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Wednesday, July 8, 2020

Global Startup Turns Elders Into SAGES Who Teach Online Classes

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Esther Hershcovich, holds down a full-time job at a Tel Aviv architectural firm while simultaneously focusing on her global startup — SAGE.

Originally, Hershcovich envisioned SAGE as a community-based gig economy where older people could share their skills with individuals in their vicinity. The idea came about when she sought to create a meaningful way for her parents — a retired contractor and midwife in their 70s and 80s — to spend their retirement and maybe make a buck or two. “My parents have so much wisdom and I just thought, what if there’s a way to keep them engaged by allowing them to impart that wisdom to others?”

But then the coronavirus hit. Physical meetings were not allowed. After returning from a ski trip, Hershcovich found herself quarantined and directionless. “I was pretty down about it,” she said. She had toyed with the idea of taking SAGE online at some point in the future but it wasn’t in the spirit of what she had in mind. “We stick older people in front of screens as much as we stick kids in front of screens and I really wanted SAGE to be about in-person connections,” she said.

The about-face came after reading an article about how older people were suffering the most in isolation. During her second week of quarantine, Hershcovich harnessed the network she already had built and recast SAGE as an online platform. Speaking English and being older than 60 are the only prerequisites for becoming a teacher — or as Hershcovich calls them, sages. Since its launch at the end of March, some 30 sages from all over the world including Canada, the U.S., Australia, New Zealand, Ireland, Italy and Israel have signed up to teach subjects ranging from challah making to the psychology behind doodling.

Some 30 sages from all over the world including Canada, the U.S., Australia, New Zealand, Ireland, Italy and Israel have signed up to teach subjects ranging from challah making to the psychology behind doodling.

During the BETA stage, sages are volunteering their time to teach free 20-minute “coffee break” classes to enable the platform to collect reviews and bring a more robust product to market in a month or two. At that stage, sages will apply fixed rates to their classes. For now, Hershcovich is funding the project herself but eventually SAGE will skim commission from the user fees. Unlike other platforms, which often take a cut from all involved parties, Hershcovich isn’t interested in earning from the sages. “The social impact is much more important to me,” she said, adding reaction to the initiative has been overwhelmingly positive. “The feedback is so motivating; it’s what makes me get up at 6 a.m. every day for more work.”

One email came from Sandi Einstein, a woman in Australia who expressed her enthusiasm about joining SAGE but lamented that she had no expertise. “I told her, ‘Everyone has something to teach. Let’s chat.” Einstein ended up on SAGE offering peer support for people recently diagnosed with bipolar disorder or depression. She also became SAGE’s unofficial representative in Australia, recruiting more sages.

“People have reached out to help and it feels like we’re all sort of building this together,” Hershcovich said. “This isn’t where I intended to go but I’m riding the wave right now.”

For more information, or to become a sage, visit the website.

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