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Today I went door-to-door serving meals to the elderly in New York City

My observations, empathy, thoughts, and interactions which I felt, heard, and experienced throughout the day.

Photo of Adhish Patel
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Today I had an opportunity to be a part of #NYCTechGivesBack, an initiative under which technology professionals and students give back to the community through service. There were various initiatives from which I chose to deliver meals for the aging population of NYC. I went door to door delivering pre-packaged freshly made hot meals in the midtown area of New York City.

The essence of Design Thinking is to empathize with your user and the best way to empathize is to be with them. So, today I visited Encore Community Services in midtown NYC. It's a community center for elderly which gives them meals, a place to have meals and it also delivers meals to the elderly who are not able to walk around to get their meals. So, today I was the deliveryman for all the Encore's home delivery program. I was accompanied by two other technology professionals, one was in banking and the other in video advertising.

One point to note here is these elderly are relatively frail and home bounded, due to the aging and/or diseases. So following are my learnings from today's endeavor:

  • Some elderly people didn't use smartphones at all, they were proud users of the flip phone. This comes in contrast to what I've seen and experienced. Maybe it can be because of the low income but as per my today's observation, they were proud users of flip phones. Apart from that, they did not like texting at all, they just used it as a calling device. One person, joked on how is wife liked to text on her phone and how he did not. So, some elderly are really conservative. 
  • Some didn't have any cellphone they were happy with the landlines.
  • Few did not even have credit cards, they just used checks to pay their bills. Banking for them was just to pay their bills with checks nothing more.
  • Few of the elderly, don't go out much, they stay at their place most of the time. Some inhabited apartments on 4th Floor and that too walk-ups. When I did walk-ups to the 4th floor twice, I realized how are they able to do it. The reason why they have food delivered is they can't walk around much. If a person is not able to move for his basic needs, where does Banking come into play?
  • One woman, in particular, was straightforward with the Banking question. She told me when I get bills, I mail my checks with the paper stub (For younger generations, your credit card statement has that stub which you can mail to CC company). She gets deposit directly into her account, so she doesn't have to deal with cash much. So she does everything through snail mail.

It was a very insightful day for me, as today I tried to empathize with the elderly. One asked me, what was I doing. I told him, I go to NYU and working on this project currently. He automatically started talking about his banking experience and thoughts.


One thing I realized is a lot of elderly wants to talk. They want to go out to places where they can find people to talk. These homebound elderly didn't want us to leave and wanted to keep on having conversations with us. And that is really what missing in the services for elderly. Elderly goes out to buy fruits, banks, etc. not because they don't have that technology. Becuase they want to go out and talk to people. We might suggest a banking app which deposits checks by clicking photos, pay bills with a swipe. But an elderly doesn't want that. They want to interact.

What is a provocation or insight that might inspire others during this challenge?

The elderly wants to have a conversation, interaction with people.

Tell us about your work experience:

I have worked in the Innovation & Entrepreneurship sector. I have experience in Design Thinking and have also worked in the areas of sustainable technologies and innovation.

Specifically, please check all that apply:

  • I'm not currently involved in a credit union, but am curious to learn more!

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Photo of Kate Rushton

Hi Adhish! 

Thank you you for your post. Do you think an adaptation of the scheme mentioned be Anne-Laure Fayard in this post here - https://challenges.openideo.com/challenge/financial-longevity/research/the-power-of-peers-to-encourage-savings could work in this neighbourhood? 

Photo of Anne-Laure Fayard

Adhish, thank you very much for sharing your observations. I really love how you use community service as a way to connect and empathize with elderly people. Great approach to design research that allowed you to make a lot of interesting observations. I particularly like the observations about needs for social connections. It reminded me of Crystal post on Capital One https://challenges.openideo.com/challenge/financial-longevity/research/capital-one-cafe  It also reminded of  some research I did for another challenge on aging https://challenges.openideo.com/challenge/mayo-clinic/inspiration/tight-social-networks-and-activities-in-japan-and-china Kate Rushton we could indeed think of using a community centered service. Looking forward to seeing how these insights inspire ideas in the next phase.

Photo of Adhish Patel

Kate Rushton , I really think if started at an early stage this initiative would definitely work. As in this case, people are already 50+, some are even 70+, they wouldn't be much motivated to save. But, an experiment of some sort would give us an insightful data.

These days, apps like Acorns and Stash Invest are doing something similar but using technology to do the same. Though it is an isolated experience, it is empowering a mindset of saving in the younger generation. Again this comes back to Hasan Ahmed Ansari post.

Moreover, Anne-Laure Fayard  I have visited Dharavi before and never knew they had this kind of initiative going on. Thanks for that post and great to learn more on that. 

Photo of Adhish Patel

Anne-Laure Fayard , Your post on Tight social activities in Japan and China reminded me of "Indian Village Squares".  In Indian villages, people meet at "Village Chowk (square)" to socialize, men during evenings and women during afternoons. The village chowk is also a place where activities and small shows happen, it is the most happening place in the village. Analogically, it can be termed as times square of villages.

The capital one cafe is a really good concept. But, I am pondering upon why did the other locations with similar concept closed? Maybe because of high operation costs?

Photo of Anne-Laure Fayard

Thanks Adhish I really like the idea of the village chowk that indeed ties very well with the idea of the capital one cafe and also the focus of community mentioned in the brief. High operation costs could be one reason. Yet, wondering if it could also be that it simply reflects how banking relationships are still envisioned by many.

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