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“Five Things We Can Each Do To Help Solve The Loneliness Epidemic”, with Fotis Georgiadis & Mark Silverman

Feeling connected and valued is inherently a human problem, not a technology problem. But to the extent technology disintermediates personal relationships, it can increase feelings of loneliness instead of ameliorating them. A simple business example is customer support, traditionally a very human interaction both because of the nature of the challenge (being able to respond […]

Feeling connected and valued is inherently a human problem, not a technology problem. But to the extent technology disintermediates personal relationships, it can increase feelings of loneliness instead of ameliorating them. A simple business example is customer support, traditionally a very human interaction both because of the nature of the challenge (being able to respond to myriad unexpected requests) and the goal of creating a deeper “relationship” with a customer. Given advances in technology, we are now connecting more often with computers (sometimes even life-like avatars), designed to quickly solve our “problem,” not help us feel better about the service provider or ourselves. Efficient, but hollow and even isolating.


Ihad the pleasure to interview Mark Silverman. After witnessing the dramatic effect that disengagement had on his grandfather and father-in-law, Mark devoted three years to researching the link between longevity and social engagement and co-founded Amava to help Members find a better path. Mark has spent most of his 25-year career building and advising technology and life sciences companies, most recently as Managing Director of Catamount Ventures, a venture capital fund principally focused on early stage, mission-oriented companies.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share your “backstory” with us? What was it that led you to your eventual career choice?

Boiled down, I guess I was always destined to be an entrepreneur. In essence, each step of my career has been both a training ground and a stepping stone that led to Amava, my current venture. I have been lucky enough to work at some stellar organizations with amazing people over the course of my career as a corporate lawyer, business leader and venture capitalist, a number of whom have come along with me on my latest venture. If, like me, you are attracted to complex problems, like to work with teams to build innovative solutions, don’t mind competing with much larger and better financed competitors, and believe that a 4% chance to succeed is winning odds, there is no better path to take.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?

One of the most important and interesting experiences early in my career was working with the incredible Board at drugstore.com. Every interaction with Howard Schultz (then Chairman and CEO of Starbucks), Jeff Bezos (Founder and CEO of Amazon.com), John Doerr (Kleiner Perkins), Brook Byers (Kleiner Perkins), Melinda Gates (former Microsoft Executive), Peter Neupert (CEO) and Jed Smith (founder), was an education in how to unlock the vast strategic potential of a productive Board. It also helped me define the key elements of any successful company: Obsessive focus on customer success, differentiated, refined and sincere messaging and branding strategy, a fearless, self-accountable team, and the right objectives at the right time.

Can you share a story about the most humorous mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson or takeaway you learned from that?

I have made a lot of mistakes. But they were all learning experiences. At 9pm on my third day as a corporate lawyer, I was asked by a senior partner to “go to the printer” to help one of the firm’s largest clients prepare an SEC filing for a convertible debt offering. Of course, I had little idea what I was doing, having only worked for the firm for a few months the summer before. I assumed that since I was new, the company representative would be fairly junior as well and the tasks fairly basic and low risk. I (thought I had) arrived early only to find the company representative already deep into his review of the “docs” and my father’s sage advice ringing in my ears, “if you are 5 minutes early, you are 10 minutes late.” I then compounded my mistake by approaching my client as if he were junior like me and we were just working on something unimportant. Lucky for me, he was very understanding and even kind as he explained he was the Senior Vice President, Finance at the client (a Fortune 50 company), and we needed to get the $4 billion deal done within 48 hours to avoid payments that could have a material effect on their quarterly earnings. Oh, and we needed to be perfect, since even small mistakes could delay the deal or create significant liability. Humorous? Not sure. We got the job done and laughed over a beer after we filed the documents. A learning moment? Absolutely. I never assume anything about anybody’s status or ability, or the importance of the task at hand.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

My latest venture is Amava (www.amava.com). Our goal is to empower a new generation of tech-enabled individuals to make successful transitions to purposeful, socially-engaged post-career, post-parenting lives. We started Amava to help the growing number of people who too often are becoming isolated, lonely and bored, despite all of the technology designed to help them stay connected. A number of factors contribute to withdrawal (loss of identity, connection and purpose), which according to research can have the same impact on health as smoking, obesity and heart disease. Our platform is designed to help by connecting members with flexible, socially-engaging experiences, whether they want to earn, learn, give back or pursue a new interest.

Can you share with our readers a bit why you are an authority about the topic of the Loneliness Epidemic?

I (and much of the Amava team) have spent the past four plus years meeting with experts (researchers, gerontologists, psychologists), studying the relevant research (much of which is on the Amava site) and speaking with hundreds of individuals about their paths to and through retirement, both successful and challenged. So, I am fairly knowledgeable about the causes and the impact, especially on individuals. Where we are becoming an authority is how to address and prevent loneliness as the core of Amava’s mission, which combines a deep knowledge of the challenge and expertise in building teams and leveraging technology and human intervention to address such a complex problem.

Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the main focus of our interview. According to this story in Forbes, loneliness is becoming an increasing health threat not just in the US , but across the world. Can you articulate for our readers 3 reasons why being lonely and isolated can harm one’s health?

The research is clear that loneliness has the same impact on health as heart disease, smoking and obesity. It has been correlated with higher blood pressure and increases in heart attack and stroke. Isolation has been directly tied to increases in anxiety and depression, not just impacting happiness, but manifesting themselves in higher rates of suicide. And, there are new studies showing a correlation between loneliness and increased rates of Alzheimer’s and other cognitive diseases.

The good news is that isolation and loneliness are addressable. A number of studies have shown that even as little as a few hours per week spent on socially-engaging activities, especially those like volunteering that provide a sense of purpose, have a positive impact on health, contentment and satisfaction.

On a broader societal level, in which way is loneliness harming our communities and society?

With every individual that withdraws we lose a valuable contributor to local communities and economies. A volunteer, mentor, worker, thinker just vanishes from the equation. Combined with the massive incremental costs to our healthcare system for isolated individuals (one major plan estimated more than $140/mo. per patient), we of course should look for solutions that keep people engaged throughout their lives.

The irony of having a loneliness epidemic is glaring. We are living in a time where more people are connected to each other than ever before in history. Our technology has the power to connect billions of people in one network, in a way that was never possible. Yet despite this, so many people are lonely. Why is this? Can you share 3 of the main reasons why we are facing a loneliness epidemic today? Please give a story or an example for each.

Feeling connected and valued is inherently a human problem, not a technology problem. But to the extent technology disintermediates personal relationships, it can increase feelings of loneliness instead of ameliorating them. A simple business example is customer support, traditionally a very human interaction both because of the nature of the challenge (being able to respond to myriad unexpected requests) and the goal of creating a deeper “relationship” with a customer. Given advances in technology, we are now connecting more often with computers (sometimes even life-like avatars), designed to quickly solve our “problem,” not help us feel better about the service provider or ourselves. Efficient, but hollow and even isolating.

One of the great challenges in retirement is dealing with a loss of identity due in large part to a societal view that individual value and credibility is in our titles or jobs or roles, instead of our values and principles. It is one of the most common causes for withdrawal. How do I talk about myself at a dinner party now that I can no longer introduce myself as a teacher, a doctor, a full-time parent? Many of the technology solutions designed to provide efficient ways for us to stay up on the latest happenings with our friends, family and colleagues, encourage us to share things that identify who we are primarily through what we have done, even measuring the whats against others’ whats in terms of likes, loves, or badges. They do not encourage or effectively share who we really are…our principles, values, complex views, in essence reducing us to a series of posed photos or quick soundbites. Great to say hi, but discouraging for those who are less active or even just less effective or quickly documenting their daily lives. And a difficult place to make a new, meaningful connection.

Ok. it is not enough to talk about problems without offering possible solutions. In your experience, what are the 5 things each of us can do to help solve the Loneliness Epidemic. Please give a story or an example for each.

Start close to home. Any individual can immediately begin contributing by spending more time with friends and family, especially those that are more remote or less actively engaged.

Join an organization. There are a growing number of organizations looking for staff and volunteers for hotlines and to spend time with people who have found themselves isolated.

Write and speak about it. Increased awareness of a problem amplifies the likelihood of solutions. If you like to write, speak, tweet, pin, gram, it can only help to get the word out, especially about the positive health and life benefits of staying connected and tools and solutions that can help.

Become a researcher. We are just at the beginning of understanding all of the challenges and possible solutions to this epidemic. The good news is that funding is likely to grow, but we will need interested, thoughtful people to continue to collect and evaluate data to ensure that we understand the challenges as they evolve and evaluate the efficacy of proposed solutions.

Start your own company. Solutions will likely depend upon stage, thought not necessarily age. What will work for people in the early stages of their careers may not work well for post-career, empty-nesters. Our approach at Amava recognizes that most of our lasting relationships began at school or work. We are focused on ways to help our Members find opportunities to continue to connect with new people in the context of meeting their other objectives. For example, if they want or need to earn extra money, find a flexible, socially-engaging job. If they want to travel and continue to learn, find a group edutravel experience within their budget.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

Retire retirement. Simply redefine your life and commitments to meet your needs at each stage. If you want to focus primarily on work for awhile, great. Giving back? Wonderful. Adventure and interest? Fantastic. Even better, start balanced and stay balanced. What about working 15–20 hours per week throughout our lives and always having time for family, adventure, learning and exercise?

We are blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂

Sir Richard Branson, a fearless entrepreneur who built a transcendent brand spanning multiple, very competitive industries. I would love to discuss how to deliver impact through mission and execution in for-profit companies.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

The best way to follow me is to follow Amava on social media. Of course readers should feel free to reach out directly if they are interested in what we are doing and want to find out how to participate.

https://www.linkedin.com/company/joinamava/

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