OpenIDEO is an open innovation platform. Join our global community to solve big challenges for social good. Sign Up / Login or Learn more

Building Family Bridges

Globalization increasingly results in the strain of living far from aging family members. Let's take care of each other's far flung, aging family members as if they were our own and simultaneously look after the aging relative who lives close to us.

Photo of Mel Day
8 11

Written by

This idea was developed during a recent Palo Alto OpenIDEO meet-up and builds on the "gRENTparents" concept—except in reverse. 

Globalization increasingly results in the strain of living far away from our aging family members. Let's take care of each other's overseas or far flung aging family members as if they were our own. Let's connect our aging relatives to a "foster family" who lives nearby, and simultaneously look after the aging relative who lives close to us. We can either have a direct exchange, or build connections through a larger social network. It will be important for the young participants in the network to be both consumers and providers of services.

You live in San Francisco, your grandmother lives in England. Someone else lives in England, their grandmother lives in San Francisco. You visit their grandmother, they visit yours. You keep each other posted about your visits. There wouldn't be much cost or at least it would be up to you.

We act in each other's stead. Let's be like family to them—visiting when we can, having coffee, playing cards, having dinner together, taking a walk—as if they were our own family members. All this, while having the peace of mind knowing someone is similarly in our stead with our aging relatives.

The result is two-fold: not only do we help to take care of those we love by ensuring they receive companionship and a regular caring presence (vital to the 'welderliness' of elderly people), we also improve our own wellbeing by alleviating some of the sadness and strain we can feel if we are not able to do this ourselves regularly.

Building on Emily Jagoda's comments below, we could learn from similar precedents like home swaps ( home People describe in detail what they want / need and are matched accordingly. As Emily says, "You could look for a grandpaRENT who like to sing, or tells good stories, or to whom you could offer specialized help that meshes with your particular expertise." 

This would work well on a data-driven web platform, app or combination thereof. Trust will be a critical issue and some mutual screening inevitably be required. 

(Thanks also to Jonathan Kleiman for developing this idea with us at the recent Palo Alto OpenIDEO meet-up.) 

How might your idea scale and spread to reach as many people as possible?

Primarily through an online social network. Word of mouth is critical–from nursing homes to government health agencies and community centers.

How might your idea attract and involve partners from health care, business, government, nonprofit or other sectors?

Good experiences of participants, both young and old, may lead to organizations recommending this service as a support network for strained, long distance family relatives.

How might you design an early experiment or prototype to further develop your idea?

Connecting people in this way shares some similarities with online dating, home exchanges, and even couch surfing. A web-based interview process and social media hub could work as an initial prototype between two large cities, for example (where these exchange pairings are more likely).


Join the conversation:

Photo of Nathan Maton

I love how this works with your social network. What an interesting way to get to know others. I have a friend who just left SF to go spend months with her aging mother, I'm asking her to see if she'd give her perspective on this idea. How could all 4 of you hang out once together too to set the right tone? It has to feel like everyone is friends for it not to seem weird to do this, or at least that's my instinct.

Photo of Mel Day

Thanks Nathan. I'd love to hear your friends feedback based on her recent experiences! And yes, I agree that it would likely work best if there were some strategies and tools built in to help families connect with each other and build trust... I'll give this some more thought.

Photo of DeletedUser


I think this is a great idea! It is so great to know someone is visiting my 90yr old grandma while I am away from my family. Right now we work with volunteers who come in once a week and take her for a drive, or ice-cream. Even when I am home, like I am now, this volunteer still comes. Since most of her friends have passed or moved away, this volunteer has become her friend. We are so grateful for this person's time and on the idea of gRENTparents, I would be happy to return the favour.

My grandma is very much about routine and has a hard time remembering things, so this would have to be set up so she feels safe. For me, a website where I can post requests and see what the other person's interests and activity ideas would be helpful. Since my grandma is not on the internet, a weekly phone call and weekly connection is the best. Any less frequency then a week between visits, she starts to forget this person or gets confused as why they are coming.

Thanks for the energy towards helping our elderly! They are so cute and have done so much good in our world.

Photo of Mel Day

Thanks for the great feedback Anne based on your own personal experiences with your grandma! And I agree that regular connection and safety trust are key. I am currently thinking about how we can build upon existing online platforms where interpersonal trust and community are also vital.... For example, CouchSurfing data and issues of interpersonal trust are currently being studied by Trust Studies at the Institute for Research in Social Sciences at Stanford... much to be learned from this data and other existing similar platforms.

View all comments