Commit to Connect Goes to CES 2021

January 15, 2021

Yesterday, ACL joined the CTA Foundation’s Partner Day at CES 2021 to announce the winner of the MENTAL Health Innovation Challenge and to ask attendees to Commit to Connect by visiting our web pages to:

  • Add their technologies, products, programs and services that can help people connect to others to the database of solutions we are building;
  • Bring their expertise to help tackle one (or more!) of the issues we are focusing on, such as bridging the digital divide; and
  • Sign up for email updates to stay up to speed on how they can get involved.

The session also included partners at the HHS Office of the Assistant Secretary for Health, the AARP Foundation, the Department of Veterans Affairs, the Federal Communications Commission, and Microsoft.

Watch here or keep reading to learn more!

Congratulations to the MENTAL Health Innovation Challenge Winners!

Launched in June, the MENTAL Health Innovation Challenge is awarding a total of $750,000 in prizes for development of an easy-to-use online system that offers suggestions for programs, activities, technologies and resources that can help people connect to others and engage in the community, based on their individual needs, interests and abilities.

In October, No Wrong Door Virginia’s Social Health Connector and United Way Worldwide’s You Connect  were selected from 38 proposals to compete for the first prize of $450,000, with the runner up to receive $100,000. Each received $75,000 to support continued development and testing of their system.

From the beginning, participants in the challenge were encouraged to collaborate with other organizations, and even other competitors, in order to accelerate development of the best possible tool. 

It is not entirely surprising, then, that the competition ended with a twist. Believing they could produce a better product by working together, our two finalists have joined forces. They will share the prize money and work in partnership to develop a single solution that brings together NWD Virginia’s state and community navigation expertise and the robust data from United Way Worldwide’s 211 system.

We are excited to reach this milestone, and are looking forward to sharing details about the initial launch of the tool and plans for further development very soon. Please join us in congratulating NWD Virginia and United Way Worldwide in winning the MENTAL Health Innovation Challenge.

Commit to Connect: A Public-Private Campaign to Combat Social Isolation

The prize competition to kick-start development of this much-needed tool was the first component of a comprehensive, multi-pronged collaboration to address the problem of social isolation.  Already a significant –  and growing – public health issue, social isolation became a national focus during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Preventing and addressing social isolation are important components of many of ACL’s programs, and the aging and disability networks did a heroic job of finding ways to continue to help people connect to others and engage in the community, even during physical distancing. Very early in the pandemic, however, it became clear that a coordinated, national approach also was needed to support these efforts. In response, ACL pulled together partners from across the federal government, the aging and disability network, national organizations, philanthropy, and industry to tackle the challenge of combatting social isolation – during COVID-19 and beyond.

Together, we have created the Commit to Connect campaign. In addition to building the online tool described above, this public-private partnership is:

  • building a nationwide network of champions to collaborate on solutions and help us reach more people;
  • establishing critical partnerships in communities and across all levels of government;
  • sharing successful initiatives that can be implemented in communities across the country;
  • and more. 

ACL contracted with the AARP Foundation to establish a coordinating center to keep all of those initiatives moving forward. The AARP Foundation has been leading a movement to increase public awareness of social isolation and to develop effective solutions to address it, and several years ago, they launched the Connect2Affect platform to focus specifically on this issue. Much of the data that are frequently cited in reports on social isolation came from research sponsored by AARP or the AARP Foundation.

As the coordinating center, AARP Foundation will work with No Wrong Door Virginia and United Way Worldwide to launch the initial version of the online tool to help older adults and people with disabilities find and access the resources they need to connect with others and engage in the community. The coordinating center also will facilitate the ongoing cross-sector development of its full capabilities and the establishment of governance and operating structures to ensure its long-term sustainability.    

In the coming weeks, we’ll announce a governance council and scientific advisory council, which together will help ensure that the online resource includes effective tools and accurate information, with protections for individual privacy and data.

We Need Help!

We need to ensure that devices people can use to connect with others can be used by everyone – accessibility should be factored into every element of design.  We also need to make technology available to underserved and under-resourced communities and people who have low incomes. That means we need a national infrastructure to deliver digital solutions to these populations. That is no small undertaking, but there is exciting work underway. In the video above, you can hear about a few of the things FCC is doing to bridge the digital divide.

We urgently need to build a comprehensive inventory of the tools, technologies, programs and services that people can use to connect to others and engage in the community. We need high-tech, low-tech and even no-tech options to ensure that everyone can find what they need to meet their individual needs. If your organization has resources like these, please tell us about them. (You’ll need to complete a short registration the first time you visit – just click the “register” button.)

You can learn more at ACL.gov/CommitToConnect.  Click on “Join the Campaign” to sign up for email updates, share information about the products, services and resources your organization offers, and tell us about your areas of interest and expertise.


Last modified on 01/15/2021


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