How this social enterprise is helping seniors battle isolation through the phone

They say charity starts at home. While Chatting to Wellness is a for-profit organization, the founder was inspired to launch his solution-based business after seeing how loneliness and isolation left his own family's seniors feeling abandoned. 

What he does: Mahad Shahzad founded Chatting to Wellness, a solution for isolated seniors living in assisted living or long-term care homes. It connects them to volunteer "chatters" who make over 250 weekly phone calls, offering seniors a chance to socialize.

How he got started: Shahzad saw his grandparents suffer from feelings of loneliness and the impact it had on their mood, even while living with family overseas. He began to wonder if seniors in Canada were struggling with the same issue. 

  • "Mental health is ignored and forgotten about when it comes to our seniors, which leaves many suffering from depression and poor living conditions," says Shahzad.

What he spent: $1,000 on travel, building the website and legal costs.

  • "As an 18-year-old university student, at the time, this was a huge amount of money – and one way I could cut down was through incorporating with Ownr. I could've spent double registering the business through a lawyer, but it was quick and easy to do it online with their platform instead."

His advantage: Most people assume Chatting to Wellness is a non-profit or a charity, but Shahzad calls it a social enterprise. 

  • "There are many complications when you decide to go the charity or the non-profit route. It can be more expensive to be a charity or a non-profit than it is to be technically a for-profit business. So this allows us to run as lean as possible."

Chatting to Wellness relies on donations to keep the phone lines open through individual donors or corporate contributions.

  • "We use a great platform called Open Phone where all of our calls happen. The founder gave us a free account, which would've been one of our biggest expenses."

Another advantage: The opportunity to volunteer also helps students and youth who want to work with seniors or in the mental health field as they get top-tier training. 

  • "Many of our chatters are healthcare students—they want to go to medical school, they want to go into nursing. I would say 90%, 95% are in that healthcare space."

  • "Safety is our number one priority. Our training program has been compiled using some of the best material regarding senior and mental health care from some of Canada's largest retirement homes, care facilities and mental health organizations."

What's next: Chatting to Wellness has ambitions to grow but has hit a tipping point in terms of the cost to expand. Securing funding is key to increasing the network of seniors using the free service.

  • "We had some opportunities come up early, especially when we started doing phone chats where people said we could collect data and then sell that, or we could provide paid services."

  • "Now we're at a point where we're seeking partnerships to be able to support that growth."

His advice: "Starting something is always scary. It always feels like you don't know enough, need more experience, need more connections. But I have learned that you are never 'ready enough," not even after starting. Things start falling into place once you dive in. You keep learning, connecting, and growing along the way."