Tony Rothacker spoke about keeping open communication, and discussed building mutual benefit into a social enterprise. He is the co-founder at Youngster.co, which provides job opportunities to youth and empowers elders to use technology better. Youth assist elders with learning new technology they may need to interact with the world, or programs they may need help to use in daily life. Both sides of the connection, youth and elders, benefit from the intergenerational service as the initiative addresses common issues on the respective sides.
Opportunities arise from the youth and elders connecting, which is a bonus to the impact of the initiative itself. Young people get paid upfront to help seniors with technology. Tony shared that most youth don’t need any particular training, since the youth grew up with the technology. Elders, however, grew up in a different time. They may not be familiar with the latest technology, but they can teach youth what they learned about life. Tony observed that the initiative helps elders who typically deal with isolation have more personal interactions, and youth have a chance to practice patience when explaining technology.
In the beginning, Youngster.co faced a moment that depended on how they could respond to the situation. Tony shared that the initiative started right before the COVID-19. Like many other companies, Youngster.co transitioned online to keep their business alive. Tony expressed how they found success in the online model, and the angle the initiative discovered to boost their mission.
After finding a good flow, the initiative could depend on their reputation to serve more youth and elders. Tony explained that the power of word of mouth made connecting with a larger audience more easy for the team. At first, good service and a good experience kept people coming back. Tony emphasized that this dedication to good service and good experience led to getting referrals. For the youth, a bonus pay incentive encourages the youth to keep up good service and continue participating in the initiative.
Tony shared thoughts on calculating the before and after impacts created by the team’s efforts. Youngster.co is working with an impact tool that measures social value called Australia Social Value Bank. Tony expressed what he pays attention to when considering the impact that’s happening. Ultimately, he suggested that one way to find a perspective on social impact is to ask the question: “What is our social return on investment?”
Tony began sharing his story of being introduced to social enterprise and taking on that journey to merge social impact with business. His connection to social impact goes back in his own life, like when he experienced times of having a disproportionate need for resources. While discussing all this impact, Tony shifted the topic to the meaning of life. He expressed his feelings about powerful and meaningful connections. Through work with Youngster.co, Tony is able to contribute those connections to the world, and also bridge the gap between generations.
Adam: [00:00:00] Welcome to People Helping People, the podcast to inspire greater social change and give you ideas on how to take action. I'm your host, Adam Morris. Today, we are sitting down with Tony Rothacker, co-founder at youngster.co, a platform, providing job opportunities to youth and empowering elders to use technology better, bridging the gap between generations. I'm excited to explore conversations around providing employment to youth and how we can leverage inherent talents from any age. So Tony, welcome on the podcast.
Tony: [00:00:29] I'm glad to be here. Thank you for inviting me Adam.
Adam: [00:00:32] Yeah, I'm really excited. Can we start off, can you tell us a little bit about the journey that led to youngster.co ?
Tony: [00:00:38] Um, it started believe it or not with a innovation challenge, open innovation challenge, addressing youth suicide.
And it's hard to believe, but he in regional Australia where we are based, there's quite a high youth unemployment, and unfortunately also high youth suicide rate. And so running a innovation hub, we were asked to run a, something called an open innovation challenge where a local health district is welcoming ideas from the outside and looked at, what can we do as a community to address this big problem. And so there was some amazing entrepreneurs and creatives came forward and they pitched the ideas. They got a bit of seed funding and ultimately they got also contract to implement a solution for the next 12 months. But that resulted that I saw the data coming through and I couldn't believe that how big the problem is. And that made me determined that we should do something about it. And it was ultimately a people moment to set up youngster.co.
Adam: [00:01:43] Great. And now you have a background in building businesses and the entrepreneurial scene. Can you tell me a little bit about what you've been doing in that space?
Tony: [00:01:52] Yeah, look I'm a civil engineer from background. I'm always keen to solve problems And many people are asking me, oh, if I only had somebody who could help me with this and that. And I found it was just so easy sometimes, helping some people with internet issues. And 90% of the time is to turn off the bloody thing and turn it back on.
