Eldernet mother-daughter duo shares the joys and frustrations of running Eldernet and Care Publications.

ELEANOR:

When you’ve been a nurse, a social worker, and community development worker, and worked in the public health system and for NGOs for most of your working life, then you’d never expect to end up running a business – would you? Well I didn’t.

If you’re scared of computers, yet the business you end up establishing is internet-based – well that’s just ridiculous, isn’t it?

Then to cap it off – for the last eight years, I’ve worked with my daughter – the one with a similar personality style and the one everyone said I couldn’t possibly work with. Isn’t that courting disaster?

In 1997, I was 45 and working as a social worker at Older Persons Health in Christchurch when a colleague sat me down and explained how computers, and in particular, the internet, might be a solution to many of the frustrations we faced in our working environment, such as a lack of access to comprehensive information, transparency issues, and so on. I was sold. We established a partnership, forming Eldernet, an online database directory of services for older people. After a short period, I bought my partner out – which was not easy for either of us – and got down to the job of running the business.

The learning I needed to acquire was on an almost vertical trajectory. My computer skills were non-existent – I am self taught; I took a basic accountancy course, attended the very helpful and free Canterbury Development business courses, and picked the brains of every advisor I could find, some of whom very generously gave their time for free. Other courses have been essential along the way. Most recently, Esther and I were lucky enough to attend the exceedingly helpful business growth course at Te Wānanga o Aotearoa (Otautahi).

In those early years, life was frantic; our funding model was to charge an annual subscription for listings on our website; some advisors ran the figures and told us it wouldn’t fly, and indeed, the going was tough for many years with long, long hours, little sleep, weeks and months ‘on the road’ explaining the vision, low cost motels and camping ground huts, but heaps of passion and a guiding vision.

Another thing that was quite hard to handle, particularly in the early days, was the knowledge that some people in the public and NGO sector thought I had ‘sold out’. I believe a private business model was the only way to achieve what we did when we did. I think, however, that there still needs to be significant bridge-building between the private and public sectors if we are to better utilise scarce resources.

My ‘banker’ was my husband, who was beside me 110 per cent, and my younger brother was the first salesperson. He spent a year or two convincing people that ‘yes, the internet was going to be a big thing’ but in the end, he had to get a ‘real’ job again. If it wasn’t for these two men, Eldernet would never have survived. Eventually the message we were giving finally caught up with reality: ‘the internet was a huge thing’.

My first ‘real’ employee was my daughter. The strongest ‘work’ glue that holds us together is probably that she loves the job as much as I do. Most of the time we work very well together. However, occasionally we let the boundaries between us as mother/daughter and work colleagues get blurred. It’s usually during a time of high pressure such as going to print with our print publication (we acquired A Question of Care in 2006 in order to provide for the 50 per cent of older people who still prefer print media).

ESTHER:

If someone had asked me what I was going to be when I grew up, I wouldn’t have been able to tell them, but one thing was for sure – I’d NEVER work with my mother and I’d NEVER work in aged care. Yet, here I am, in 2013, doing just that.

I was a true “Gen X” employee – flitting from one job to the next (try English language teaching, security, farming, sales, admin, and recruitment, for a start) with no real idea of what I wanted to do. When Mum approached me about working for her, I was hesitant. No one gave us much of a chance. We’re both passionate and that led (and still leads) to all sorts of issues.

But what a journey it’s been. I love working for Eldernet and Care Publications, so much so I’m buying into the business. I’ve loved growing the business with Eleanor, and as a result of that, growing the team of great staff we have here in the office. It’s an enjoyable, busy, and fun place to work. I’m really looking forward to putting some of my energy into different projects over the next few months as I’m always up for new challenges and like things to keep moving along.

I don’t have a clinical background, so sometimes I find I don’t understand that aspect of things, but that’s not actually a bad thing. Another challenge has been working in a business while having a young family. Since being here, I’ve had two children; I am extraordinarily lucky that working for their grandmother has allowed flexibility in my hours – and I’m sure many of you will have seen me heavily pregnant or breastfeeding at conferences and events around the country. I wonder if my kids are thinking, “there’s no way I’m working in aged care”… little do they know they’re my little trainees!

I think we run a unique service. I sometimes struggle with Eleanor’s mixed business model with a social service ethos thrown in – the fact is, though, everything we do is to support older people. Our aim is to be impartial and even-handed across the whole sector – funder, provider, and service user.

I wish there were more ‘young’ people in this sector. It’s sad that ‘ageing’ isn’t sexy. The only time people are really interested in what I do is when something bad hits the news. That’s another thing I struggle with; how the media portray aged care and ageing. There are so many amazing things being done that I rarely hear shouted from the rooftops.

We love the fact that we are beginning to provide the sort of information we dreamed about and we love meeting the wide range of people we do (we have visited every single residential care facility in the country, most retirement villages, most home support services, all Age Concerns, many community groups, all public hospitals, and many other older persons’ services in between). Their stories help to inform us so we can pass the information on to you.

Networking and helping people make connections gives us a lot of pleasure, too. There are amazing amounts of goodwill and passion for the sector out there and when we meet people who have it, it’s contagious!

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