Mea Campbell has always been impulsive, but it wasn’t until recently that her tendency to act first and think later became an asset rather than a liability.
“My impulsivity wasn’t a great attribute, growing up,” she laughs. “But I suppose in business it allows me to make decisions really quickly.”
One decision made at lightening-speed was setting up Connected, a platform that connects people living with loneliness via a penpal program, online clubs and podcasts. It was during Covid that Mea came up with the idea, and within months the platform had caught fire on social media and been embraced by thousands of people across Australia.
“I set this up for seniors, really, and those who are vulnerable or have a disability, but today we have every demographic – it’s popular for every single demographic – because loneliness is affects everyone.”
Here Mea explains how it began.
Tell us about the moment that changed everything… It was during Covid. I was on maternity leave from my job as a lawyer.
My grandfather had passed away a couple of years earlier at 95 and although he’d had an amazing life, he’d been legally blind and deaf for the last five years of his life. However, he was really lucky that my family all lived close and we became his carers.
So, when Covid started I realised that my grandfather would have really struggled [with the isolation rules] and I started thinking about everyone in the same situation that probably didn’t have family around them as he did.
I’m a natural researcher, so I was in bed one night and just did a deep dive on isolation and loneliness, and I discovered that loneliness costs $2.7billion annually and that it’s an equal risk factor for mortality to smoking and obesity. I also discovered that – even before Covid – up to 45 per cent of people in aged care don’t get visitors.
I just lay there and thought: I can probably do something about this. So I started jotting down some ideas in the notes section of my phone about different ways to connect people.
The next day I woke up and jumped online and made a Wix website and all the social media profiles.
When did you know it would work? I started posting on social media and within a week 500 or 600 people had signed up. I thought ‘Wow, that’s more than I thought’. So, I made a few Excel spreadsheets matching people. But within the first two months there were over 10,000 people.
It got big so quickly. It was a shambles actually. It was just an idea I had on maternity leave – I didn’t think it would be anything.
Eventually we got sponsorship [from Tetley’s Tea] but it just kept growing, and it became evident that no amount of sponsorship was going to cover the costs. And it was very costly – you know, when I was little, postage cost 45c, but now it’s $1.10!
Eventually I decided it would become a membership [offering], so now it’s completely self-sufficient and sustainable.
What three words would you use to describe the journey of building Connected? “Amazing” but also “challenging” and I would say “learning” because I have learned so much. Yes, I was a lawyer before, but that’s nothing to do with business, nothing to do with marketing, nothing to do with people management.
If you weren’t running Connected, what would you be doing? As a kid, I would said I’d like to run a horse farm and live happily with animals. But now? Later in life if I do something different, it will probably be with vulnerable children. I worked for juvenile justice [in the past] and it was very eye-opening what some kids have to go through.
What do you wish people understood about loneliness? It’s indiscriminatory. It affects everybody whether you’re in your 90s and in a nursing home or you’re suffering from cancer sitting in a hospital bed on your own or you’re a new mum with a newborn or a teenager at school struggling with their identity. And what’s underneath loneliness is connection – we all want connection.
What’s underneath loneliness is connection – we all want connection.
Tell me about a moment that makes building Connected feel worthwhile? When people join [the letterbox project], they fill in their details and answer two questions: why are you joining? And what are your hobbies and interests?
I remember one woman in her seventies joining, and she said that, the previous year, she’d lost her husband of 50 years. And although they’d had three children, one had when they were young; another had been lost to suicide and she’d lost her eldest in an accident. She didn’t have any other family and she was living in a home. She wrote, ‘While I’m happy with my life, I sit here and I think of the days when I had a really busy morning, when my husband was here and the house was full of noise and kids – and now I don’t have that.”
Her letter made me realise that nothing’s guaranteed. I might feel lucky now, but you never know what will happen.
Anyway, that woman joined a couple of our clubs and she’s really active in the group chats and has three pen pals. She has connected with a young mum who had herself lost her mother and wanted maternal advice, and now they write all the time. So, things like that make me think: this is worth it.
What’s your worst habit? I’m impulsive. It wasn’t a great attribute growing up, but I suppose that in business it’s pretty good because it allows me to just make decisions really quickly, and to have a go at things and not worry about the result.
Complete this sentence: Nothing feels better than… overcoming challenges. Winning at something is amazing. But if you’ve genuinely had to work really hard for it, that’s even better.
Want to support Connected? You can join the Letterbox pen pal project here. Or you can raise awareness by telling friends or family who may be interested in connecting via letters about Connected.
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