And some people don't know how to do it. And so we thought, we have this unutilized resource, our tech savvy youngsters. So why not get them busy and do something meaningful? And while they helping others, they actually helping themselves. And so it's a beautiful thing to see when the elders are so thankful and appreciative and they're happy to pay money as well to to get helped.
But likewise, many seniors are in isolation. They don't know how to use technology. And COVID-19 was very very prevalent and we saw how impactful it is to be disconnected from the daily life or communities. So this way, they actually become part of the community. They get out of isolation and they help us to teach the youngsters how to live meaningful life
Adam: [00:03:00] And so what does that actually look like when the youth get together with the elders?
Tony: [00:03:04] So there's quite a lot of risks involved. And for us, it's important to be the trusted guide in, in providing this type of intergenerational service. And we looked at what can we do to make it the safest possible, the best experience possible for both the young and the old. And we found trusted spaces like libraries and neighborhood centers are great melting point for the two generations.
So we work collaboratively with aged care facilities with libraries. Where we bring the generations together. And when they complete certain number of sessions and we see, they have the right ethics and we do all of the right checks, vetting and police checks on the youngsters. We allow them also to do home visits when the pairing is fine, but it's important that we address all the different risks.
They are there.
Adam: [00:03:55] And how long has it been up and running?
Tony: [00:03:58] so Now be going towards two years and we started just before COVID-19 hit and you can imagine there was quite a drastic change going. We took a whole bunch of youngsters to aged care facilities, and then suddenly we couldn't do that anymore. And so we transitioned everything online when COVID-19 lockdown started and it has proven actually quite a successful model.
We got quite a lot of media coverage. Simply because we ask youngsters, can you help us to reach out to seniors in isolation and teach them how to go on zoom, how to unmute and and many many seniors, they wanted to continue to converse with the outside world. They just didn't know how to. And so we use this disadvantage.
No, when life gives you lemon. Squeezed them. We did that and that has proven to be quite quite a great leverage for us to get more media coverage and ultimately requests.
Adam: [00:04:53] Now, how did you go about actually reaching a. Elderly. Cause quite often they're not on Instagram or Tik Tok .
Tony: [00:04:59] toddling. Yeah. Look, our best friend is word of mouth. So our key element is to delight the elders and we incentivize the youngsters to, they get the base wage. And when they delight the elder in a sense that we have certain set requirements, be kind, be polite, be on time, ask open questions.
And if they fulfill those, they get paid a bonus. And with this incentive, we we get quite a lot of referrals. So word of mouth is, that's why we are growing the most.
Adam: [00:05:28] Oh, very cool. And so you do it both in a group setting and then also one-on-one.
Tony: [00:05:35] That's right? Yep.
Adam: [00:05:37] And have you had any measures on the impact that you've been having so far?
Tony: [00:05:41] We do. So there's different type of measuring the success on the, we count connections. So when we create a connection between youngsters and Ellis, we. Need to onboard an elder. We need to onboard a youngster, basically all the things need to come together. And we also collect data. What is the current status of, the it literacy of the elder before and after, and also watch do the youngsters get out of it.
What is the status before and after? So we've measured the Delta with our surveys and we have partnered with an organization called Australia social value bank. To calculate through the theory of change. What is the social return on investment, very technical term, but ultimately many funding bodies they want to see what is my return if I give you some money and that's what we want to make it very plain and clear.
What is our social return on investment?
Adam: [00:06:34] That's interesting. I know a ton of social entrepreneurs who are trying to figure out how to measure their impact. Do you have any idea what goes into that calculation or how they figured that out?
Tony: [00:06:43] Yeah, so they are different models and it needs to, this data needs to be based on, scientifically based data peer reviews and we collect our own data, but we also relied at the beginning on some existing data collections. For example, if you improve. It literacy of elders. This is the social return on investment.
This figure can be applied to, or if you employ, if you improve the employability skills of youngsters, this is the fact that you can apply to and so on. And we utilize that and to make it a little bit more precise, we collect our own data and, there are some social researchers on . A whole academic a scene where they actually can calculate and ride papers about what is the social return.
So for example, there was recent study in Australia through a federal gap, federal government program called be connected and they, social return was around the $4 for every dollar spent on that program. And our program we calculated is roughly around the $35 for every dollar spend. It's just simply this intergenerational approach and the major benefit we found.
