By Jenn Wint
Loneliness in Vancouver isn’t new, it’s part of our society. Vancouver Foundation’s 2017 Connect & Engage report showed that one in four Vancouverites found themselves alone more often than they would like. 14% of residents, at that time, shared that they felt lonely often or almost always. 2017 was three years before a global pandemic caused British Columbia to declare a provincial state of emergency putting Vancouver and most of the world into several months of lockdown, restricting social interactions, events and gatherings. With connection literally prohibited by the government, loneliness amplified.
In a survey conducted by Centre for Addiction and Mental Health’s (CAMH) in January 2022, 24% of Canadians surveyed reported loneliness and feelings of depression. Canadians between 18 and 39 years old reported the highest levels of moderate to severe anxiety, loneliness and feelings of depression. COVID-19 created a dichotomy at times, between health and socialisation when in many ways the two are inextricably linked. Staying away from our loved ones and our community out of fear felt unnatural to many.
Loneliness and social isolation are not challenges unique to Vancouver. Around the world, social isolation is related to serious health conditions including dementia, heart disease and risk of stroke in addition to mental health challenges like depression and anxiety. Brands for Better Foundation, a Vancouver-based volunteer-driven, not-for-profit initiative is taking strides to reduce social isolation and bring communities together. Their virtual conference and in-person hack-a-thon kicked off last week challenging local brands to compete to find innovative solutions to battle social isolation in Vancouver.
Ripple of Change is thrilled to be named the Impact Publication Title Partner for this event. We are aligned in the vision to inspire social action and advocate for positive change through activation and awareness. When we heard about the Brand Battle For Good, we had to get involved and amplify this cause. Hearing the ideas of brands like Arc’teryx, SOLE/ReCORK, Digital Hot Sauce, O2E, Vancity, HCMA and others, on ways to connect community building belonging and trust amongst neighbours is a dream come true.
Day one of the event was virtual, titled the Understanding Isolation Pre-Conference. Speakers included Dr. Ian Cromwell, Economics Manager at Canadian Agency for Drugs and Technologies in Health, Sheri Hundseth, Director, Indigenous Relations and Community Engagement at Providence Health Care and many more sharing their expertise and leading workshops focused on understanding isolation, inspiring action and change.
Virtual breakout rooms like the Inspire Room, the Connect Room, the Changemakers room and others offered sessions on placemaking and the built environment, community, policy, mental health and more. Speakers and facilitators discussed statistics around social isolation across various populations. They challenged attendees to find opportunities to creatively evolve spaces, programming and communication to make community accessible to all members of society. Erin Rennie, Senior Planner at Metro Vancouver Regional Planning and Housing Services shared thoughts on the resilience of our communities. She challenged attendees to ask themselves, what does social equity look like in Metro Vancouver? And then, what barriers does your solution present?
Dr. Ashley Flanagan, Research Fellow at the National Institute of Ageing looked at the factors that contribute to higher reported loneliness in ageing populations. Low income, transportation challenges, poor health, fear of technology and living alone are some of the factors to consider when engaging seniors.
Through personal stories and reflection, Aidan Scott of Speakbox shared tips for corporations wanting to support their staff with mental health, and then how to excel internally as well as externally when activating those efforts.
Happiness Keynote Speakers, Emmanuel Mongon, CEO of Happier World and John F. Helliwell, Co-Editor of the World Happiness Report said, "Happiness isn’t a distant goal to reach. It’s a path; it starts now." They spoke about the happiness that comes from helping others and shared that positive social connections rely on trust and the capacity to support others, highlighting the value in creating these opportunities.
Katrina Martin, founder of the We Should Be Friends initiative broke down the challenge of facilitating social interaction. “Social change can be simple. I’m basically hosting picnics,” she explained. “Sometimes people just want to hang out and chat.”
Several speakers shared the Hey Neighbour Collective, a platform exploring ways of building community, social connectedness and resilience using multi-unit housing. Many speakers highlighted the importance of location, the built environment and accessibility when facilitating opportunities for connection. Inclusion, safety and reconciliation were recurring themes.
Happiness isn’t a distant goal to reach. It’s a path; it starts now.
– Emmanuel Mongon, CEO of Happier World and John F. Helliwell, Co-Editor of the World Happiness Report
Across the workshops and breakout groups it was clear that event attendees are eager for social connection. People across all ethnicities, cultures, orientations, abilities, income and age groups grow and are happier when they engage and learn from one another. Community is crucial to the success of society.
Brand participants formed teams uniting their influence, resources, creativity and experience to develop solution-oriented strategies. Experts across every sector weighed in and shared reflections from the sessions. An Idea Jam offered teams the chance to connect and review what they’d learned. There is no doubt these groups have begun to create measurable and lasting positive impacts for Vancouver.
The event continues on October 5th. Day two is an in-person strategy hack-a-thon in downtown Vancouver. Carlos Norcia, emerging Brazilian writer, and MFA student at UBC will be joined by Genesa Greening, CEO of the Vancity Community Foundation to deliver just a sample of several keynotes throughout the day. The event includes live music, art, movement and words from some of Vancouver’s most innovative thinkers. Throughout the hack-a-thon, teams will work together to develop innovative and actionable strategies to reform social isolation in Vancouver. Each team will collaborate with a dedicated facilitator to guide them to their final pitch to solve Vancouver’s social isolation and loneliness challenges. Later that day, one winner and two runners up will be announced at the Brand Battle Award Night.
The Ripple of Change team will be on-site throughout the event, observing and learning. On Oct 5, follow along on Twitter and Instagram for updates throughout the day and follow Brands for Better on Instagram for event details and hack-a-thon results.
For more info and tickets to the Brand Battle Award Night, visit www.brandsforbetter.ca/events
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There was a lot of talk of coming together, acting in solidarity for our peers, and putting others before ourselves to overcome the challenges put before us. Now, we put that to the test.
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Jenn Wint is a writer, communications strategist and a public relations specialist at WINT Communications and a volunteer with Dress for Success Vancouver. She is passionate about sharing exceptional stories and connecting people, communities and brands. Jenn lives in East Vancouver on the unceded lands of the Squamish, Musqueam, and Tsleil-Waututh peoples with her husband, son and daughter.