Never Underestimate the Power of a Small Group of Committed People

05/07/2016 14:11 | Updated 05 July 2016

Not a great week to be British. I am in Germany when Nigel Farage proudly takes credit for achieving his lifelong ambition - to march the UK out of the European Union.

My colleagues, a convivial multinational mix of technologists, academics and SMEs want to know why the Brits want a divorce after all these years. I begin by saying we don't really feel that way. I waffle about giving the establishment a good kicking, about Farage and Johnsons' empty promises, of second referendums, and of Cameron's wretched campaign which didn't even begin to remind voters of what makes being a European so brilliant.

But my heart's not in it. It's like trying to undo a particularly embarrassing incident following a heavy night out, whilst simultaneously trying to deal with a raging hangover. To my surprise, I'm not being given a hard time. Everyone is truly empathetic. Whilst they are concerned about the impact on the wider European project and the way society is veering right, a trend not exclusive to the UK or Europe of course, the group wants to talk about how we can make our project more inclusive.

We are meeting near Frankfurt to discuss launch plans for universAAL IoT, an interoperable open source platform which aims to liberate the Internet of Things, by facilitating rapid development of smart IoT enabled solutions that provide greater choice and mobility when we reach later life.

Funded by the European Commission, and lead partners Fraunhofer, Europe's largest application-oriented research organization, together with Valencia and Madrid Universities, universAAL is geared entirely to people's needs, especially those in need of a little extra TLC.

Which brings me to the point of this blog: working together towards a brighter future. If we don't want to become part of Nigel Farage's little England, Marine Le Pen's fractured France, or the xenophobic vision of myriad other would-be dictators, we must find new ways of caring and collaborating in the service of the fundamental principles of international cooperation and creative solidarity.

A Joint Social Venture

As regular readers will know, I'm working together with Alexander Peine of Utrecht University, leading a pan-European outreach programme in a concerted effort to realise the potential of our neighbourhoods of the future to serve as a catalyst for social change and economic growth.

Sponsored by the European Commission and national partner organisations our events are focused on building consensus towards a new European reference framework on Age Friendly Homes, identifying market potential and investment opportunities to realize growth and impact in Europe's health/care, ICT and smart home/construction sectors and inspire a fresh demand-led vision for digital innovation.

Our ambition is to see smart(er) homes and urban environments enhance social engagement and empower an ageing population to live more 'agile' lives.

With a view to encouraging ongoing interaction beyond the events we have set up the Agile Ageing Alliance (AAA), which aims to engage like-minded stakeholders in a united drive to boost knowledge and commercialisation of innovative solutions that promote agile ageing at home and in the community.

Since May AAA has staged 'meetings of minds' in Brussels, London, Arnhem and Bilbao. Next stop is Barcelona for the Ethical Cities: Urban Innovation Forum in partnership with the European presence of RMIT University Australia and the UN Global Compact - Cities Programme.

What is evident from these events is the Brits tend to be on the front line when it comes to networking and engaging in international alliances. We may have opted out of the European Union, but our entrepreneurs, scientists, technologists, academics, health and care practitioners, together with the wider creative community and many many others are still passionate about cross border collaboration.

Health as a Social Moment

Resonating with the aims and aspirations of AAA, one of my favourite Neighbourhoods of the Future sessions in London was organised by the RSA and Nesta looking at health as a social movement.

Introducing the open innovation workshop, Rowan Conway, Director of Research and Innovation at the RSA said "Never Underestimate the Power of a Small Group of Committed People", a sentiment which is open to interpretation as we contemplate the future today.

In terms of output we heard about all sorts of clever, inspirational and potentially disruptive concepts. See what you make of these ideas and have your say here.

That's about it for this momentous month. If you would like to attend one of our events and/or are interested in joining the Agile Ageing Alliance, get involved with our LinkedIn Group.

Collaborating in a spirit of open innovation, our alliance is committed to sharing knowledge and collaboration. We may have lost the referendum but that does not mean we should be retreating into our own shells and silos, the Agile Ageing Alliance is open for business and you are most welcome to join in.

Image by RMIT/istockphoto, with kind permission for use.