It's not only the elders learning how to use tech, but more about the youngsters and equip them with life skills, empathy, employability skills kindness. And it's basically a simple skills like listening skills, it's it seems to be trivial to us, but many youngsters spent far too much time on socials and, devices. And so it's so important for them to spend face to face and be patient. Sometimes they are really impatient and want to get things done very quickly, take the device from the elders and I show you how to do it, but that's not the way to do it. In our case, we really hone down that they need to let the seniors do the work and they only show them how to do it in a polite and and empathic way.
They need to understand the challenges that seniors have. And even with seniors with dementia and, quite late stage we found to transformation and the interaction is incredible. The youngsters understand what it means to have dementia. There's more and more of that coming forward. And, to have the future workforce prepared. I think we're doing the right thing to make sure that everybody understands what it means to have dementia.
Adam: [00:08:53] So it sounds like in addition to the direct benefit of what you're doing, that's also raising awareness and the community of some of these issues that people are facing.
Tony: [00:09:03] Totally. Yeah. And one of our best ways to recruit youngsters is through their parents. So many parents are really frustrated that, my son, he just spent so much time on Instagram or Snapchat or Tik Tok or, and when we asked them ah, look, would your teenager be interested in some money?
I said, yeah, I think there would. And it's a really good alternative to let's say KFC or McDonald's nothing against them. I think they have great programs too. But it's slightly different and we find quite meaningful and the youngsters get maybe a little bit more out of it.
Adam: [00:09:38] And it sounds like that also gives them technology backgrounds for other job opportunities as well.
Tony: [00:09:43] They are so technologically savvy. We don't actually have trained them how to use iPhone or tablets, or even if they don't have an phone, they actually know how to use it. It's incredible. And they pick it up from their friends and they are envious because they can't afford a phone. So we right now trying to get other companies to maybe provide us with some phones so we can give it to the youngsters who can't afford to have a phone and be great to have Google on board.
So I've tried really hard, but it's still not coming to the game or even apple. So if you're not anyone, maybe some of those yeah, apple podcasts as who are out there, reach out to us.
Adam: [00:10:20] Very cool. Now I'm always very curious. In addition to this podcast, I run a small work program for youth who are experiencing homelessness. So these are our youth, typically 18 to 24. And it's a small work program where the focus is largely on having conversations around jobs. So we teach them how to screen print t-shirts and then we're creating an atmosphere where we can talk to them.
So I'm curious if you've learned anything from working with youth of how to work with them effectively.
Tony: [00:10:45] Look, we have many youngsters coming towards because they they are challenged by the school system. They disconnected from even the homes and they live quite often with their friends and they finding very rewarding and meaningful work where they can actually do something while they're earning a bit of money.
It is quite challenging because sometimes they just, they don't turn up because they don't have a way to get there. And you standing there with many seniors and okay, where are the youngsters, but it's part of the deal. I think we may trying to make a difference. And often we ask the seniors look this is also about youngsters, not necessarily about the elders and when we, convey the message. Sometimes the many seniors get frustrated because they didn't get their session. But look, I hope you can come back next week because our youngsters couldn't come here. They'd car broke down and blah, blah. So it's all about how we communicate it. And we found many librarians that are really they know how to deal with these situations.
They are really aware because they helping also seniors coming to the library who don't have an email who don't understand technology. And quite often they don't really want to. But they do want to make a difference to the youngsters. So it's like the two groups and, the vulnerable youngsters and the vulnerable elders can help each other, but it needs to be really carefully managed.
I think that's one of our biggest risks that, we facilitate something that we don't, we might regret later on. So we put really big emphasis on the safety and security for both.
Adam: [00:12:18] Cool. Now you mentioned a little bit earlier that you're new to this social impact space. This is the first social enterprise that you've been involved in?
Tony: [00:12:26] Social. Yeah, but not from a startup point of view. So I had several companies and some more successful than others, but to have a higher purpose or a Simon Sinek calls, it just cause everything else lines up. The funding will come towards you, then the customers will seek you.
