GoodFellows, a companionship startup by Shantanu Naidu, brings grandkids-on-demand to reduce loneliness
Founder of GoodFellows Shantanu Naidu, who works as Mr Ratan Tata’s business assistant, says that the benefits of his intergenerational friendship with Mr Tata as well as his affection towards the elderly over the past several years have prompted him to embark on this journey.
According to the 2011 census, almost 15 million elderlies in India live by themselves. While they may find ways to fulfill their utility needs, the empty nest syndrome has them lead lonely, isolated lives. Seniors don’t have access to emotional stimuli and companionship because of unavailable, separated, or busy families. Millennials carry significant anxiety and concern over the happiness of their parents whom they cannot be with and cannot be substituted by nurses and caretakers. There are severe physical consequences of social health issues such as loneliness and isolation.
GoodFellows is an upcoming for-profit startup providing intergenerational friendships, and calls itself a “companionship company”. It employs young, educated graduates up to the age of 30 to create intergenerational friendships between them and the elderly to reduce loneliness.
“Intergenerational friendships are a kind, meaningful, and authentic way to help the elderly living alone with companionship and warmth in the way that GoodFellows is offering. I am keen to see how GoodFellows progresses and wish Shantanu and his young team all the very best,” says Mr Ratan Tata, who is privy to the first-hand developments of GoodFellows.
Each Goodfellow is vetted through several psychometric tests designed to gauge empathy. These young graduates are spirited individuals that are essentially grandkids-on-demand with only one goal: dispelling the loneliness from the lives of the ‘grandpals’ they are assigned to.
An intricate pairing process ensures that the goodfellow and grandpal are a great fit. Once paired, the goodfellow would do anything and everything that he/she would do for their own grandparents. Be it going on walks, watching movies, helping with grocery shopping, visits to the doctor, all the way to more utilitarian needs such as teaching technology, helping with paperwork and emails, or just spending time bonding with their grandpals.
The entire crux of GoodFellows relies on providing fulfilling and purposeful employment to young empathetic graduates and employing the benefits of intergenerational friendships which according to psychologists, are vast and powerful and can address elderly loneliness very effectively.
The grandpals, with children living abroad or far away, have a sea of stories and wisdom to impart, whereas the young graduates help them stay relevant, and let the grandpals see the world anew through their eyes. Helping them live their daily lives with more ease through tasks around the house or outside is a given by product of this relationship. A goodfellow is someone who will keep showing up proudly and loyally with a family member’s affection and enthusiasm. The benefits of having someone visit you regularly for the sole purpose of spending time with you are grossly taken for granted.
Grandpals have the flexibility of choosing how frequently they would like their goodfellow to visit. Once they are assigned a goodfellow, then apart from just the companionship, they can be called on for any tasks such as learning technology, help around the house, having them drive them somewhere, doctor’s appointments, social events, grocery runs, and more.
The startup is keeping the list of possible tasks open-ended as per the needs of the grandpal, because they believe that just like their grandkids would not think twice about running any kind of errand or help, neither will the GoodFellows. Almost all of the vetted young goodfellows come with a background of having a strong bond with their own grandparents who have passed on.
While there are several startups coming up to address the utility needs of the elderly, companionship is more complex and needs a more empathetic understanding of what a companion means. It cannot be manufactured. That is the focal point of GoodFellows.
Fortunately, through an ongoing beta pilot, the startup has been able to identify and validate the authenticity and results of everything they are trying to do.
The 86-year-old retired legal expert Mr Arthur D'mello, a beta participant, who was paired with a young lawyer Gargi, was extremely delighted about her empathy, her willingness and enthusiasm to talk about all his favorite topics, and helping him write copious legal emails to be sent around the world, something that keeps him engaged and relevant. Delightfully enough, Gargi even helped set up the Instagram account of Mrs D’mello so she can watch her grandson’s successful band videos.
