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The Business of Loneliness

Posted by Flux on 

22 February 2021

Loneliness is a societal ill that has become pervasive to such an extent that business opportunities have arisen from it. Loneliness is defined by researchers as feeling this emotion more than once a week. Individuals can feel lonely despite being surrounded by people. It goes beyond physical solitude to a state of mind. 

A new report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM) points out that more than one in three American adults aged 45 years and older feel lonely. According to the UK’s Community Life Survey 2018-19, those aged 16 to 24 are the group most likely to report feeling lonely, with 10% experiencing this “often or always”. Along with this comes a high risk of drug abuse and suicide.

Whether as a form of social entrepreneurship or to capitalise on the loneliness trend, there has been a rise in businesses that seek to assist the lonely. “Huggster” is a German start-up that launched its crowdfunding project on 21 January 2021, World Hugging Day. Via an app, you can send a hug anywhere in the world which will be delivered by someone close to the recipient (the huggy). Stimulating the release of oxytocin, the so-called hormone of love and  trust, the hug itself matters more than who is executing it, according to Chris Staab, founder and CEO. He says the app “creates an opportunity for people to hug each other more often again, safely within their household or with good friends.” 

Based in Colombia, South American Hugger Island has delivered a ‘Hugger’ toy to seniors and children in hospital during the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as to street children. It is a stuffed creature with long weighted arms so it feels like a human hug when wrapped around you. The non-profit organisation has also donated Huggers to doctors and nurses, who’ve faced extra strain treating coronavirus patients in the past year. Through its workshops and the toy, the organisation aims to help vulnerable people deal with fear, anger or sadness. It has seen demand for Huggers soar during the pandemic. 

Many retirees don’t have grandchildren or don’t have any that live nearby. Dubbed ‘rent a grandkid’, a Florida-based company, Papa, has developed an app to pair the elderly with ‘Papa Pals’. These young adults are called on for technology lessons, companionship, transport, running errands and everyday household tasks for $20 an hour. In a February 2021 media release, the company says it’s taking extra precautions to ensure the ongoing continuity of its services: this includes measures to mitigate the risk of infection to team members and customers. 

There are many other ways to combat the effects of loneliness, among them, enrolling for an online course. According to one report, there’s been a surge in demand for massive open online classes, or MOOCs, since the start of the pandemic. 

And if you’re looking for a long-term solution to loneliness, GoVenus is a dating app that uses astrology to match people. Developed locally, the app is available for download and is currently in beta testing.

Already a  growing problem, social media has ironically exacerbated the trend of loneliness. The ‘cuddling industry’ is expected to boom as the effects of Covid-19 leave many people socially isolated while they work from home – or lose their job.

By: Faeeza Khan

Please note, if you are having suicidal thoughts, you can contact the SADAG Suicide Crisis Helpline on 0800 567 567.

What is your organisation doing to manage the loneliness of your employees?

Can you identify business opportunities in this burgeoning space?

If you want to generate ideas on potential opportunities related to this trend, or business and consumer trends in general, book our Strategic Games Foresight Workshop.

Image credit: Kristina Tripkovic

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