They volunteer. You have schools, they want to work with you, you have governments want to work with you. It's just simply providing a service that is needed in the community and the community's asking for it. And it's a beautiful thing to do. Cause I was in sales before, and I know how it is how hard it is to actually sell something that not everybody really needs, it's nice to have, but if there is something with social purpose, that everybody's really looking forward to to be part of it's a beautiful feeling and you don't feel like you working.
Adam: [00:13:19] In addition to starting some businesses in the past, you're also involved in the local Startup Grind.
Tony: [00:13:25] Yeah. So Startup Grind has been pivotal for us and, the values from Startup Grind, really resonated with me as well. That's why I started as a chapter director. Two has gone and Derek, the CEO of Startup Grind he is incredible from defining those values so help others before you help yourself, make friends not contacts.
And I forgot the third one. However, there are core values that really very much aligned what I believe in. And I think that aligns also other people to come along. And it's not about making money, but surround yourself with like-minded people. And it's very hard to, do it day in, day out by yourself.
But if you surround yourself with like-minded people who have also social purpose in mind, but also they don't want to make it sustainable from a business perspective. So it's not a kumbaya. We want to make a world a better place. It's also about financial viability. We want to make sure that the business survives financially.
So you need to be financially and business savvy to understand what what is possible.
Adam: [00:14:29] Now, startup grind is a global organization with local chapters. Can you just explain a little bit about what people experience at startup grind in case any of the listeners haven't heard of it before?
Tony: [00:14:40] yeah, startup grind is a incredible organization and they it's basically a network of entrepreneurs. I think they had around 600 chapters before COVID-19 they might have slightly less now, but still I think they are all not. On the groin trajectory they basically invite speakers to speak at events.
It was face to face mostly. And now it's more online during COVID-19 or hybrid events where you can have listened as online while you have also face to face session and speak as like guy Kawasaki on army Simpson from Shark Tank Australia. They are really high caliber speakers, to provide this inspiration and the insights, what really helped them in their career to become what they are.
One really shining example is Justin Dry from Vinomofo. He's in Australia very well known around the wine online retail space, but he's also friends with Gary V you've probably heard of Gary V. Gary Vaynerchuk. He's really out there and that's because for every different type of category, and if you go on Startup Grind, you can look up what type of speakers of interest. And you can look up the previous speakers on the YouTube and they have quite a large following.
Adam: [00:15:53] That's a great place for entrepreneurs or people in, even in the freelancing community to come together and meet and network as well.
Tony: [00:16:01] Absolutely and there's no, you don't have to pay any fees. Some events, they charge you a fee to cover the drinks and things like that, but you can just join the community and they have now some programs when you want to get more mentoring there's like a membership type of base approach, but there's different ways to engage startup grind community. And every chapter director is just super keen to help other entrepreneurs. And that's, that goes without saying, so you need to be the startup mayor of your region to pull up the chapter because you do want to be the magnet to bring those different speakers and the audience together.
Adam: [00:16:38] Back to youngster.co of what's your vision for this and where it's going.
Tony: [00:16:43] yeah, look we have set goals. So by 2025, we want to create 1 million connections. Connections made between connection between youngster and elder.. So it's a clear set goal and we working towards it. Ultimately, we would love to offer the service worldwide. And we have currently a simple MVP platform where we can connect the youngsters it's like marketplace.
And we would like to go global at some stage, but I'm conscious of, we really want to nail down how we do it and what the program does. And how we manage it. And before we really scale broadly, we want to make sure that we can do it in a smaller area like Australia. And we want to make sure that we have the right partners on board who have the same values as we are, helping the seniors and helping the youngsters to have meaningful jobs, and no one is left behind. And and if there's. Organization's willing to be part of it, please reach out.
Adam: [00:17:41] That's fantastic. Now. Can you describe just a little bit about what it's like, where you are in Australia? Cause you're up near Brisbane.
Tony: [00:17:48] No, I'm halfway between Brisbane, and Sydney. So this is my backyard, as you can see for the listeners it's there's Koala habited. So we have actually live Koala in the back here. Which made very funny grunting noise in the evening, and you can look up Drop Bear from Australia, if you want to understand the dangers of koalas. And there was just some really funny anecdotes in the past way. People thought that like a meat eating Koala us up in the trees, but not that all plant eating animals and how I bought the other huge little bear looking top of things. And So Australia
Adam: [00:18:24] And they sleep a little bit don't they.
