Empathy is an invaluable quality for anyone involved in trying to improve the lives of older Canadians. Sara Aghvami has it in abundance. As director of Best Buy Health at Best Buy Canada, she is a leading advocate for using technology to support healthy aging, partnering with AGE-WELL and serving as a member of its Industry Advisory Committee.
Her ability to understand someone’s needs has roots in unexpected places. As a student trying to pay off debts in 2000, Aghvami took a part-time job in customer relations at Future Shop (acquired by Best Buy in 2001). Dealing with people who were sometimes unhappy taught her much about seeing situations from different points of view. She later became a parts buyer and then ended up running the department, which helped her learn the “guts of technology.” From there, she went on to lead new teams and changes in key areas such as customer experience and home delivery.
This diverse knowledge comes from a holistic place and has served her well heading up Best Buy Health, launched in Canada four years ago. Focused on the healthy aging sector, it made sense for the company because of Best Buy’s long history of providing tech solutions for customers. “We have the largest footprint in the U.S. and Canada in the consumer electronics retail industry,” Aghvami explains. “We are able to invest in creating accessible technology services to help older adults with their independent living goals.”
Never far from her mind is her mother, a nurse who worked with older adults, providing support in their homes, communities and long-term care settings. She would come home and talk to her daughter about her experiences. Aghvami never forgot the stories about older adults having to wait for someone to come help them. “That fact has remained with me throughout my professional and personal life,” she says. “It inspired me to work on enabling older people and reducing that kind of dependency.”
While doing research about aging, she came across AGE-WELL and attended one of its conferences. It was the start of what would become a dynamic partnership. Aghvami had been approached by other organizations to partner up, but as she learned more about AGE-WELL, something clicked.
“It’s the only organization I know to date that has set out a clear vision statement and challenge areas – along with how they are going after their goals,” she says. “It was also the only one I have worked with where the member research partners have depth of knowledge and expertise in technology to support the spectrum of aging. Best Buy Canada is fully committed to supporting AGE-WELL’s objective by leveraging our core competencies: evaluation, implementation, scale and upkeep.”
The partnership has been fruitful. Best Buy Health is deeply involved with projects at the AGE-WELL National Innovation Hub called SAM3 which is developing smart home solutions to support aging in place. SAM3, says Aghvami, is a great example of how academic research, health care and industry can create solutions. “We are so excited about the development of human-centric solutions we can validate and talk about together.” SAM3 is a joint initiative of AGE-WELL, Bruyère Research Institute and Carleton University.
More recently, Best Buy Health teamed up with the Centre for Technology Adoption for Aging in the North (CTAAN), an AGE-WELL innovation hub in Prince George, B.C. that supports aging in northern and rural communities by making technologies more available. Through its involvement with CTAAN, Best Buy is widening the aging in place solutions in rural and remote communities.
“We’re thrilled to be collaborating with CTAAN, which is doing so much to support technology adoption in rural and northern communities,” says Aghvami. CTAAN is a partnership between the University of Northern British Columbia, Northern Health and AGE-WELL.
For Aghvami, her work is always first and foremost about people. She has a true passion for encouraging others to be and to do their best. She has mentored young professionals for more than 15 years, teaching them not only to be successful in business but to let their humanity shine through as they do it. Whether guiding others or finding technology to support older Canadians, Aghvami has a single motivation: “Why all this matters is because there is a human at the end of each of our ventures, a human who can benefit from something that can make a life that can be lived better.”