For the first feature in our new Member Spotlight series, we hear from Spencer Scoular, Chair of the Global Initiative on Loneliness and Connection, about his work on addressing loneliness and what being a member of GILC means to him.
Can you share a little about yourself and your role?
I am Chair of the Board of Directors of the Global Initiative on Loneliness and Connection. As Chair of the Board, I am responsible for leading the Board and ensuring GILC has a clear and appropriately resourced strategy.
I am also the co-founder of Loneliness NZ - a national loneliness charity set up to give back to Aotearoa New Zealand.
How is Loneliness NZ helping to address loneliness within your country?
We are the first national charity for loneliness in New Zealand. My co-founder and I developed a strategy for a national body with a world-leading website addressing loneliness across all demographics. Through this, we support lonely individuals (via Zoom counselling), educate people to prevent loneliness, and improve the wellbeing of all New Zealanders.
We aim to address loneliness in New Zealand across the three branches of our strategy:
Promoting public health and social inclusion by supporting those already experiencing loneliness in their lives.
Advancing education by upskilling people in ways to prevent themselves and/or others being lonely.
Increasing wellbeing and life satisfaction of our population by giving New Zealand a focus on conquering loneliness.
What motivated you to get involved in addressing loneliness?
I was personally drawn to the area of loneliness by a number of factors. Firstly, the Government had six months earlier been elected on a well-being pledge, and
reducing loneliness improves wellbeing. Secondly, of all the social measures, Stats NZ had found that not feeling lonely was the third largest driver of wellbeing (as measured by life satisfaction) after good health and having enough money to get by. So reducing loneliness was a really important way to improve wellbeing.
Whilst billions of dollars each year are devoted by Government to good health and having enough money to get by (e.g. education, job creation, benefits), almost none was devoted to addressing loneliness. There was a connection between loneliness and some mental health conditions, so helping to address loneliness can help with mental health in general.
Why are global connections in the field of loneliness important?
Historically, the World Health Organisation has not had an interest in loneliness. However, this changed with the United Nations Decade of Healthy Ageing (2021-2030), which undertook initiatives on loneliness among seniors. Whilst supporting the work they are doing, GILC has encouraged them to extend their work to loneliness across all demographics. The World Health Organisation is now planning to launch a Commission for Social Connection (2023-26), and has recently asked GILC to suggest Commissioners.
Furthermore, the World Health Organisation has recently suggested four areas where GILC may be able to collaborate with them. GILC is looking to formalise these suggestions.
Another challenge for the field of loneliness is that the research on interventions for loneliness is still immature. By bringing together world experts, GILC can help identify the interventions that work for treating loneliness. Rather than each national body creating their own materials, GILC is able to facilitate the sharing of ideas and collateral across countries.
What does being a member of the Global Initiative on Loneliness and Connection mean to you?
Being a member of GILC is, for me, firstly a personal experience. It is wonderful to work with a talented group of like-minded individuals from around the world on such a pressing global problem. GILC is also really important for our national organisation, Loneliness NZ. It gives us greater credibility in New Zealand and with government. GILC enables us to contribute to loneliness at a global level. It also enables us to share what we have learned with others and receive their wise wisdom and materials in return. GILC is a fulfilling give-and-take experience.
Stay tuned for more inspiring Member Spotlights as we celebrate the work being done across the world to tackle loneliness and promote social connection.