Tony: [00:18:28] but Australia is one of, I think that's why I moved here.
As you can hear. I grew up in Germany, but I was born in . So I grew up in the Northern hemisphere and I just loved the ocean. I love the water and I love kayaking and, but also fell in love with my wife when I was studying in Sydney. And long story short, we have now four kids, and I just love being here in Australia and swim in the ocean every morning and across, old 12 months.
Now it's currently winter. So we have tonight, it was the first time we hit about six degrees Celsius at night, but throughout the day we still have 20 degrees in winter as well. So it's very beautiful, very great climate to live in. However, we do have our challenges and, as I mentioned, I be trying to make difference and address those problems.
And any entrepreneur who is willing to come and visit us is very welcome. There is some incentives by the Australian government to actually move to Australia and, remote work, you can work, anywhere I think New Zealand and Australia are one of those. COVID-19 heavens and I think we have maybe five cases across Australia now.
And and if there's one or two cases, the whole town goes in lockdown. It's crazy. There's no masks or anything like that. We still have, especially in regional Australia, people just go into cafes without any masks. It's incredibly attractive. I would say for any entrepreneurs who can work remotely to come and live here. Yeah, and look, podcasting is really taking off. There's just so much podcasts. I was just recently interviewed by by another friend and Army Simspon she's the shark on shark tank in Australia. She just launched a podcast as well called Handpicked. And she does provide advice around entrepreneurship and quite often is also about what is your higher purpose.
So it's worthwhile checking it out and but there's just so much happening in Guy Kawasaki. Also, he launched a podcast last year, Remarkable People worthwhile checking out as well. And so a great ways to actually consume some really meaningful conversations rather than, consume the TV that is bombarded with advertising.
Adam: [00:20:41] I think What you mentioned about the podcast is super important that, it's such a great way for people to connect. And especially when people aren't traveling outside the country, just to understand how much great stuff is happening in places around the world. I think quite often people don't understand what it means to live in Australia or China or Europe. And because they haven't seen it, they haven't experienced it. So you just have a notion in your head.
Tony: [00:21:05] Totally.
Adam: [00:21:06] We're all so much more similar, I think, than we are different. But people are figuring out these cool new solutions in their local communities.
And when we can share those ideas it's really powerful.
Tony: [00:21:16] I'm interested. What is the most interesting interviewee you meant before me? And what was the biggest takeaway?
Adam: [00:21:23] I had a podcast with Rich Harwood who runs the Harwood Institute here in the U S and he's been running it for 30 years. But he has a, an approach for creating conversations in communities. So getting together different community leaders. And being able to empower them to have conversations where they're learning from the community and developing solutions in that community to overcome issues.
So for me, that was just an eye-opening way of bringing people together to solve problems.
Tony: [00:21:51] Yeah.
Adam: [00:21:52] Is like what you're doing with, youngster it's like you went out and you realized, Hey, we're having a problem with youth suicide aside and speaking to people in the community and about how you can connect people.
And that's just where magic happens.
Tony: [00:22:03] I had also a different conversation around aging and our guests at Startup Grind not tell a young Chansky she also researched different areas in the world and looked at why there, why people live long, long lives and long meaningful lives. And that led her to explore the blue zones.
I'm not sure if you're head off the blue zones. I forgot the gentleman's name, who was running the research, but I think national geographic still also mapped those five areas in the world with blue markers. That's why they call them blue zones. And long story short, there are some areas like Okinawa in in Japan where people live a hundred years and longer, and the higher proportion compared to other areas.
So they looked at why it is and they defined some core elements. Why are people doing that? So one of them is regular exercise or certain types of foods, or have connection to the community and had some kind of purpose as well. And so she broke down those different areas in our conversation.
And we're looking at now the coast where I live, how we can make this region, theblue zone 2.0, so how can we improve it? If we can improve the life expectancy to let's say 120. And look what we need to do as a community to make it happen. I think it's really interesting conversation.
Adam: [00:23:22] That's great. And especially if you're in such a vibrant place that is so full of life.
