But it was Helen McAlpine who had the most impact on me yesterday. Helen, another conference delegate like myself, approached me in the break following my question to the panel. (By the way; top conference networking tip: always construct a carefully worded question and name yourself and your organisation before asking it when there is an open Q+A session for the whole conference. This has the effect of drawing people to you in the break. If this scares you, write it down and be the first to put your hand up, so you have to do it.) My question was about the potential opportunities for people with dementia to benefit from wellness tourism, active travel and the various nature-based activities on offer in some of the world’s best landscapes in the Highlands. Helen came over because she is starting a new business, supporting people with dementia. What a great thing to be doing. She is just as inspirational as Mike and Tom and is symbolic of a fundamental societal shift as we re-calibrate what it means to live longer lives (you can read my post on the 100-year life and take the 100-year life audit here).
Helen is finishing work as a nurse on Tuesday, after over 20 years in the NHS. But rather than simply stopping there she is one of a growing number of social entrepreneurs over 50 embarking on setting up social businesses. An increasing number of studies point towards 45 and 50 being either the average age or most successful ages to start up a business. I am sure we will see this age go up quite soon. Life experience, common sense, competence, knowledge and agency all make a potent positive mix for those setting up businesses later in life. When we contemplate a 100-year life (which many of us are statistically likely to reach), it follows that the normal three stages of study/work/retire no longer fit. The authors of 100-year life, Lynda Gratton & Andrew Scott, painfully remind us that unless we are saving substantial amounts of money (which is a tiny minority of people, namely those in the FIRE movement) or win the lottery (hope is not a strategy!) then we are going to need to carry on working for financial reasons, but also to answer the search for purpose and meaning in later life. Establishing businesses in later life will become more common, and this has far-reaching impacts for education and learning, family finances, kinship care and pensions to name but a few of the obvious things.