Ameliorating isolation and loneliness has been my life’s work. I co-founded PLAN, based on the belief that isolation and loneliness are often the greater handicaps faced by people with disabilities. We pioneered a strategic approach to facilitating personal networks that moved it from rhetoric to positive benefits lasting decades. PLAN employs community connectors using an intentional social technology that is hospitable, celebratory and practical. For more than 20 years we have seen the power and potential of caring relationships to bring meaning to lives, improve health, keep people safe and benefit the larger community.
Each network is deeply personal, focused on the gifts, contributions and goals of the person at the centre. They are not tangible, predictable like a program or service. Their focus is the spaces in between: in essence the relationships and connections. Yet they transform lives.
Once we proved it worked for people with disabilities, we encountered two fundamental challenges as we began to move our solutions beyond the organizational boundaries of PLAN: finding the right methodology to scale our proven social technology so it would have impact, durability and scale; and getting professionals to value something as fundamental but intangible as friendship, belonging, natural caring.
To answer these challenges, we chose to blend our “social technology” with new online technologies and create a social venture called Tyze Personal Networks. Tyze is now working with 40 organizations in three countries. Our online networks are being accessed by a wide variety of users including individuals with chronic illnesses, people with disabilities, older adults, their children, friends, neighbours and extended family members.
Research repeatedly verifies the old adage – a faithful friend is the medicine of life. When it comes to our well being there is no disagreement, things go better with belonging. There is bountiful evidence that we live longer, get sick less often, heal more quickly when we have a supportive social network. We have more academic success, better employment opportunities, healthier diets and happier lives because of the people who love and care for us.
Tyze provides a literal as well as a spiritual platform to talk about the powerful human ties that bind us together and keep us well. Since our formal systems of care are facing shrinking budgets they are more attentive to the limitations of professional care. As they bring Tyze into their operations, it presents them with an opportunity to eliminate policies that separate formal and informal systems of care and to enact policies that enable and nurture relationships and social supports.
The stars are aligning and the potential for Tyze is enormous. But there is a fine balance as we move to shift systems to a network approach to care. The territory is rife with paradox and ambiguity. Each day at Tyze we navigate tensions between social and profit, online connection and “face time,” rapid replication and belonging, user outcomes and investor expectations.
Balance is never a resting place. It requires flexibility and adaptability, strategy and intuition, responding quickly and keeping still. Confidence is key. I get mine from a safety net of supportive relationships, people who see the bold vision and provide sustenance for the perseverance, humility and heart needed to act on it.
Tyze has a team of young, talented developers, strategists, designers and inventors. While their skills were honed in the private sector, they are passionate about pursuing an important social mission. Together with private investors and lenders, we are using the discipline of business to nourish a “revolution of belonging.”
Vickie Cammack is the CEO of Tyze and co-founder of Planned Lifetime Advocacy Network (PLAN), a pioneer social enterprise supporting families plan for the safety and well being of their family member with a disability.