In 2016, software architect Tas Damen was working hard on a major software development project. As one of the project’s principal leaders, Damen was in charge of hiring new folks, and was having trouble finding a candidate who was as tech-savvy as they were community-minded.
Then, Damen’s team handed her Emily Jones Joanisse’s resume. “(They) said, ‘We think this is going to be a good fit’ – and they were right,” Damen says.
In fact, Joanisse was such a good fit that, even after she left the company, the pair stayed in touch, often going for walks.
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“We were at Carleton (University) in the tunnels, and I think it was Tas who said, ‘We should start something together,’” Jones Joanisse says.
Damen and Jones Joanisse realized they had both separately spent hours helping older adults develop digital literacy skills.
“Because we are both women in tech, we always had a group of older women that used to reach out to us, that felt comfortable talking to us,” Jones Joanisse says.
And so, the two co-founded Connected Canadians – a non-profit organization providing technology training and support to seniors and older adults.
The non-profit officially launched in 2018, with Jones Joanisse as CEO and Damen as chief information officer. Today, Connected Canadians has more than 200 volunteers and has secured partnerships with major companies to help provide a range of services to Canadians who need them.
Alongside wellness, art and games, the organization offers customized one-on-one training and support sessions for seniors to meet their tech goals, as well as workplace volunteering programs and instructor-led workshops.
“That’s one of our revenue-generating mechanisms, because organizations will book us for workshops,” Jones Joanisse says.
Since COVID-19 hit, demand for Connected Canadian’s programs has skyrocketed. Despite moving all programming online, the group has worked hard to ensure clients still felt a personal connection.
“It’s not like, let’s call and have (someone) teleport into my computer and fix my issue,” Jones Joanisse says. Instead, volunteers will “sit with you, and equip you with the skills and confidence to be able to tackle more problems on your own in future.”
Both Damen and Jones Joanisse are volunteers with Connected Canadians. In their day jobs, Damen is a high-level contractor working with Fortune 500 companies, while Joanisse is the director of project delivery at Carleton University’s Innovation Hub.
“All the funding that we get, we put that back into our organization to grow staff and capacity to serve,” Damen says.
This includes offering programming in multiple languages, especially when working with new immigrant seniors.
Damen is a first-generation Canadian herself, having moved to the country 23 years ago.
“We had a lot of folks who would be driving Ubers, working at Tim Hortons, while they had these really awesome electrical engineering degrees, computer science degrees and so on.”
“If I go and see a South Asian senior, he will treat me very differently; he’ll offer me chai, we’ll speak in a different language,” she says. “Those things speak to the diversity of Canada.”
Connected Canadians also focuses on hiring new immigrants in a bid to help them put their tech skills to good use.
“We had a lot of folks who would be driving Ubers, working at Tim Hortons, while they had these really awesome electrical engineering degrees, computer science degrees and so on,” Jones Joanisse says.
Partnering with the City of Ottawa, Connected Canadians has been able to create paid placements for new immigrants.
“That was huge for us,” Jones Joanisse says.
For all of its achievements, the non-profit recently received the Bootstrap Award for Community Impact, sponsored by Smart & Biggar and The Ottawa Network.
But with Canada’s senior demographic growing, the team’s work is far from over, Jones Joanisse notes.
“Our goal is for all seniors to have access to free technology training and support by 2030,” she says.
The Bright Side of Business is an editorial feature focused on sharing positive stories of business success.
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