India’s 1st Companionship Startup For Senior Citizens. The initiative was founded by 30-year-old Shantanu Naidu, a Cornell University graduate who is also Ratan Tata’s business assistant. The idea is to recruit ‘Goodfellows’, or graduates under the age of 30, to offer companionship to the elderly, or the ‘Grandpals.’
As is the case the world over, India has seen a stellar increase in life expectancy, but not without a few footnotes. As the elderly population skyrockets — and trends, cultural norms, and traditions change — many senior citizens find themselves without a source of companionship or camaraderie in their twilight years. Nuclear families, migration from rural areas for employment, and more are, in part, the reason why.
This has been made even more glaring during the ongoing pandemic, especially the lockdown periods, where social isolation and loneliness increased health risks posed to the elderly. Where every one in two elderly persons suffer from loneliness, this “perceived isolation” is even more harmful than obesity, says a report by The Indian Express.
The startup is Shantanu’s endeavour to help bridge this gap and offer a genuine bond instead of just services. The Goodfellows are “essentially grandkids-on-demand,” says Shantanu.
The startup will ensure this through thoroughly vetting every potential Goodfellow, who goes through psychometric tests that measure their empathy. Once chosen, there’s a pairing process in place to ensure the Goodfellow and GrandPal are a good fit.
They will assist their elders with all day-to-day tasks like going for walks, helping with grocery shopping, accompanying them to the doctor’s office, teaching them about technology, helping with paperwork, watching movies together, taking naps together, and more.
“Be it nothing but chitchat, reminiscing stories, sharing troubles — or biscuits and tea — playing carrom together, or simply watching TV, our Goodfellows are eager to lend a listening ear,” says the Goodfellows website about their service.
Meanwhile, Ratan Tata said in a statement, “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.”
“You do not know what it is like to be lonely until you spend time alone wishing for companionship,” he added.
For the past six months, the startup has been doing beta testing, working with 20 elders in Mumbai. It plans to expand operations to Pune, Chennai, and Bangalore in the next phase.
Goodfellows charges a monthly subscription for the service.
The subscription-based service is only available in Mumbai currently but will be offered in other cities including Bengaluru soon. The startup emphasizes companionship, which could mean anything from going for a quiet walk or watching a movie to just engaging in conversations. Non-profit models that have attempted this have failed, Naidu said, as the companions are unpaid volunteers who don’t commit long-term.