Not because I am doing this profile…but winning the 2021 IDC Smart City Asia/Pacific Education award for our digital literacy training programme. It was totally unexpected.

The funding for our programme is tiny, $NZ 600,000 over 3 years ($US 404,000), but it really reminded me that innovation and success is never about the amount of money you have, but it’s about making the best use of what you do have and being able to work with those who are also focused on doing the same.

What’s a tool or technique you’re excited to explore in 2022?

Technologies that make our environments more accessible for everyone- including older people. We recently helped fund and support a “virtual villages” project which provides a support network for seniors and encourage local residents to develop new friends and interests and help each other to stay connected. We want to see more innovative thinking like this to make sure older people remain connected to their communities even as they age.

What are your priorities for 2022?

My priority for next year is to continue to advocate for the interests and issues of older people so they are able to participate, contribute, and be valued as they age.

Who are the mentors and heroes that inspire you?

I have to say my parents. Not only are they great role models in what they have achieved in their lives, but they supported me to get a great education.

What gets you up in the morning?

Knowing that each day I have an opportunity to make a positive difference in the lives of older people and that I am privileged to work with a team who are similarly passionate about their work.