by David Harris
‘Pal’ is a fresh spin on traditional pen pal schemes, designed specifically to build meaningful human connection and cohesive communities in local neighbourhoods of large metropolitan areas. It is not just another app or digital interaction. Instead, residents develop personal relationships with pen pals who live within 15 minutes walking distance from their home and get together with other participants at event experiences hosted by independent businesses and organisations in the local area.
How it works: Two participants exchange a total of four letters, each of which contains a conversation prompt based on the UC Berkeley ‘Questions for Increasing Closeness’. After the fourth letter is sent, the participant receives a surprise invitation to book an event experience of their choice where they can meet their pen pal and other participants. Events further develop meaningful relationships through shared experience and give a taste of the leisure and cultural activities right near your doorstep. ‘Pal’ uses seed paper for envelopes and letters to reduce paper waste and enable event organisers to incorporate the materials into the experience.
Why it’s needed: ‘Pal’ was born during my exchange semester in New York. It addresses three key challenges that were validated with primary and secondary research. 1) Loneliness and isolation in large urban centres around the world, which fuel people’s desire for having more meaningful connections and feeling more at home in their local area. 2) ‘Pal’ supports local independent businesses that compete for attention with large corporates and currently struggle to cope with the economic challenges caused by the pandemic. 3) ‘Pal’ can support initiatives to save the United States Postal Service (USPS).