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Hub for Good

Meet Emily. Emily Jones Joanisse (BCS/04; MBA/13) is a Carleton alumna and co-founder and CEO of Connected Canadians, a national non-profit organization that helps connect older adults with free technology training and support. With Emily and co-founder Tasneem (Tas) Damen (BMath/07) at the helm, Connected Canadians has grown tremendously since it was established just two years ago—boasting 60+ volunteers and a variety of in-person programs that help achieve its training goals.

Recently, in light of the physical distancing guidelines put in place due to COVID-19, Emily and Tas had to adapt to meet a growing virtual need.

Connected Canadians co-founders Emily Jones Joanisse (left) and Tas Damen (right).

“Tas and I both have an innate sense of urgency, particularly when it comes to helping people who have no other sources of support. This has driven us to build, refine and execute our programs quickly from the day we founded Connected Canadians,” Emily explains. “We had already been working on our remote service offering, but we were mainly using it for seniors who had mobility issues or who were located in remote areas.

“With the arrival of COVID-19, the need to make everything available remotely became our number one priority. We were able to make that shift in about a week and a half.”

In addition to transitioning existing services to an online format, Emily was inspired to develop and launch new programs designed to address the specific needs of Canadians in the face of COVID-19.

She explains: “Some of my inspiration came from conversations with friends in Italy who were in lockdown weeks before we began physical distancing in Canada. Hearing about their experiences and the isolation they were feeling, I realized that there was a real need for both practical digital solutions and entertainment.”

From a practical standpoint, Emily and Tas wanted to ensure that Canadian seniors had access to technology and had the skills and support needed to use that technology to connect with others.

To that end, Connected Canadians launched a general tech hotline and a program designed to help elderly patients in health care institutions connect virtually with their loved ones. The need for this program was identified by the administrative healthcare staff at Bruyere, who noted that “they had the required technology in place but needed help supporting elderly family members of patients and volunteers outside of the hospital.”

Connected Canadians also developed an innovative ‘mail-a-kit’ program in which volunteers work with seniors to remotely configure devices that are sent to them for use in isolation.

“My partner Tas came up with the idea for our mail-a-kit program,” Emily shares. “We were able to implement her idea when local company Ruckify came on board, offering to help us source and deliver device donations from the public. We’ll be making our first deliveries for this initiative in early May.”

From an entertainment perspective, Emily worked with her team and volunteer developers to launch an intergenerational social gaming program. Inspired by Emily’s time working at two social gaming companies and her own social gaming experiences with friends, this program allows “physically isolated seniors to interact with others via video and audio while playing a language-based game.”

Emily elaborates: “We wanted to create and brand something that was accessible and attractive to everyone—not just to seniors and not just to youth. The goal was to encourage inclusive play, social interaction and connection between people of diverse backgrounds and ages.”

Not surprisingly, inclusivity and equity are two pillars that drive Emily in her work every day. “We believe that digital literacy is a human right. Especially during this time of enforced isolation, everyone should have the ability to connect with their loved ones—regardless of their previous experience with technology or their income. We need to gather together to support those who need a little extra help.”

Emily maintains that the most rewarding part of her job is getting to meet and work with Connected Canadians’ volunteers and clients.

Emily with a Connected Canadians client.

“Our clients and the healthcare staff we are working with are overwhelmingly positive and appreciative, and many of them have started referring us to their friends and colleagues,” she says. “I think that’s an excellent indicator that what we’re doing is making a real impact—we’re helping to create meaningful connections and we’re meeting a community need in a unique way.”

So, what’s next for Emily, Tas and the Connected Canadians team?

“I’m so excited and proud to share that Connected Canadians just received a significant grant from the City of Ottawa to provide paid opportunities to individuals who lost their jobs in the service industry due to COVID-19,” Emily notes. “We will be providing the necessary training for these individuals to become technology mentors within our programs.

“We’re also on-boarding new volunteers all the time, and we’ve had over a dozen potential partners approach us in the last few weeks with amazing ideas for new offerings. Our community is a huge source of inspiration for us, and they play a big part in the success of our initiatives. Now more than ever, it’s important to come together—as individuals and as a community—to find innovative ways to foster human connection through technology. That’s what Connected Canadians is all about.”

Learn more about Connected Canadians’ COVID-19 response and get involved here.

Join Emily on May 25 at 12pm for a panel discussion on Crisis Management and Recovery (CMR) Guidance for SMEs (details here). You can also tune in to her Quarantainment session on June 19 (details here).

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