Geneva Challenge
06 October 2023

Geneva Challenge 2023 Finalists – The Challenges of Loneliness

216 teams composed of 975 graduate students from 106 different nationalities, registered to take part in the 10th edition of the Geneva Challenge. A total of 77 project entries were submitted by 317 students from teams hailing from all over the world.

The Geneva Challenge is an international competition launched by the Geneva Graduate Institute in 2014, thanks to the vision and generosity of Ambassador Jenö Staehelin and the patronage of the late Kofi Annan. This contest brings together graduate students from diverse disciplinary and contextual perspectives to provide innovative and pragmatic solutions to some of the world’s complex challenges. This year, students were asked to tackle the challenges of loneliness and we are excited to share with you the projects by the five finalist teams: 

Team from Africa: Pan African University-Institute for Water and Energy Sciences

  • Grand-Guru Enclave – A Hybrid Community for Intergenerational Transfer of Knowledge and Laughter to Combat Loneliness: Loneliness can have severe implications for an individual's mental and physical well-being, with increased risks of depression and anxiety as immediate effects. The unavailability of robust social support networks in urban Nigeria further exacerbates the problem. Grand-Guru Enclave aims to create a hybrid community for intergenerational programs targeting grands (60+) and Gen-Z (17–25) where social connection, meaningful interactions, and mutual learning can be used to combat loneliness. Intergenerational relationships strengthen social bonds, advance compassion and understanding, and foster a sense of belonging, ultimately contributing to achieving Sustainable Development Goals 3 and 4: "Good Health and Well-Being" and "Quality Education." The Grand-Guru Enclave will be piloted in Lagos, Nigeria; it is intended to be scaled up to all of Nigeria's states, sub-Saharan Africa and adapted by other isolated nations, such as Sweden, The United Kingdom, Japan, and Italy.

Team from Asia: Universities of the Philippines and Ateneo De Manila 

  • Tanda-Nan: A Community-Organising Initiative to Develop Social Networks to Promote Agency among Older Adults: In the Philippines, poor adults aged sixty and above are at risk of social isolation and experiencing loneliness due to having fewer economic opportunities, experiencing mobility issues, and the deaths of their peers. Reaching the age of sixty signifies the shift from “provider of resources” to “receiver of care” in the Filipino cultural context. This transition alters the social status and sense of agency of older adults, which may result in loneliness and adverse perceptions of ageing. Most programs targeted towards poor older adults are conditional welfare programs focused on charity rather than co-creation. Increasing older adults’ sense of agency requires opportunities for them to be more socially involved, self-reliant, and financially-stable to combat loneliness and feelings of being a burden to others. To increase older adults’ access to such opportunities, we are proposing TANDA-NAN: a community-organising initiative to develop networks of volunteers, civil society and non-governmental organisations, local government offices, academic institutions, and businesses that provide opportunities for social interaction, upskilling, income generation, and rewards redemption to older adults through a gamified system where older adults may participate in activities to earn points for redeeming services or commodities of their preference. At its core, TANDA-NAN is an enabling instrument which uses a co-knowledge generation approach in generating opportunities for the flourishing and healthy ageing of older adults. 

Team from Europe: Bocconi University

  • Generazioni – Intergenerational Bonding and Cultural Exchange Project: Generazioni Project is a groundbreaking initiative aimed at reducing social isolation among the elderly in rural Liguria, Italy. The project is centred around a digital platform connecting university students with elderly hosts, fostering intergenerational relationships, the exchange of life experiences, and cultural immersion. The project emerges from a shared concern about the increasing isolation of older adults and the loss of valuable cultural knowledge and rural traditions. The idea is to bridge the generational gap, providing an enriching experience for both elderly residents and university students alike. The elderly gain companionship and the opportunity to share their rich life stories, skills, and traditional practices. Simultaneously, students gain a deeper understanding of their cultural heritage, glean insights from their hosts' experiences, and contribute to the vitality of rural towns in Liguria. Through a comprehensive implementation plan — including a phased go-to-market model, financial sustainability strategy, and scalability plans — GenerAzioni aims to bridge generational divides, breathe life into local communities, and preserve precious cultural heritage.

Team from Latin America: National University of San Marcos, Federal University of South Rio Grande and Lund University

  • Historias Con Punche – Connecting Generations through Participatory Arts: Loneliness is an unpleasant experience that results from the decline or reduction in the quantity and quality of social connections. Older adults, who are generally defined as those over the age of 65, are more prone to loneliness and social isolation than younger adults, given that old age is marked by an increased likelihood of experiencing events that can destabilise social relations, such as widowhood and disability. Morbidity, living alone, and physical impairments are some of the factors that contribute to the elderly's sense of loneliness, as they limit their socialisation and autonomy by making them feel burdened, useless, and isolated. Despite being a high-risk group, their voices and needs are often overlooked or underestimated, particularly in Latin America, posing a barrier to meeting the United Nations 2030 Agenda goal of "leaving no one behind". Through the ability to self-express thoughts and emotions while encouraging social interaction, the participatory arts have been shown to significantly reduce feelings of loneliness. Theatre and narrative are two examples of creative outlets that can help to create and strengthen social bonds while also empowering the elderly to live life to its fullest. The following interdisciplinary and innovative project was meticulously crafted, in hopes of reducing  loneliness amongst elderly Peruvians  in Villa El Salvador by improving emotional and mental well-being, promoting lifelong learning, preserving cultural heritage, and creating friendly communities that are both strong and inclusive, employing artistic methods such as narrative and theatre that are easily transferable and sustainable.

Team from North America and Oceania: Harvard Kennedy School

  • Nyaya: This proposal aims to address the issue of loneliness amongst migrant domestic workers (MDWs) in Hong Kong. Current solutions primarily focus on peripheral issues like health care and housing, overlooking the crucial aspect of economic empowerment. Existing efforts to empower MDWs often fail to provide credible employment information and bargaining power, resulting in the replacement of one exploitative sourcing method with another. To harness the collective power of the MDW community, we propose the development of an app platform called "Nyaya," derived from the Sanskrit word for "justice." Nyaya will leverage community-based networks to empower MDWs, providing credible employment information and fostering informed decision-making. By facilitating social interaction and engagement, the platform aims to reduce social isolation, loneliness, and promote a sense of belonging. Additionally, Nyaya will serve as a resource centre, offering legal information, educational materials, and practical advice. Through the integration of these features, the platform seeks to improve the overall well-being and integration of MDWs within their host communities.

The Award Ceremony for the 2023 Geneva Challenge will be held at the Geneva Graduate Institute on Tuesday 21st November at 18:30. We will have the honour of beginning  the ceremony with a keynote address by the eminent Abhijit Banerjee, Ford Foundation International Professor of Economics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who was awarded, together with Esther Duflo and Michael Kremer, the 2019 Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences.

The oral presentations of the finalist teams will take place on the same day as the Award Ceremony, from 13:45 to 16:45.

This year’s winning project will be awarded CHF 10,000; the two teams in second place will receive CHF 5,000 each and the two teams in third place, CHF 2,500 each. 

More details on all five projects and further information on this year’s Challenge can be found on our website. Follow us on our Facebook page to keep informed of this year’s ceremony and the launch of the Geneva Challenge 2024.