Visiting a bakery, coffee shop or movie theatre seemed like a far-fetched idea for 74-year-old Prithwis Datta, who lives alone in Mumbai. However, over the last six months, these outings have become a part of his life, thanks to a “grandpal”, who got introduced to him through Goodfellows, a start-up that helps senior citizens find empathetic young companions.
Based on the idea of making grandpals by nurturing fulfilling friendships between young graduates and senior citizens – through a fellowship aimed at providing meaningful companionship to senior citizens who live alone – the Goodfellows start-up was launched in Mumbai on Monday by Ratan Tata, Chairman Emeritus of Tata Sons.
The start-up has been founded by Shantanu Naidu, a close mentee of Tata and a general manager in his office. Tata has even provided seed capital for the start-up.
“No one should have to go to a doctor alone. Company gives you the security of sharing that experience with someone. My grandpal and I visited the doctor for my appointment one afternoon, and she later introduced me to a new-age pastry shop, where we had a small snack and returned home. I may just become a regular member of it now,” Dutta said.
Designed to connect the fellows to senior citizens as youth companions, and recreate the bond between grandparents and grandchildren, Goodfellow will do whatever a grandchild would do, according to Naidu.
“Whether it is accompanying the seniors for grocery shopping or doctors’ appointments, outings and walks, teaching them how to use various technology, or sharing a conversation over tea, our fellows are there for it all,” he added.
While the programme was formally launched at the hands of Ratan Tata in Cuff Parade in south Mumbai on Monday, Goodfellows has successfully completed a “Beta phase” over the past six months, taking 20 carefully-vetted young fellows on board and pairing them with grandpals from Mumbai.
Goodfellows will also offer travel companionship to senior citizens who hesitate to take trips due to lack of security or company.
At the launch, Tata said, “I salute this effort that gives one’s time and effort to make another person’s happiness more secure, without expecting anything in return. I salute the fellows who are doing this, but don’t have to do it; a group of young and intelligent young people who could do other things for themselves.”
“You don’t know what it is like to be lonely, until you spend time alone, wishing for companionship, and you don’t mind getting old until you get old, and realise the world of genuine feelings for one another and good natured companionship that we all take for granted takes a lot more than that,” he added.
For the programme’s Beta phase, Naidu received 800 applications from young graduates, of which 20 were shortlisted. Applicants were carefully vetted with an in-house psychometric test for empathy, kindness and reliability. The team also conducts background checks for applicants and police verification of the finalists.
Naidu said, “We were dismissed by many and told you cannot fabricate the bond between grandparents and their grandchildren. That bond is rare, but it is also true that we have taken that generation for granted. This is now slowly changing, but we have to take care that every fellow who comes to us has a kind heart, so that authentic bonds can be formed, instead of cosmetic ones.”
Sushanta Jana, another senior citizen, said, “This makes you feel like you are part of society again. I was apprehensive at first, about whether I will be able to gel with someone so young, but she became like my grandchild, and brought a breath of fresh air into my life.”
“When I was asked what services I want to opt for, I told the Goodfellows team that I do everything independently, such as grocery shopping and doctors’ appointments. But I had just bought a new phone, and asked if anyone would help me set it up, and they agreed,” said Rajani Bhisey, who was also assigned a fellow during the Beta phase.
Senior citizens can register with Goodfellows by signing up on their website thegoodfellows.in, or giving a missed call to 8779524307. While the first month of subscription is free of charge, Goodfellows charges a nominal monthly fee thereafter.
Fellows have the option of taking up internships for either three months, six months or nine months to allow organic bonds to form between the fellows and the senior citizens they are paired with. Goodfellows will now also branch out to appoint full-time employees who want to pursue this as a career.