Launched in 2020, the Movember Social Connections Challenge (SCC) is aimed at identifying strategies that will strengthen the social connections of men who are struggling with isolation and poor mental health, particularly in the wake of COVID-19 lockdowns.
Eleven men’s health projects across Canada, Australia, the UK, and Ireland will be receiving a total of CAD $3.22 million in funding over the next two years through Movember’s Social Connections Challenge (SCC) – including Toronto-based project Hello Jack by Knot Lab.
By 2036, 25% of Canada’s population will be over the age of 65. A 2020 report entitled ‘Social Isolation in Seniors’ published by the Government of Canada found that up to 24% of Canadians over 65 feel isolated from others and wish they could participate more in social activities. The physical and mental health implications of social isolation are significant; this was a primary motivator for the Knot Lab team to create Hello Jack, a digital project that allows experienced, skilled older men connect with younger men who are looking to learn new skills.
Knot Lab is a community of designers, architects, engineers and developers, with the overarching goal of leveraging the power of intersecting disciplines to create impact through human-centered innovation and problem solving. Co-founders Alexandra Pittiglio and Frank Petrisano have backgrounds in structural engineering (B.Eng, M.Sc) and architecture (M.Arch), respectively. Knot Lab orients their work on product development, invention, research, and universally accessible design in both the physical and digital realm.
Hello Jack began as many projects do: through a conversation. The team began discussing ideas for a piece of technology but ended up on broader topics like our relationships with grandparents, getting older, and the fact that modern Western society often neglects to make space for our aging population as mentors.
This mobile/web-based application will serve as a meeting point between younger individuals looking to gain tactile experience; retired professionals can mentor entry level employees in their field, older immigrants can share stories of their journey to Canada with historians and newer immigrants; hobbyists can teach the basic skills of woodworking through seminars, etc.
The social platform aims to bring people across generations together through mentorship, reinforcing the value of the aging population and positioning them under a light in which their skills are desirable and admired. Not only does the aging population benefit through seeing through value within this platform, but the exchange fills an obvious void for the young learners on the other side of the workshop bench or kitchen countertop through hands-on skill development.
“We see people turning to online platforms, like YouTube tutorials, to learn things that degree-based learning isn’t intended to cover but are certainly important - like changing a car tire or building a campfire. We want Hello Jack to be seen as a place to grow, make, and connect through tactile skill sharing.” says Alexandra.
"From early on in the pandemic it was clear that vulnerable segments of our population were feeling the effects of the virus much more acutely and severely, specifically elderly people. Social isolation and loneliness brought on mental health decline and feelings of hopelessness for so many. It reminded us how much we need one another."
COVID-19 has significantly magnified the notion of loneliness that many of us experience when we are unable to see loved ones – but especially amidst older populations. When asked about how the pandemic has affected Hello Jack’s development, Frank reflected on how FaceTime and organized Zoom hangouts with friends and family throughout 2020 and well into 2021 shed light on the power of technology to connect people.
“We are most excited about working with elderly people to develop a piece of technology that is specifically designed for them. We are also thrilled to be working alongside Movember, gaining access to their wealth of knowledge, community stakeholders, and experience in men’s health programming will be invaluable to Hello Jack.”