Tony: [00:23:25] Yeah, the youth suicidee is bringing it down, so we need to address that.
Adam: [00:23:30] And that's what brought about youngster.co? How do people find out about what you're doing? Where do they
Tony: [00:23:36] So, of course we are on socials, eh, even though we sometimes it's good to help people to go onto social platform, but it's good to actually be not on social as well. And it's a fine line. So under youngster.co our website is the easiest way to find us and Yeah, I would love to anyone from around the world can register actually already on our side to be a youngster.
And we are exploring a virtual type of connection where we can connect seniors from anywhere in the world. And we find that youngsters who speak different languages, they are actually really valuable because they could help also other people who speak different language, or even if they are refugees.
And they need to converse in a different language. And as you can hear, I speak different languages as well. So I feel very at home. And my father was one of the refugees. So that's why I feel committed to help those people as well.
Adam: [00:24:29] All right. Cool. Now, did you have a refugee experience of your own when you were growing up?
Tony: [00:24:34] I did. So my father , he left just Czechoslovakia illegally. I think in the 83 and he immigrated to Germany and he couldn't go back to Czechoslovakia to know my mom, she got cancer, she got breast cancer. We were quite young. I was nine. My brother was 10. And then one year later she died, my father couldn't come back to, look after us.
He would be arrested basically. And it took us about one year until our paperwork was ready to go to Germany. And we lived in Germany. So I had to learn German. When I arrived, I was 11 years old and it was a different world. And, to learn different language, to go into different school system, to live in a one bedroom unit with my dad, my brother was quite an experience.
And I can totally feel it's not the same as if you are in refugee camp and things like that, but I can understand how people feel if they're in a different country and they don't speak the language. So I think that has caused quite a lot of thoughts in me, how we can make things different and how it can help other people as well.
And by helping us, we help ourselves. And it's why I feel when the youngsters learn, how they, how meaningful or helpful they can be to seniors and the seniors, how impactful that can be on youngsters and teaching them, how to ask questions and be patient. It's just so beautiful to see.
We had parents crying at library, seeing their kids. And it's just so nice to see. And just to see them doing something that is helping us, it's just beautiful. And that is just, when I'm busy or frustrated with things, I just do one of those sessions help being a kind of semi youngster and my day is beautiful.
It's just so nice.
Adam: [00:26:19] I love that well, and being able to facilitate those connections where those connections are so powerful and meaningful, right? That gives us, I think, a, just a greater satisfaction when we can connect with another individual and
Tony: [00:26:32] Yeah, my mentor recently passed away and I always reflect, what is the meaning of life? And you always thinking of what is this all about, but when I was I attended one of those speaking session And Philip Hesketh and he really shared the essence of meaning of life. And that really resonated with me.
I'll share that here. And he said the meaning of life is to build a loving relationships and make a meaningful and positive contribution. And if you look at it, it's just simple as that. And there's, we don't have to say anything else.
Adam: [00:27:09] And that makes a lot of sense. The more you're focused on yourself, the, the less satisfying everything is. And when you can focus on the community around you and the difference you're making not only the community up , but it lifts you up as well.
Tony: [00:27:22] Yeah, and I think they have some really great resources like Naval Ravikant. I really liked reading that. I'm not sure if you heard of him and follow too. To read his books and listen to this podcast or Twitter. But how about you? Where is your inspiration coming from? Why you do what you do.
Adam: [00:27:40] Partly for that same reason after working in technology for a long time, just wanting a career that's more satisfying and. So I started a podcast explore what was going on and very quickly discovered social entrepreneurship. And it's led me down a new path just because of that. You feel like you're in there doing something bigger than yourself.
And I realized there's a lot of great, cool ideas going on in the world and the more that we can share them, the more we realize what's possible. And that's where change comes from.
Tony: [00:28:08] that's great.
Adam: [00:28:09] Thank you so much for coming on today and sharing your story of what you're doing.
Tony: [00:28:13] Thank you for this interview and opportunity. And look, if you need to have a chat, feel free to reach out. I'm happy to help.
Adam: [00:28:20] Wonderful. Thank you so much. I appreciate it.
Tony: [00:28:23] Okay, thank you Adam.