Social needs digital
Digitalisation is just as important for the social sector as for the economy. Peter Neher, President of the German Caritas Association, is convinced. Yet the inconsistent perception of the social sector as the stage for digitalisation is also evident in the funding provided by the state, he says.
For online consultations, the Association did receive some support from the Ministry for Family Affairs, "but there is a huge difference between the amounts used to support social projects and the scope of support provided for business and science.”
Neher, born in Pfronten in 1955, has been president of the German Caritas Association since 2003. The umbrella association contains 900 associations and charitable organisations of the Catholic Church. Nursing services and social organisations together constitute a huge employer: the Caritas entity employs a staff of more than 600,000 full-time workers in total. They reach hundreds of thousands of people every day - and not least of all, via digital channels.
Support for digital participation
"We already offer online consultation in fifteen sectors. For example, for pregnant women, credit counselling and help for those at risk of committing suicide,” says Neher. That’s why participation in digital life is an important focus for the Association. "In day-to-day life, for instance, when dealing with public offices, it is presumed that people have online access,” he explains. "We therefore have to support both sides, the employees and those seeking help.” Consequently, Neher advocates including the subject of digitalisation in the curricula for social professions.
The motto of the Caritas Association’s annual campaign for 2019 is "Social needs digital”. In his daily work, Neher repeatedly encounters the ambivalence of the fascination and reservations in connection with digitalisation and artificial intelligence. Many of the reservations are with regard to data protection and security, but also with regard to one’s own job - might it be at risk? Questions concerning data autonomy are also discussed in the Association. And Neher hopes that Caritas will in this way be able to trigger a social debate. "Our campaign is called ‘Social needs digital’, but one could just as easily put it the other way round: ‘Digital also needs social’.”
Apps for addiction monitoring
Caritas itself has created offerings to get those who are isolated into the network. For instance, young volunteers explain to older users how to use a smartphone and how the most important apps work at the "Smartphone support centre” of the Westeifel Caritas Association. Caritas also makes use of digital aids to facilitate therapies. The Cari app, for example, supports the Caritas clinic for young patients suffering from addictions so that they can detect signs of a possible relapse at an early stage.
In collaboration with the German Aerospace Centre (DLR), a robot nurse is being tested in nursing homes and homes for the elderly belonging to the Munich and Freising Diocesan Caritas Association, reports Neher. "A lot of people are taken aback when they first see a robot helping people who need care,” says Neher. But patients respond well to these robots, the use of which is currently in the test stage. The robot can hold a cup so that patients suffering from muscle weakness can take a sip without having to call a nurse. "And in such cases, the use of robots makes sense: it doesn’t dehumanise care, but instead gives patients greater autonomy.”
And to what extent is the use of digitalisation justified in social work and nursing? Neher says: "We look at it from a biblical perspective: ‘Test them all; hold onto what is good’!”
Three questions for Peter Neher
Mr Neher, what innovation would you wish for?
The long-term unemployed, the low-skilled and older people need extra support so that they aren’t left behind. Young people have to be prepared for the changed digitalised world of work, and middle-aged people need to be reached too. But this doesn’t just apply to the working world of people, but also so that they can participate in an increasingly digitally networked society. A large-scale education campaign by the nation and the states with educational concepts for life-long learning would be innovative. I would also wish for support programmes for digital transformation and solidarity in society.
Who in the digital arena has impressed you?
I am impressed by those people who in our facilities and services are already actually experiencing the pros and cons of a digital world in their daily work and can evaluate them. They are able to practically estimate to what extent, for instance, digital care documentation via app frees up more time for residents in a home for the elderly.
As Minister of Digital Affairs, I would...
…focus the political attention of digitalisation on the social sector, and not just on business and science. The participation of all, and especially of socially disadvantaged people, can only be accomplished if we succeed in including the social sector in digital developments and implementing it in real life with reflection.