3-minute read

From Ideas to Impact: GenLab Collective's Path to Enriching Seniors' Lives


P. Keerthana

Keerthana is the Founder of GenLab Collective, a non-profit ground-up initiative. The focus of the organisation is on bridging the generation gap within the community through innovative public bridge-building events and programmes, training and working with community partners and educational institutions to curate and design intergenerational programmes and activities.

Since my university days, I have championed social causes and that in turn led me to volunteer with various organisations. 

My interest in social innovation grew as I collaborated with Beyond Social Services, supporting low-income parents and children, and Participate in Design, an organisation centred around participatory design, which actively involves all stakeholders in the design process. These experiences ignited my aspiration to create a nonprofit initiative, focusing on identifying key grassroots needs. The question was who and what my efforts could be channelled towards.

During the  COVID-19 pandemic lockdown, something caught my eye. I noticed a surge in senior suicide rates.  The passing of my own grandmother, who had dementia and subsequently had a fall, also affected me deeply. I realised there could be an existing gap in senior support systems, especially in promoting productive and meaningful engagement among them.

These reflections, and the regret that I had about not taking care of my grandmother well enough, compelled me to explore avenues for promoting meaningful engagement among seniors and addressing those unmet needs.

Although my initial ideas lacked refinement, these endeavours provided invaluable lessons in needs analysis, ideation, prototyping, scalability, and sustainability. My foray into the realm of social enterprise deepened my understanding of the dynamics involved.

There were trials and errors - how could there not be? But these proved useful, and after numerous iterations, the National Youth Council granted seed funding through the Youth Action Challenge in early 2021, propelling the birth of GenLab Collective

We initiated skills-sharing sessions and workshops for seniors via Zoom, capitalising on their experiences and knowledge to empower them as community leaders. 

As our collaborations expanded to include partners like the National Cancer Care Centre, Maybank, and Lion Befrienders, we recognised gaps in intergenerational bonding and shifted our focus toward fostering connections between seniors and youths.

While the initial stages of establishing GenLab Collective were demanding, the seniors I collaborated with became a source of inspiration. 

Personal connections like Mdm Pushpa's invitation to her home, where she shared her culinary expertise, fueled our dedication. During sharing sessions with polytechnic students, Mdm Pushpa expressed her joy in imparting knowledge, revealing the impact of intergenerational exchanges.

Mdm Pushpa sharing her bookmark collection, photo courtesy of GenLab Collective

A pivotal moment marked our transition into the intergenerational domain: the launch of SANDBOX. This innovative model promoted co-creation between small groups of youths and seniors to develop resources related to specific interests. 

Through facilitated ideation and collaboration, we witnessed the birth of a healthy recipe guide co-created by intergenerational teams. Testimonials from seniors highlighted their admiration for the quality of work by youths and the mutual learning that took place.

The GenChat Series, our inaugural virtual event in 2022, further cemented our commitment to intergenerational connectivity. This event featured expert dialogues and a human library segment, where seniors shared their passions with the younger generation. Positive feedback from community partners and educational institutions underscored our distinctive approach to program design and co-creation.

A GenChat session facilitated by Keerthana, photo courtesy of GenLab Collective

As GenLab Collective gained traction, feedback from partners emphasised the dearth of innovative engagement strategies for youths and seniors. While the senior support landscape emphasises active ageing, I recognize the importance of fostering bi-directional engagement, allowing seniors to showcase their skills and experiences.

In essence, the journey towards establishing GenLab Collective epitomises the fusion of passion, community collaboration, and the pursuit of meaningful impact. By nurturing intergenerational bonds and co-creation, we strive to create a more enriched and interconnected society, one where the wisdom of seniors finds renewed relevance in guiding the aspirations of the youth. 

Through my journey, a deeper empathy for seniors has taken root. While the void left by my grandmother's passing remains, the connections forged and the support offered to the seniors I work with stand as a tribute. My time with her in her final years left an indelible imprint, catalysing my commitment.

As I reflect on this journey, I extend a plea to all who share their lives with grandparents or parents: invest in quality time with them. Rather than viewing it as wasted, consider it a bond-strengthening investment—an opportunity to mutually support and enrich each other's lives.