“First I did some experiments. I wanted to validate the idea. I introduced my friend Verónica to an elderly woman named Rosario. And they loved each other, so I put out a big call to action [on the Internet] saying ‘Be A Volunteer!’ and I got hundreds of responses. So I knew it could work.”
Two and a half years ago, Cabanes quit his job at KPMG to focus on Adopta un Abuelo (basically, “Adopt a Grandpa”) full-time.
His goal is to “fully democratise” companionship, so that elderly people in retirement and care homes can have more social interaction, and just as importantly in his view, so that the young volunteers can learn from previous generations. “To me, these people aren’t elderly, they’re masters of life with a lot of knowledge and values to share.”
Cabanes has found considerable enthusiasm for his mission. Adopta un Abuelo is one of the winners in the EIB Institute's annual Social Innovation Tournament, which recognises and supports European social entrepreneurs whose primary purpose is to generate a social, ethical or environmental impact. And in February, Google awarded Adopta un Abuelo a fellowship that comes with office space in Madrid and research and other kinds of support. Cabanes works there with three employees, and in January added an office and an employee in Lisbon, making Portugal the first country other than Spain to have an active programme.
“Now we are in 35 cities,” he said. “We have 2,000 volunteers and more than 18,000 companionship hours provided. Our big problem now is getting more elderly people. We have about 12,000 young people from 12 countries who want to volunteer, so the next step is finding more care homes and signing agreements with them.”
Adopta un Abuelo’s business model was also the result of experimentation, according to Cabanes. At first he thought it made sense for the care homes to pay a fee to be connected with volunteers for their residents. But not enough care homes were willing or able to budget for the expense. So then he started asking the volunteers if they would be willing to pay.
“One hundred per cent of them said they would pay,” he said. Cabanes said he is still adjusting the fee. For now it is under €100 annually. Volunteers also get a phone app that helps Adopta un Abuelo supervise and support the relationship, a welcome kit, and training.