Student innovators create intergenerational ‘buddy’ platform to support older adults experiencing social isolation

An older woman and a younger woman smile at each other

In honour of Alzheimer’s Awareness Month, CABHI is featuring a new piece of content each week over the month of January. Every week corresponds to one of CABHI’s five core Innovation Themes. This week’s blog focuses on aging at home. 


Social isolation has become an all-too-familiar reality for many of us as the world continues to cope with the COVID-19 pandemic. For some older adults, though, the loneliness of the past two years has only exacerbated a struggle they were already living pre-pandemic. Research shows that an estimated 30% of Canadian seniors are at risk of becoming socially isolated. Social isolation in older adults is associated with an increased risk of dementia and other serious medical conditions.

A group of Canadian students is aiming to change that – with support from CABHI.

Last year, a Queen’s University-based group of students came together to create Sunshine Connected: a virtual mental health advocacy platform that aims to combat loneliness and social isolation experienced by seniors residing in elderly care homes.

The idea was prompted by CABHI’s call for innovations for the Spark-CU (Colleges & Universities) Program, a unique opportunity to help Ontario students scale their innovative aging and brain health solutions into businesses through funding and tailored coaching.

The group – Jenna Mulji, Samantha Gardner, and Aminah Beg – applied, and were one of only five groups selected for the inaugural program.

Their winning solution? Create a platform to launch a volunteer “buddy system” program, pairing seniors and university students using a quiz to match common interests or career paths.

“All three of us [founders] have older adults in our lives that we have seen struggle with social isolation, so this is a very personal issue for our team,” says founder Jenna Mulji.

Samantha Gardner, Sunshine Connected

Samantha Gardner

Aminah Beg, Sunshine Connected

Aminah Beg

Jenna Mulji, Sunshine Connected

Jenna Mulji

The one-on-one “buddy” connections, say the Sunshine Connected founders, are emotionally meaningful, and both “buddies” benefit from engaging conversations and a unique intergenerational relationship. Pairs have the choice to connect through the medium of their choice, be that video call, phone call, email, or letter-writing.

“For our team, creating this program has meant that we are able to bring in the voices of younger generations to help fulfill the needs of older adults,” says founder Aminah Beg. “The program also recognizes how valuable older adults are to our communities – something that is often forgotten.”

The Sunshine Connected team also recently won CABHI’s Spark-CU pitch competition, where they were awarded $25,000 to further develop the platform. Along with the investment, the team now has access to CABHI’s full innovation network and acceleration services.

“Working with CABHI gave us the necessary means and mentorship to take our platform to the next level,” says Aminah. “Our team has been able to learn from CABHI’s wonderful team – and translate that learning rapidly into action – which has been pivotal in aligning our organization directly with the needs and interests of older adults.”

The Sunshine Connected platform is now in its beta phase, with plans underway to introduce pre-recorded and live workshops for senior users to improve their digital literacy.

To learn more about Sunshine Connected, visit their website.