Belgian Impact Report

3 min read

Virtual Hugs inspire real hugs

Deloitte Belgium brings a little warmth to those isolated during confinement

  • In a society that is more demanding than ever before, and where everything is moving faster and faster, loneliness and isolation are ever-present issues among our citizens that have a profound effect on the population as a whole. Nevertheless, the confinement and marginalisation of certain sections of our population have amplified this phenomenon.

In the midst of the lockdown, we launched a simple and spontaneous project that aims to bring a little warmth and wellbeing to those who have been isolated during confinement. Very quickly, doctors sounded the alarm that isolation could significantly deteriorate the mental health of confined populations, especially those who could not be visited. To alleviate the problem of loneliness while respecting measures of social distancing, we employed the use of mobile technologies. Well-disinfected mobile devices allow people to reconnect to each other in a totally secure manner. This is how Virtual Hugs was born. Jointly created by Deloitte, Close The Gap and the VUB (Vrije Universiteit Brussel) in response to a clear demand from healthcare institutions in the early days of confinement, Virtual Hugs helps patients and the elderly to (virtually) connect with their loved ones.

Initially, our efforts focused on rest and care homes. Bringing comfort and support to the elderly people seemed obvious to us, given the extreme health circumstances. In addition to this, we were keen to launch a nationwide campaign. Receiving financial support from the Flemish government significantly boosted our delivery capacity and after a few fruitful weeks, we extended our scope to centres that take care of people with disabilities. At the end of May, we worked together with the Flemish Agency for Persons with Disabilities (VAPH).

What did we do?

We simply set up a website to collect monetary donations and equipment. Used devices were handed over to Close The Gap, which were responsible for refurbishing, disinfecting and sending them to institutions and money was used to buy new or used devices. Thanks to Virtual Hugs (launched in FY20 and continuing in FY21) we’ll deliver approximately 4,000 devices, directly impacting 40,000 and indirectly 80,000 lives. In the first months of the project (FY20), we have already delivered 2,063 devices, directly impacting 20,630 individuals and indirectly impacting 41,260 lives.

Virtual Hugs is a project that was initially launched in a context of crisis in order to meet an urgent and immediate need: enabling elderly people to stay in touch with their loved ones. Two months later, we realised that our action allowed us to go even further and meet deep and real societal needs. Indeed, the distribution of these devices not only provides a solution to the problem of loneliness and isolation, but also helps to bridge the growing digital divide. On top of that, we have received several testimonials from centres where the tablets are also used for more recreational purposes, making it possible to play music, look at photos or set up new activities. Of course, all this was only possible with the help of staff in personal care institutions.

"With the Virtual Hugs initiative we want to help elderly people, hospital patients and people with disabilities to stay in touch with their loved ones, so that they know that they are not alone in these exceptional times."

Hilde Van de Velde, Chief Purpose Officer

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