18 November 2022

The Solution for Loneliness is Paint at the Brands For Better, Brand Battle for Good

By Jenn Wint

"We become connected when we have the chance to tell our stories.” Genesa Greening, CEO Vancity Community Foundation shared thoughtfully in her keynote before 16 teams of top Vancouver-based brands kicked off a day-long hack-a-thon. The teams compete against one another to find an innovative solution to battle social isolation in Vancouver. Storytelling was a strong theme throughout day two of the Brand Battle for Good as Greening spoke to East Coast hospitality. She shared stories of the interconnectedness she witnessed in small towns and the desire to be there for one another. “We need to create communities where there’s a place for all of us. Let’s help folks find more commonalities than differences.”

Brand Battle for Good is hosted by the Brands for Better Foundation, a Vancouver-based volunteer-driven, not-for-profit initiative. The event challenged brands to dig deep and propose actionable strategies to reduce social isolation and bring communities together. Day one, the Understanding Isolation Conference, a week prior to Greening’s address, offered teams virtual workshops and keynotes from experts in fields of loneliness, happiness, city planning, ageing, healthcare and more. Teams met with the speakers to garner insight and form ideas ahead of Day two, hack-a-thon.

Greening spoke about being seen, to witness and be witnessed. She acknowledged isolation is impacting our health, our resilience, and our democracy and challenged the teams to address our chronic feelings of loneliness and lack of connection. In his keynote, Brazilian storyteller Carlos Norcia, challenged the teams to put themselves in the shoes of others and consider the experience of immigrants and minorities. He shared his personal struggle of isolation during the pandemic and explored the feeling of anonymity cities can cause.  Norcia implored teams to think critically, examining the effects of the pandemic and the ways in which connection and community have been impacted.

Photo © Kornelia Kulbacki

Music set the tone for deep thought as conference attendees enjoyed songs from Sadé Awele and a soulful performance from Hoop dancer and Storyteller Eli Gosselein Rattlesnake Anishinaabe. Co-founders of Brands for Better Foundation and Co-Visionaries of the Brand Battle for Good, Karla Peckett and Scott Sustad began the clock as they reminded teams that later that day, presenters from three finalists would be invited on stage to re-pitch live in front of all conference attendees. The Brand Battle for Good winning idea would then be supported to become reality in Vancouver.

The energy in the room was palpable as teams brainstormed and mapped out ideas. Each team brought personal lived experience, marketing expertise, social awareness and business savvy to their table. The teams were given six hours, including a break for lunch and movement before pens were down and pitch decks were submitted. Networking time during pitches allowed teams to debrief and discuss their process creating a solution to battle social isolation and loneliness in Vancouver.

“Enabling and appealing to people that have existing well-honed skill sets in community engagement and storytelling to, change the focus of what they do day to day from, selling products and services into empowering community is a really powerful and interesting concept,” shared Inder Nirwan of the Kahani pictures and Digital Hot Sauce team.

Very obviously, social isolation is a very complicated issue. When you start looking at all the different sort of facets, the variety of issues that exist throughout Vancouver and beyond, isolation shows up as part of that experience.” —Inder Nirwan

Nirwan’s team created The Vancouver Compassion Games, an online application to galvanize everyday people to get involved in acts of compassion in partnership with organisations that have boots on the ground, already doing good work. The gamification aspect of their concept encouraged neighbourhoods and groups to connect with and support one another to earn compassion points that could be used to improve community.

The Brand Battle for Good is unique in that it produces actionable results by connecting brands and individuals with the opportunity to tackle a critical social issue within their shared community. The successful brand receives over $25,000 worth of support implementing and sharing their idea. While this conference encourages ideas, measurable impact was a strong consideration for each team throughout the hack-a-thon. 

After deliberation from judges, teams from IQ Metrix, Black & White Zebra and InBox Booths/ Clear & Loud were declared finalists and invited to present their ideas to conference attendees and Challenge Squad Panelists.

Although not a top three finalist, Nirwan’s team felt successful. “What we took away from our experience and in coming to our solution is that there are already precedents for what people can be doing to improve social isolation and start making that cultural shift,” he explains. “We can start with tools that already exist and people that are already engaged. We can swing the pendulum away from the narrative that technology and social media are nefarious entrapments of people's tendencies and addictive behaviours and look at another perspective. These platforms can also be used to spread goodwill and as tools to connect and share great stories. This conference inspires a new way of thinking.”

IQ Metrix shared their idea of the Founders Market, a community event that offers a market-like set up for interested parties to browse and engage with booths of clubs, teams and organisations. The event would offer a safe space for Vancouverites to explore community options in a central location with the opportunity to ask questions and learn about several options within their interests. In addition, local clubs and teams could share their offering and recruit new members that otherwise may not have had knowledge of access to their organisation.

Black & White Zebra’s idea was Block Share, an app that connects neighbours and strata groups encouraging sharing of food and everyday support within micro-communities. The strong tech component and security screenings would make the application accessible to those with mobility issues or unable to leave their home. The app would share information with neighbours ahead of their interactions to facilitate connection and sharing of personal stories. The idea  encouraged relationships that go beyond the application and influence familiarity and connection within apartment buildings and high density areas.

Inbox Booths and Clear & Loud joined forces to create their team and their idea, Hello Yello. This concept involves painting existing city benches, railings and potential gathering areas yellow to indicate safe conversation places and an interest in social connection. This concept was the only one that didn’t rely on technology. The simplicity and sustainability of the idea impressed the panelists as the team explained their desire to use existing infrastructure and a strong marketing campaign to encourage conversation hubs around Vancouver.

The crowd voted and Hello Yello was chosen as the successful winner of The Battle of the Brands. The team from Inbox Booths and Clear & Loud is now working to implement their idea within the City of Vancouver. “We are a homegrown, volunteer-driven team that wants to make our city more friendly and less lonely,” explains Kelly Lamb, Director at Clear & Loud. “We came to the conclusion that tech adds a barrier to human connection. Although many apps intend to connect people, we can often find ourselves distracted on our phones. Our hope was to creatively shift people's mindset while they are out and about, interacting with the world.”

Brands for Better encourages action. Winners are challenged to implement measurable positive impact. Hello Yello is now in planning phases, hoping to implement a pilot project by March 2023 before launching in summer 2023. They are currently working on building a volunteer based team, sourcing locations for the pilot project, working with community leaders as well as building a marketing plan to share the idea with the public.

As the Impact Publication Partner for Brand Battle for Good, Ripple of Change will be following Hello Yello, sharing updates with our community. Our team was truly inspired at The Brand Battle for Good. We left feeling motivated and connected by the conversations, and the ripples that were started. The people that showed up for the Brand Battle for Good are changemakers and skilled professionals, but each brought their lived experience, their culture, their history and their heart to the table. While Hello Yello took home the trophy, every person who connected, shared and was vulnerable about loneliness and isolation, was a winner. 

“One of our team’s biggest takeaways and inspirations was going from strangers to friends over the course of the Brands for Better event,” shares Lamb. “If we could learn so much from two days together and feel so inspired by the human connection - what if we could offer a taste of that to the world - hence the simple idea to help more people spontaneously connect. That’s Hello Yello!”

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