Mrs Phalke from Borivali in Mumbai, another beta participant, mentions with great joy that after having voluntarily tried old-age homes where she felt even more isolated, Krutika, her goodfellow, was akin to her own granddaughter. Together they have conquered the fear of stepping out to go on walks and Mrs Phalke is once again out on walks meeting her friends while Krutika helps her socialise and get around, often mistaken by Mrs Phalke’s friends as her granddaughter for good reason.
All beta participants at no point felt that it was a service that they were a part of. Even the short betas concluded with the grandpals forming deep bonds and unique relationships with their young GoodFellows, having them over for festivities and family dinners as one of their own.
“What we keep looking forward to,” is a phrase that has been heard from participating grandpals often as they keep looking forward to the young individuals coming to spend time with them.
The beta, which is expected to end in January as GoodFellows looks to launch officially, is still accepting grandpals willing to experience this service with zero cost or liability. Once launched next year, GoodFellows will work on a monthly subscription model.
One of the big reasons why GoodFellows is for-profit is to pay respectable industry-standard salaried employment to young graduates. With financial concerns out of the way, the young graduates are able to give their complete selves to the grandpals.
With paid graduates being employees, it is possible to retain talent and provide the same goodfellow to the grandpal he has formed a bond of trust with, instead of sending someone new each time with no time and room to form a friendship. This is a critical part and also one of the biggest reasons non-profits have been unable to fulfill this gap meaningfully and qualitatively.
In a non-profit or voluntary model, once the good Samaritan feeling of the volunteer is pacified, their regularity and dependability diminish. But for the grandpal, that companionship means everything. For GoodFellows, genuine companionship is not a voluntary activity, but a purposed commitment. Although GoodFellows is a for-profit subscription startup, it intends to subsidise it for those with limited affordability once their cash flows stabilise. As a company that is empathy-centric, we cannot possibly ignore this demographic.
The team that grows by the day is full of young entrepreneurs looking to find meaning and impact in the job they are trying to fulfill, a growing trend in millennials and Gen Z. These are bright graduates who want to build a company built on progressive values that include everything from period leave to mental health amenities, given that being a dependent for someone so regularly is emotionally taxing, no matter how empathetic one might be. GoodFellows wishes to provide the best companions and for that purpose their own mental health and stimulation are key.
Innovating with empathy
On the innovation front, GoodFellows is generating intellectual property via its unique psychometric tests gauging graduates on their empathy and emotional quotients. Even if this rigorous selection process results in a slow scale-up for GoodFellows, they are committed to having an organisation of authentic caring individuals, one step at a time.
These tests can later be licensed to any corporates who wish to filter candidates based on empathy. Each goodfellow goes through a niche and curated training program that includes everything from understanding emotional expectations, rules of engagement, to handling emergencies if any.
As far as the safety of both grandpals and goodfellows is concerned, a strong set of protocols and accountability, as well as reporting mechanisms to the children of the grandpals, is ensured on both sides. GoodFellows understand the valid paranoia that surrounds letting a stranger in the house, which is why the startup is committed to earning their trust by any means necessary apart from the basic background checks. Be it multiple introductory meetings or anything else that the grandpal can think of. Meaningful friendships must have a premise of trust, a premise to which we give our full attention.
Another segment of GoodFellows is to create a sense of belonging to a new community where all the grandpals gather with their young assignees for activities that are extremely personalised rather than the generic games etc. that get conducted today. The events are a way for grandpals to share their goodfellow experiences and introduce themselves to similar-minded seniors.
The regularity of these events and the fact that their goodfellows will accompany and participate with them intends to create a familial environment, like a family get together, rather than a run-of-the-mill occasional elderly event that’s touch and go. Quality of companionship and simply offering companionship are two separate ways of doing things and the startup is heavy on the former.
If you have a grandpal or know one who would be interested in trying the pilot program free of charge or liability, please do reach out at www.theGoodFellows.in.
Edited by Dipti D