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Tech to Connect Challenge seeks innovative ideas which tackle social isolation

Nesta Challenges and the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, have launched the Tech to Connect Challenge, to support charities, social enterprises, and social tech ventures across England to tackle social isolation using technology.

The Challenge aims to attract a wide range of innovative tech-based solutions to support people who are socially isolated.

Read on to find out more about the Challenge.

What's the issue?

Social isolation is a major public health concern. It can affect anyone from any walk of life and at any stage of life. Becoming a parent, losing a loved one; starting out at university or moving to a new area are just some of the factors that can lead to isolation.

Numerous studies have shown that social isolation often leads to feelings of loneliness:

  • Given that up to a fifth of all UK adults feel lonely most or all of the time, it is clear that loneliness and social isolation is one of the greatest public health challenges of our time.
  • More than one in five people in the UK feel lonely at least some of the time; women report experiencing loneliness more often than men, and those aged 16 to 24 were significantly more likely to report feeling lonely.
  • Persistent loneliness has been linked to an increased risk of coronary heart disease and stroke, depression, Alzheimer’s and higher general mortality. There is evidence showing loneliness can be as bad for our health as obesity or smoking.
  • The cost of loneliness and social isolation to employers is up to £2.5 billion every year.
  • The Challenge is focused on using tech innovation, in the widest sense, to help tackle social isolation by building more connected communities.
  • Social isolation is being looked at in a broad context here too; people can be isolated due to a myriad of reasons — from a significant illness or a long term health condition or disability, bereavement, or a challenging life transition to a new place or role.

What role can technology play?

Technology offers unprecedented opportunities to approach social challenges and the tech for good movement is critically important to help us solve the major issues facing us all. After all, our technology and civil society sectors are, at their core, all about shaking up established conventions and solving problems. And there are so many social issues where technology can play a part. We have already seen some fantastic work tackling loneliness. For example Activage, a pilot led by Samsung, aims to reduce social isolation through using the latest Internet of Things technology to monitor falls and vital statistics, so older people can live independently in their homes and communities for longer.

How is government involved in the Tech to Connect Challenge?

Government recognises the huge potential for our civil society to tackle some of the most complex social challenges using technology. The Tech To Connect Challenge will play a direct role in helping civil society solve these problems through driving innovation as set out in the cross-government Civil Society Strategy. The strategy demonstrates the government’s commitment to promoting private, social, and public sectors to use technology to create social good.

Government also published its first cross government loneliness strategy, ‘A Connected Society: A Strategy for Tackling Loneliness’ in October 2018 that sets out a powerful vision on how we can all play a role in building a more socially connected society. Tackling loneliness and social isolation to achieve thriving and connected communities cannot be done by government alone. They can, however, help to bring together civil society, and support them to do so, through routes such as through this Challenge. That is why DCMS have invested £1 million towards the Tech to Connect Challenge, which will focus the efforts of industry, civil society, and government. This is a call to action for one of the most insidious public health challenges of our time and we strongly believe technology could help to solve it.

The Tech To Connect Challenge will deliver on the objectives of both government strategies by encouraging participating organisations to take better advantage of technological innovations to reduce social isolation.

Why should you apply?

  • We recognise that many civil society organisations already have great ideas to combat social isolation. By offering tailored guidance and support to scale the most impactful solutions, Nesta Challenges will help to build more connected communities through tech-driven civil society organisations.
  • The Challenge, funded by £1m of investment from the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), will offer £500,000 worth of business support from Nesta Challenges and £500,000 in a mixture of grant funding and cash prizes.
  • The idea doesn’t have to be the finished article. We’re looking for simple solutions that can make a real difference; concepts may be in their early stages, or may be operational concepts that need scaling up.
  • The Tech to Connect Challenge is welcoming tech solutions in the broadest sense. This includes software and hardware, from a service that people interact with, to physical pieces of technology; the solutions can be beneficiary facing or internal.

What are the stages of the Tech to Connect Challenge?

  1. Applications are now closed.
  2. The shortlisted applicants will be announced in September 2019.
  3. Successful applicants will be invited to take part in a Discovery Workshop on the 24th September.
  4. Successful applications will be offered guided business support to develop their prototypes from September 2019 to February 2020. Grant support may also be offered.
  5. The winners will be announced at the final demo day on 11th March 2020, at which point cash prizes will be awarded.

To find out more, visit: techtoconnect.challenges.org.


Janet Southern McCormick

Janet Southern McCormick

Janet Southern McCormick

Senior Programme Manager, Challenge Works

At Challenge Works, Janet aims to practice collaborative working daily - a diverse range of people energises and drives her to improve her work.

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