Last year, as the U.S. went into lockdown, a clear need arose: Many older Americans needed assistance with simple tasks like picking up prescriptions and going to the grocery store. At the same time, volunteers around the country had raised their hands to let the organization know they were ready to help. The problem was connecting the two groups.
Just days after the pandemic was declared, AARP Innovation Labs quickly developed and launched its new Community Connections platform within 10 days, with a Spanish language site coming just five days later. “To be able to move at such a quick pace and to be helping millions of people across the country in a short period of time was amazing,” says Jo Ann Jenkins, CEO of AARP.
In fact, such innovation has been part of AARP’s DNA since its founding 63 years ago. AARP is constantly pushing boundaries both inside and outside the organization, challenging staff and startup organizations to think creatively and take risks in order to transform industries and disrupt the notion of aging. “We do everything we can to make sure people over 50 have what they need to live a long, fulfilling life,” Jenkins says.
CHANGE FROM WITHIN
For AARP, innovation starts at home. “As everyday innovators in aging, every employee is committed to thinking of new ways to help older people,” Jenkins says. Over the past two years, the organization has embarked on a campaign of digital change, unifying 30 years’ worth of data systems and creating programs to better meet members’ rapidly changing needs. This has allowed the organization to manage member information more efficiently and has given rise to new products such as AARP Perks, a web browser extension launching this year that alerts members to valuable benefits and content as they browse the internet.
The organization also runs an enterprise-wide pitch contest, tapping employees for ideas to help deliver on AARP’s mission. One past winner was an app that allows an individual to scan rooms in their home to receive retrofitting recommendations on making it more senior-friendly. This year, employees are working on ideas for career development that enable AARP staff to work at their full potential and better serve their members.
DISRUPTING THE MARKET
AARP also collaborates with startups through AARP Innovation Labs to create new products and services that address the needs for everyone as they age. “We’re working on how to get the market to not just focus on the young, but to really create ageless products and services that allow all people, regardless of their age, to live their best life,” Jenkins says.
To date, AARP Innovation Labs has attracted hundreds of startups and worked directly with 45 of them. One product to emerge is Zibrio, a smart scale that gathers information on a person’s balance and postural stability to help assess whether they’re at risk for falls.
“We are becoming a center of age tech, and challenging the outdated beliefs about what it means to be older in this country,” Jenkins says. “In everything we do, from our adv0cacy work and ser vices to our content and platforms, we continue to evolve in terms of what we deliver, how we deliver it, and who we can help.”