Can technology combat social isolation?

A man sits alone on a bench in a crowded high streetA share of a £1 million cash injection and the chance to be coached, and mentored is up for grabs as part of a technology prize aimed at ending loneliness.

Nesta Challenges launched the Tech to Connect Challenge Prize at the end of June as part of the Government campaign, ‘Let’s Talk Loneliness’ backed by the British Red Cross, the Marmalade Trust, Public Health England and the Jo Cox Foundation. The aim is to encourage innovative ideas using technology to combat loneliness.

“People have never been so connected, and they have also never felt so disconnected from their communities,” says Kate Adams, Nesta Challenges’s Director of Operations and Special Projects. “Social isolation is a major public health concern affecting people from all walks of life. Where people are living with isolation and the cause is physical – such as a disability - it might be possible to solve that with a technological solution,” she adds.

Loneliness is just as applicable to younger people, the recently bereaved, new parents and those suffering from mental health conditions.

As an organisation that is dedicated to building a more accessible digital world, it is a cause that’s close to AbilityNet’s heart. “Technology has the power to greatly alleviate isolation in both young and old. AbilityNet is focussed on making sure that everyone gets the best out of technology. Barriers can be physical, mental or circumstantial. The good news is that mainstream tech itself is becoming ever more accessible,” said Gary Moore, Chief Executive of AbilityNet.

Innovating to combat loneliness

As an example, Adams cites the work of Lewis Hines, one of the winners at last year’s Tech 4 Good Awards who was using robots to connect children too sick to attend school.

Lewis who is battling a brain tumour is also keen to create a virtual world where isolated kids can connect with each other.

The idea is a great example of the type of project Nesta Challenges is looking for, says Adams.

“The solutions don’t need to be high-tech. One of the ideas Nesta has funded in the past, Good Gym, is an app that helps people get fit whilst doing good. It connects people who want to get fit by running with older people who are socially isolated,” Adams told AbilityNet.

Successful ideas will be those that are impactful, innovative, feasible/affordable and scalable.

The Tech To Connect Challenge aims to have 7-10 finalists who will go on to receive a 5 month support package; this includes financial support, but just as importantly “non-financial technical support, covering capacity development around tech, marketing/communications, business planning, partnerships, and coaching,” says Adams.

Apply for Nesta Tech to Connect Challenge

Submissions for the Nesta Challenges Tech to Connect Challenge are open until Wednesday 7 August. To find out more and register your interest, visit: You can also follow @NestaChallenges.

Find out more about the Tech4Good Awards

For great examples of the positive impact of technology see our Tech4Good Awards. We’ll be announcing the winners on July 17 2019.

You can also follow us @tech4goodawards.