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Mobilizing and Empowering the Nation and Technology to Address Loneliness & social isolation (MENTAL) Health Innovation Challenge

ACL Seeks Solutions to Match People to Resources
for Staying Connected and Engaged


  • Challenge winners launch Social Connector Tool
    In 2020, NWD Virginia/Virginia Department of Rehabilitative Services and United Way Worldwide won ACL's MENTAL Health Innovation Challenge to build the Social Health Connector. The Social Health Connector uses a person-centered virtual assessment to generate a customized social health connection plan for people with disabilities, older adults, and family caregivers. This personalized plan leverages AI and machine learning to offer insights into individualized risks and strengths, highlighting local recommended resources for users in Virginia. After individuals complete the survey, they receive a customized social connection plan. The Virginia Department for Aging and Rehabilitative Services partnered with Virginia Commonwealth University, Virginia 2-1-1, and United Way Worldwide on this project to better serve Virginia residents’ social connections. 
  • Congratulations to the Phase 1 Winners and Finalists!

“Social isolation is known to negatively affect the health and well-being of people with disabilities and older adults, often resulting in avoidable medical expenses. Through this Challenge, ACL seeks the development of new ways to reduce social isolation and bolster a sense of connection for these individuals.” 
– Lance Robertson, ACL Administrator and Assistant Secretary for Aging


The Problem

Approximately 25 percent of older adults in the United States are socially isolated and 43 percent of people over age 60 report feeling lonely. Previous research has found many harmful health outcomes are associated with isolation and loneliness, including premature mortality, increased risk of hospitalizations, and higher risk for dementia, heart failure, and stroke. Analyses of Medicare spending found that $6.7 billion is spent on enrollees who are socially isolated.

The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated social isolation and loneliness due to the need to adhere to public health recommendations for social distancing to protect at-risk populations (older adults, people with disabilities, and people living in facilities like nursing homes and group homes, including veterans).

Although there are technologies and social engagement programs that can help address social isolation and loneliness, considerable gaps exist in terms of both awareness and accessibility of these technologies. There is a significant untapped opportunity to increase access and awareness of technologies and social engagement programs.

The Challenge

The Administration for Community Living (ACL) and the Office for the Assistant Secretary for Health (OASH) at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, with supporting partners [the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), and the Consumer Technology Association Foundation (CTA Foundation)], invites proposals from businesses, nonprofits, local communities, healthcare providers, technologists, academics, and others for innovative solutions to combat loneliness and social isolation for older adults, people with disabilities, veterans, and people living in facilities and group homes.

The goal of this Challenge is to increase consumer awareness and use of technology tools that help older adults and people with disabilities stay socially engaged with and connected to friends, families, communities, and activities of interest. We seek solutions that assess socially-isolated individuals and match them with appropriate technology tools and social engagement programs that best meet their needs. Successful solutions will build from existing assessments and technology tools, and use state of the art matching algorithms to increase awareness and use of technology and social engagement programming to create an accessible Social Engagement Clearinghouse with a user interface.

Through the MENTAL Health Challenge, we will recognize innovative ideas and solutions that seek to develop a software platform that increases awareness of, access to, and use of social engagement technologies and programs to address social isolation and loneliness. The grand-prize winning solution will become part of a public-private campaign to reach up to 10 million socially-isolated older adults, people with disabilities, and veterans.

The Challenge competition includes two phases with cash prizes awarded in each. A total prize purse of $750,000 is available for this prize Challenge. For this Challenge we will award up to $150,000 total prize funds for Phase 1. We expect to select up to three Finalists to progress on to Phase 2 and award $50,000 to each. If fewer than three Finalists are selected, the $150,000 will be split evenly among teams selected. The winner of the Phase 2 Prize Challenge will be awarded $450,000 and the runner up will receive $100,000. Finalists and the winner are eligible for a bonus prize if they submit a written assessment detailing their continued work to implement, scale, and sustain the solution. Total funds available for the bonus prize is $50,000. The bonus prize submissions will be due September 30, 2021, and details will be provided at a later date.   


Deadline extended! Register for this prize Challenge by September 14, 2020 at 11:59 pm ET – Team Captains can register for the Challenge by emailing with the subject: “MENTAL Health Challenge Registration”, provide their name, email and consent to the Challenge Rules.

Deadline extended! September 14, 2020 at 11:59 pm ET – Submissions for Phase 1 due

December 4, 2020 at 11:59 pm ET – Finalists submit Phase 2 required information

January 6-9, 2021 – The top two contenders will present their solution at CES (Consumer Electronics Show) in Las Vegas and the winner will be announced.

An Example

A successful solution will be an accessible social engagement clearinghouse that includes (1) a user interface, and (2) algorithm to match people’s needs (including accessibility), interests and preferences with available social engagement programs, technologies (hardware, software, and/or apps), and that (3) seamlessly enables the user to enroll in their selected social engagement program(s) and/or to acquire technology solutions that address social engagement (hardware, software, and/or apps). The successful solution will include training videos and information and user reviews of social engagement programs and technologies that address social isolation. The user interface will be used by an older person or a person with a disability and will include the ability to screen and assess for social isolation.

How to Submit a Proposal

To view the Challenge submission requirements, judging criteria, competition rules, and to submit a proposal, visit


If you have questions or want to learn more, please email


August 12 webinar: Mobilizing and Empowering the Nation and Technology to Address Loneliness & social isolation (MENTAL) Health Innovation Challenge 

Webinar Recording

Webinar Transcript 

Webinar Slides

July 30 webinar: Mobilizing and Empowering the Nation and Technology to Address Loneliness & social isolation (MENTAL) Health Innovation Challenge 

Webinar Recording

Webinar Transcript

Webinar Slides

July 9 webinar: Successfully Engaging Older Adults & Adults with Disabilities via Technology Strategies and Best Practices

Webinar Recording

Webinar Transcript

Webinar Slides

June 26 webinar: Addressing Social Isolation Through Technology Solutions

Addressing Social Isolation Through Technology Solutions Webinar Recording 

Webinar Transcript

Webinar Slides


Last modified on 03/12/2024

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