Press releases

Deloitte, Close the Gap and VUB donate tablets and smartphones to the elderly and patients during corona crisis

‘Virtual Hugs’ initiative tackles loneliness in residential care homes and hospitals

BRUSSELS, 7 April 2020

In response to the many questions received from various residential care homes and hospitals, Deloitte, Close the Gap and the Free University of Brussels (VUB) have joined forces to help elderly people in residential care homes and patients in hospitals to stay in contact with their family and friends. The current ban on visits has deprived many of contact with the outside world and residential care homes and hospitals often do not have the resources to help residents connect virtually. To tackle loneliness, Deloitte, Close the Gap and the VUB are collecting used tablets and smartphones so that residents and patients can video call with their loved ones. In addition to the technological equipment, the three organisations are collecting donations to purchase devices for this project called Virtual Hugs.

Sending a Virtual Hug to lonely elderly people and patients

On an online platform developed by Deloitte, businesses can register used tablets and smartphones and both businesses and individuals can make a financial donation for the purchase of new equipment. Close the Gap makes the collected devices operational and installs the software. VUB Taskforce e-Inclusion provides a guide for users, containing frequently asked questions (FAQ). In addition, the three organisations are calling upon their networks to collect as many devices as possible for Virtual Hugs.

The smartphones and tablets are distributed to various residential care homes and hospitals, in collaboration with local distributors, with the already planned deliveries of meals, medicines and protective equipment.

”As an organisation, it is not just about economic power, it is also about the impact you have on the community. We commit to contributing to a better society and make an active effort to involve the entire society in the digital evolution,” said Piet Vandendriessche, CEO of Deloitte Belgium. “With Virtual Hugs, alongside our long-term partner Close the Gap, and VUB, we can bring elderly people and patients closer to their loved ones.”

Close the Gap is an international organisation that offers high quality, pre-owned laptops and tablets to educational, medical and social projects in developing and emerging countries. “Everyone at Close the Gap is very happy that in these unprecedented times we can connect people through technology. Thanks to this cooperation with Deloitte Belgium and the VUB, many people will soon be able to stay in touch with friends and family, which is otherwise not possible, given the current measures in place. We are incredibly grateful that we can contribute and generate a positive impact,” said Olivier Vanden Eynde, CEO & Founder Close the Gap.

The VUB is also participating in this project. Virtual Hugs is fully in line with what VUB wants to achieve with the Taskforce E-Inclusion, which, in collaboration with various local authorities, public institutions and civil society organisations, aims to digitally empower vulnerable groups. It wants to accelerate the strengthening of digital skills through, among other things, simple manuals for devices and (telephone) help for using tools such as WhatsApp and Skype. Caroline Pauwels, Rector of the Free University of Brussels (VUB), explained why the university decided to participate in Virtual Hugs: “Close the Gap and Deloitte bringing tablets to the elderly and sick in residential care centres and hospitals is very good, because in this time of crisis many vulnerable groups are completely isolated from their family and friends. A society cannot afford that. With the Taskforce E-inclusion, a major collaboration, including the Virtual Hugs initiative by Deloitte and Close the Gap, the VUB wants to actively serve the public good and contribute to a more inclusive society, during this crisis but also afterwards. The project coordinates the collection of devices and ensures that people can use them. That this is possible in such a short time indicates the great heart that many in our society have. This initiative brings closer those who are far away, which is what the vulnerable groups really need today.”

“It is now, more than ever, important to keep in touch with each other to prevent isolation. Deloitte already organises virtual meetings and coffee breaks, and recently we have also been helping clients with free webinars, amongst other things,” said Hilde Van de Velde, Chief Purpose Officer at Deloitte Belgium. “With the Virtual Hugs initiative we aim to help elderly people to stay connected with their environment, so they know that they are not alone in these exceptional times.”

Financial donations can be made at www.virtualhugs.be. Businesses that have tablets or smartphones to donate can register them on the website. Close the Gap cleans, and configures the donated devices. The devices are then distributed to residential care homes and hospitals.

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